Well, now you've got the car. Hopefully you negotiated a good deal. But buying a car is just the beginning. Now you have to take care of it. If you don't, you'll end up spending much more than you saved.
The best way to avoid major repair costs is with general vehicle maintenance. Early diagnosis of a problem is almost always less expensive than waiting until it can no longer be ignored. For example, if the brake pads need to be replaced, do it sooner rather than later. If you wait until you hear a loud grinding noise and your car doesn't stop very well, you've probably ruined your rotors. And that's expensive.
Even though you want to keep your car running smoothly, don't over maintain it. Replacing something the second it makes a noise can get very costly and very wasteful. Follow the maintenance guide in your owner's manual. It will keep your warranty valid and ensure you don't over-maintain your vehicle. Also, keep all maintenance and repair records including date, mileage and amount paid. This will help you when you sell the car, since you are able to show a history of consistent maintenance.
You should be even pickier about choosing a repair shop than you were about choosing where to buy your car. It's a much longer relationship. Ask friends and family for some recommendations. You want a repair shop that has high-quality work, but won't rip you off with extra charges, unnecessary repairs, substandard parts, etc.
Often a dealership charges up to double the price of other shops. If the repair is covered under warranty, go to the dealership. Otherwise, you'll probably want to go elsewhere unless you can't find a repair shop you trust.
On every repair job, get a second or even third opinion. Price and repair suggestions may be very different.
It is suggested that you get an oil change every 3,000 miles. But if you check your oil level and add some oil whenever needed, you could get by without an oil change for another 2,000 miles.
Just remember - oil is to a car as water is to a horse. If it runs out, it dies. The engine will be destroyed. Dust, dirt, heat, cold and city driving accelerate the need for an oil change. You never need to change your oil before you reach 3,000 miles, but never go longer than 7,500 miles.
Get a tune-up every 30,000 miles or so. Your owner's manual usually recommends the following:
- Replace the fuel filter
- Replace the air filter.
- Change the spark plugs.
- Check the fan belts, replace if worn.
- Check the fluids (transmission fluid, oil, wiper fluid, coolant, etc), and replace/refill if necessary.
- Replace the positive crankcase ventilation valve, which, if clogged, will cause your car to stall.
- Check the battery, add water if necessary, clean cables and terminals.
At 50,000 miles, you should have another tune-up with all of the above procedures plus check the brakes and tires, and begin checking for rust. At 100,000 miles, do all of the above, escalating the search for rust, check the alignment and have a mechanic check the engine's compression and hoses.
Watch for uneven wear, leaks and tread depth. Under-inflated tires wear faster and more unevenly, wreaking havoc on things like alignment and gas mileage. The treads on a healthy tire should be more than 1/16th of an inch deep. A good test is to place a penny into the tread, and if at least part of Lincoln's head is obscured, the tire is fine.
Salt, sand and other chemicals used on roads during the winter will eat your car alive if you're not careful. The remedy? Wash it - often. And don't forget about the undercarriage. Even though your car may have a finish that resists rust and corrosion, the undercarriage is still vulnerable to the elements. If you don't take care of it, your car could have a beautiful finish on the outside, but be hollowed out from underneath.
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