By Noah Henry • October 14, 2013
It doesn’t take a DIY master to undergo simple maintenance at home to save hundreds on car costs over the long run. Like you, I’ve been flabbergasted at the ghastly prices of car maintenance, ruing over estimations as I sit idle and bitter in the waiting room of your garden variety auto garage.
Today, it takes 11 years on average for your car to crap out on you. Or, it takes 11 years until you decide to toss your putt-puttering vehicle to the side for something better. You may not be an expert, but there are things you can do to extend the longevity of your car.
Remember—this is the age of information. Sites like AutoMD offer how-to guides, problem diagnosis and estimates to rid you of your auto-ignorance. But for now, please refer to this as a simple guide to getting the most for your buck while avoiding those depressing afternoons ruing in that lobby. Here are some cheap ways to avoid costly car maintenance.
Don’t let it be your instinct to go rushing from garage to garage getting quotes on dent repair. If the dent is no bigger than your abdomen, all it takes is a little suction and pull.
Northern Tool’s Northern Industrial Dent Puller ($16.99) will easily repair medium to large dents, avoiding you potentially massive costs. Drivers who can’t help but place themselves in danger should see this as an investment. This product pulls small dents by mere suction power alone, making fender and hood dents virtually invisible.
The pros say you should replace your air filters every 12,000 miles or 12 months. This will increase your fuel efficiency, prolong your engine life, and reduce emissions. It’s also quite an inexpensive fix.
Air filters can be found at Auto Parts Warehouse from $10 to $25, depending on your make and model. Here is the step-by-step for replacing your air filter: Open your hood, locate your air filter box (giant black plastic box sitting atop your engine), remove dirty filter by unclasping metal clips holding it down, and replace. See? That was easy.
Don’t spend your wad on a wax job. Unless you sell cars for a living, you may want to abstain from full service detailing, as it routinely costs well into the hundreds. Plus, by doing it yourself, you can reenact The Karate Kid and have a chuckle.
One of my favorite detailing products is BLACKFIRE Wet Diamond Rinseless Wash, available at AutoGeek for only $9.99. Its polymers and lubricants make it easy to wash away dirt and grime. Your paint, trim and class will look slick and you can pat yourself on the back knowing you saved a trip to the car wash. Auto Laundry released an article stating 35 to 70 gallons of water are used in the typical car wash. Preservationists, take note.
Scratches and Chips
If you can fit your fingernail in a scratch, it’s probably too deep to be removed at home. But you can always repair it. Meguiar’s SCRATCH X 2.0 buffs any unsightly blemishes, removing oxidation, light stains and surface contaminants on paint. It’s known to restore brilliant high gloss to make your car look new. You can find this at AutoGeek for $9.99, or direct from the manufacturer at Meguiar’s Direct.
Another favorite of mine is the Langka Complete Paint Chip Repair Kit. It has all the ingredients—prepaint, brushes, blob eliminator, and sealant—to whisk away any offending scratch marks or paint chippings. Only $39.99 at AutoGeek, you won’t have to run to the local garage to have a “professional” do the work for you.
Unbeknownst to many is the ease with which you can replace your wiper blades. The experts say you should replace your wiper blades every six to 12 months. Typically, blades cost $10 to $20, but you can find them at DH Gate for as low as $6 a piece.
It’s important to know some cars require same-sized wiper blades and others don’t, so refer to your manual. Simply raise the metal arm away from your windshield, unhook your wiper blade, and insert new wiper. If your windshield is starting to get mucky, remember, you can replace your wiper blades by yourself for less than $15.
If you’re wondering whether you need to replace your tires, administer the Penny Test: take a penny and insert it between tread on your tire; if it covers up the tip of Abraham Lincoln’s head, you’re good.
Dry rot is the process of tire degradation, and it happens to everyone. Heck, it’s probably happening right now. The goal is to extend your tires’ useful life for as long as possible. How does one do this? Check your tire pressure weekly, rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, and keep your tires properly aligned.
When the time comes for inevitable replacement, you should buy tires online. You can save well over $100 by purchasing your tires at stores like Discount Tire or TireBuyer and then having them installed by a professional (if you don't know how to yourself). Tires-Easy.com offers tires for as little as $32. These sites are also incredibly useful because they list different types of tires based on your vehicle’s make and model.
The moral of the story is don’t be duped into paying heavily when you don’t have to. It’s usually the fear of not knowing how to do something that keeps you from doing it yourself. Don’t be afraid of being called a grease monkey. Our message to you—get greasy, save a buck.
Noah Henry Noah Henry is an amateur movie critic, foodie, bowler, and beer reviewer. But he's no amateur when it comes to saving money, so listen up!
I love the penny tip!