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Car care tips

Key takeaways

  • Keeping up with your car's maintenance can help you stop extensive — and expensive — damage in its tracks.

  • It's a good idea to take your vehicle to a mechanic for a basic inspection once per year.

  • Cars often lose around 60 percent of their purchase price within the first five years of ownership, but staying on top of routine maintenance may help you maintain your car's value.

There is more to owning a car than filling it up with gas and driving to your destination. If you want your vehicle to last, you have to take care of it, which means routine maintenance. These car maintenance tips will help you keep your car running smoothly in between trips to the mechanic. After all, the more you know about your vehicle, the quicker you can spot an issue and have it looked at by a professional before a minor problem becomes a major issue. And maintaining your vehicle can help your car retain more value.

How auto insurance helps with car care

Having car insurance will not prevent your car from breaking down or ensure that you will never get into an accident, but it can offer you financial protection in both of those instances. If your vehicle is damaged because of a covered claim, the insurance company can help pay to fix the damage or replace the car, depending on your level of coverage and the amount of damage.

That said, a standard car insurance policy will generally only cover the cost of repairs if they were the direct result of an accident. For regular wear and tear, some providers offer mechanical breakdown insurance, or MBI, to help cover the cost of non-accident or -incident related repairs. MBI functions similarly to a warranty and generally covers brake, drivetrain, engine, exhaust, steering and transmission repairs (to name a few).

Taking care of your car

Although regularly taking your car to a mechanic is the best way to stay ahead of any significant repairs, there is quite a bit you can do in your own garage to help keep it in good condition.

A graphic displaying a car and all the areas a car owner might need to consider checking and maintaining.
A graphic displaying a car and all the areas a car owner might need to consider checking and maintaining.
  • Check all your lightbulbs: Once a week, turn your car’s lights on to make sure no lights are burnt out. Walk around your vehicle, and do not forget about the tag lights in the back. If you spot a burnt-out bulb, you may be able to replace it yourself for just a couple of dollars.

  • Wash and wax your car: A car wash does more than just make your car look good: regularly washing and waxing removes dirt, pollen, oils, road salt and other grimy buildup from your car that can cause paint damage and rust if left untreated.

  • Check fluids monthly: Each month, you should check your oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and differential fluid. If you check each of these monthly, you are more likely to spot fluid leaks before they do too much damage.

  • Change your oil regularly: How often you change your oil will depend on your driving style (short vs. long trips, highway vs. city, etc.), your vehicle’s make and model and the type of oil the engine needs. During an oil change, it is also a wise idea to check your car’s battery, air filter and whether or not a wheel alignment or rotation is needed.

  • Schedule recommended maintenance: Thumb through your owner’s manual to see how often certain parts in your vehicle need maintenance — and set a reminder on your calendar so you don’t fall behind. Some newer cars will also remind you when it’s time for certain routine maintenance.

  • Check your windshield wipers every six months: To avoid getting caught in a downpour with a streaky windshield, check on your windshield wipers every six months. Once you notice your wipers leaving streaks or foggy marks on the windshield, you should replace them.

  • Change your engine air filter: Engine air filters keep dirt and other particles out of your engine so it can run smoothly and efficiently. Even if it is being checked during other maintenance appointments, inspect it at least once per year and replace it accordingly.

  • Keep an eye — and an ear — on your brakes: Listen to your brakes while driving. If you notice noise coming from the brakes or notice shuddering or vibration in the pedal, set up an appointment with a mechanic.

  • Check your tires: Every month, check to make sure your tires are properly inflated based on your owner’s manual recommendations. Each time your car goes in for maintenance, you should also ask for the mechanic to check your tire tread depth.

  • Change belts and hoses regularly: Even if your belts and hoses are in good working condition, it is still recommended that you get them replaced every two or three years, with the exception of the timing belt, which should be replaced every 60,000 miles.

Average cost of popular auto repairs

AAA estimates the cost of car maintenance to be between .69¢ and .76¢ per mile. Exact repair costs will vary depending on your vehicle’s age, make and model, but here is what you can generally expect to pay for some common car repairs.

Repair

How often

Average cost

Oil change

Every 5,000 to 7,5000 miles

$35 to $75

Tire replacement

Every six years

$140 to $500 per tire

Tire rotation

Every 5,000 to 8,000 miles

$75

Transmission service

Every 30,0000 to 60,000 miles

$1,200 to $6,000

Brake service

Every 10,000 to 20,000 miles

$250 to $400 per axle

Battery replacement

Every four to five years

$45 to $250

Source: AAA

Frequently asked questions

    • How much does car maintenance cost monthly?

      Data from AAA shows that in 2022, drivers spent around $894 each month to own and operate a new vehicle, an 11 percent increase from 2021. Like with other aspects of car ownership, what you pay throughout the year will depend on your make, model and how much of the repair you are able to do yourself. In general, repairs for luxury vehicles will cost you more than ones for more affordable models.

    • How does electric car maintenance differ?

      Just like how their engines operate, electric cars and gas cars are different when it comes to their maintenance costs. Routine maintenance and repair costs tend to be lower for electric vehicles when compared to gasoline-consuming ones. However, electric cars have faster rates of depreciation.

    • What brand of cars needs the least repairs?

      Of all of the brands on the market, Lexus and Toyota vehicles tend to need the least amount of repairs. But how often your car needs repairs or how much those repairs will cost will depend a lot on how well you take care of your vehicle.

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