Here are four money-saving tips that the average home owner can use to save some big dollars on their car maintenance.
1) What do you do when the check engine light comes on in your car? Most people take the car to their mechanic to get it checked out. That’s the logical thing to do. But, did you know that most mechanics in the United States charge between $75 and $200 or more to “run a computer diagnostic”? What this means is that they plug a hand-held computer into your car through a data cable under your steering wheel. The computer gives them an error code, and they check through their book to see what the error code is. It takes between two and five minutes to complete. That is better pay than most lawyers!
Many times these codes are false alarms. The technician will simply reset the error code buffer, and send you on your way. If the problem comes back then it may point to something that is starting to go bad.
Relax. There are a few places you can go to take care of this for free. AAMCO Transmission has a free computer diagnostic check. Some auto parts stores like Advanced Auto Parts, Auto Zone, O’Reilly & Champion will also check it for you for free. Pep Boys does too, if you are part of their rewards program. It’s best to call ahead to any of these places to verify that they offer this service in your area.
I always wonder what someone is going to sell me when they offer a service like this for free. I personally didn’t want to rely on a business that I may not trust to interpret my computer codes for me. I decided that I wanted to see how much my own diagnostic computer would cost. I was floored to find that I could buy one from Amazon for under $20! Sure, it required a little forward planning on my part, but I ordered it, and have been extremely pleased with the purchase ever since.
Two years ago my mechanic charged me $100 to do this five-minute check on my car’s computer. Now I can check it out and reset the codes (turn the light off) for free. Over the past two years, I have saved $300 in mechanics fees on check engine lights that told me that the engine had misfired once or I needed to tighten my gas cap. Seriously! I should start a business doing nothing but auto computer diagnostics!
2) Check your tire pressure every time you fuel up. According to FuelEconomy.gov, you can save .3% on fuel for every 1 psi that your tire pressure is low up to about 3.3%. What does this mean in dollars? This is about 12 cents per gallon. Keeping your tires properly inflated can save you between $75 and $150 every year on gas. This says nothing about the wear on the tires that will be saved.
How do you know if your tire pressure is low? It’s not as easy as quickly glancing at them. By the time the tires are looking deflated, they may be low by as much as 20 psi. I once checked my air pressure and it was reading 10 psi, and the tire didn’t look that bad!
Most people are not aware of what the proper air pressure is for their car. The best way to find out is to look at the sticker on the jamb of the driver’s side door. This will tell you the proper tire pressure. The “maximum pressure” stamped on the sidewall of the tire is not what you should be following. Usually the proper pressure is between 25 & 35 psi. The maximum pressure is usually about 10 psi above the proper pressure. This gives the tire a safety margin because the pressure changes with the temperature of the road.
Failure to maintain proper tire pressure will not only cost you in gas, but it is also a serious safety hazard. Over pressurized tires can blow out. Under pressurized tires can cause problems with steering.
It is easy to push-off checking your tires for weeks or months, even when they are noticeably low. This is why it is best to get into the habit of checking them every time you get gas. Instead of standing there watching the numbers count up on the pump, buy a tire pressure gauge and check the air in your tires while you wait. Let’s face it, it’s inconvenient at any time of year.
3) Replace your air filters. I am always amazed when I replace an air filter, and suddenly my fuel mileage improves by a few miles per gallon. Many owner’s manuals tell you to replace your air filter every 6 months or 10,000 miles. The reality is that most people let it go a year or more.
Those air filters are expensive little buggers! They usually cost between $15 and $20! There is another way to handle it. K&N makes an air filter that is re-usable after cleaning, and it allows more air to flow through, which often means better fuel savings. The extended benefit of these filters is that you don’t need to change them as often (about once a year). I have been using these filters in my cars for about three years now, and love them. They cost about three times as much as their paper counterparts, but they pay for themselves in a year or so.
4) Some people have been changing their own oil for years. I used to change the oil in my vehicles to save money. 10 years ago you could buy the oil and filter for about $15 US at any auto parts store. If I did it myself I could save about $20 US per car, compared to taking it to my mechanic or one of the oil changing franchises. The time commitment was about the same either way, so I decided to do it myself. The job was a little messy, but it was satisfying knowing that I was saving money. I would usually do both cars at the same time, and save $40 in the hour that it took to do it.
Slowly, the price of lube oil has been going up. It now costs almost $30 US to buy the oil and filter for one car. For some reason the prices at the repair shops have remained steady. It has always been about $35 US to get an oil change. I recently decided that it is no longer worth the hassle to change my own oil for the $5 savings. You decide if this is worth your time or not. If you can find the oil at a decent price, it may be worth your time. What has changed? I would truly like to know. I have my suspicions, and am fairly certain it is NOT tied to the price of gasoline at the pump.