Cars provide freedom, fun, and once you stick with one long enough, it can feel like a member of the family.
However, no car is cheap to own.
Even if your car is a $500 beater, you still have to pay for insurance, parking, gas, tires, repairs, and more. In total, your car probably costs you around $4,000 per year, even if you don’t realize it.
Cearly, cars are expensive. Thankfully, however, you can greatly reduce your cost of ownership by performing a combination of
- Preventative maintenance.
- DIY maintenance.
Most of the cost of car maintenance and repairs comes from folks simply waiting too late. I’d estimate that for every $1 you spend on preventative maintenance, you’ll save $10 in later repair costs. DIY is even cheaper, and much more rewarding at that.
1. Inspect your tire tread and get an alignment
- Cost if you do: $500 for tires, $90 for an alignment.
- Cost if you don’t: Your car, your life!
If you’re a runner, hiker, or another form of athlete, you know the importance of having good traction. When your soles run flat, you immediately replace them. If you don’t, you risk sliding and breaking an ankle.
Your car tires deserve the same amount of care and attention since the stakes are even higher!
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly 50% of cars on the road today need at least one tire replaced, and 10% have a bald tire with absolutely zero grip in wet conditions.
If you can’t remember the last time you changed tires, it’s probably time. You can find out for sure by performing the “penny test.”
- Grab a penny and go to your car.
- There are multiple parallel “channels” in your tire treads. Place the penny head down into the channels.
- If you can see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head but you can’t see his hair, the tire needs replacing within 1,000 miles.
- If you can see all of Abe’s hair, the tire has less than 2/32” tread left, and your car is unsafe to drive. Replace the tire immediately.
- Repeat the penny test for every channel in all four tires.
When you get new tires, you’ll want to pony up for an alignment as well. During an alignment, your mechanic will use a special tool to make sure all four wheels are pointing perfectly forward. Doing so makes the car comfier, safer, and makes your tires last much longer!
Purchasing new tires can be an expensive pain, but it’s necessary to keep your car safe. Plus, with a new set of tires, you’ll have better comfort and ride quality.
Read more: How Much Does It Really Cost To Own Your Car? You’ll Be Amazed
2. Check your tire pressure once a month
- Cost if you do: $2 in quarters, 2 minutes.
- Cost if you don’t: Lower MPG, needing new tires ($800) and another alignment ($100) much earlier.
Once you’ve fitted a fresh set of tires onto your car, keeping them inflated is perhaps the #1 cheapest car maintenance tip that also provides the most benefits.
Think about it – your four tires are your car’s only contact point with the road (hopefully) – so if your tires aren’t happy, nobody’s happy. Your car could be a $200,000 Audi R8 with a V10 engine and every possible performance option – but if your tires are low, it’ll perform worse than a $30,000 Audi A3.
That’s because low tire pressure will negatively impact the way your car handles, your ride quality, your tire life, and it can throw your car out of alignment. Plus, you’ll even get lower MPG due to the flatter tire’s increased rolling resistance.
Low tire pressure can even cause a tire to explode!
Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to keep your tires inflated. Most gas stations will have a tire inflator with a built-in pressure gauge – feed it $2 in quarters, and you’ll get plenty of time to refill your tires for an instantly better ride.
Be careful not to overinflate your tires – you can learn your car’s recommended PSI for both front and rear tires by inspecting the sticker in the door jam or simply referring to your owner’s manual.
A few pro tips:
- If you’re a Costco member, you can pull up to the Costco tire center, and a technician will refill your tires for free using nitrogen, which leaks much more slowly than oxygen.
- Consider keeping a cheap $5 to $10 tire pressure gauge in your trunk.
- Tires almost always lose 2 to 5 PSI after big drops in outside temperature. Check your tires more often in the winter
- While you’re inflating your tires, remember to inflate your spare, as well!
3. Take a leaky/flat tire to a tire shop – not the dealership
- Cost if you do: $15 to patch a tire.
- Cost if you don’t: $200 to replace one tire (or $800 to replace all four!).
Maybe your tire catches a nail or a pair of pliers and you get a flat. Or maybe you simply notice that one tire is leaking faster than the others. In either case, you’ll want to get the situation remedied ASAP.
Now, at the first sign of trouble, many folks will default to taking their car back to the dealership for a diagnosis and repair. And to be clear, this is often a good first step – especially if the car is under warranty. You can’t beat free!
However, if your tires aren’t under warranty, taking a leaky or flat tire to the dealer is typically a waste of time. Dealerships like to replace parts – not repair them – since the former is more lucrative, keeps your car running longer, and is better for the overall brand than a “fix.”
But replacing a flat or leaky tire is often overkill. A totally new tire is at least $200, and it’s best to replace both front or rear tires at once ($400), and you may even need another alignment, for a total of $500.
Instead, you can take a leaky tire to a corner tire shop, and they’ll patch it for $15, $20 tops. And although the term “patch” may sound disconcerting, a professional patch job will outlast the life of the tire. $15 and your tire is as good as new.
4. Read your own check engine lights using a $25 scanner
- Cost if you do: $25 on Amazon.
- Cost if you don’t: Time at the dealership, paying for repairs you don’t need.
Ever get a check engine light on your dashboard and think, “Oh, great – NOW what?”
Tradition dictates that you now have to limp over to Pep Boys so they can read the check engine light code and tell you how much money you’re about to lose.
But what if I told you that you could read that code yourself and save tons of time and money?
When you bring your car into the shop for a check engine light, your mechanic will use a tool called an OBD-II scanner to plug directly into your car’s computer and read the code associated with the check engine light.
But you can skip this step entirely by buying your own OBD-II scanner for under $25:
OBD-II ports are usually hidden somewhere by your knees, maybe behind a removable plastic panel, and are easily accessible. Then, just plug in your OBD-II scanner, and it’ll tell you exactly what your check engine light is for.
Some examples I’ve dealt with personally include:
- P0300 – Multiple cylinder misfires (fixed by replacing spark plugs for $5).
- P0301 – Cylinder 1 misfire (fixed for $50 by replacing an ignition coil).
- P0402 – Excessive gas recalculation (fixed for free by cleaning my intake manifold).
Even if you don’t know how to clean your intake manifold or replace spark plugs, at least you know what’s wrong – this not only saves you time, it prevents you from getting scammed. Dishonest mechanics can make up any code they want and overcharge you for repairs you don’t need – but if you call and say, “I got a P0402 and need my intake cleaned,” you’ll save yourself a visit – and potentially hundreds of dollars.
5. Check your oil once a month
- Cost if you do: Free, 90 seconds.
- Cost if you don’t: Roadside breakdown, engine damage.
If you have a dad, he’s probably told you to “check your oil.”
“Hey, Dad – my engine’s making a funny noise.”
“Check your oil.”
“Hey, Dad – Robert and I had a fight…”
“Check your oil.”
“Dad, what should I do after graduation?”
“Check your oil.”
Here’s why dads are obsessed with checking your oil – if the oil in your engine is low, it means there’s not enough lubrication for all those moving parts. Without oil, parts can jam, break, and even destroy your engine.
So keeping your oil levels high is key to a happy, healthy engine. It’s also super easy.
Pop the hood and look for your dipstick. They’re usually yellow, with a loop:
Pull it out, wipe the oil off with a lint-free towel, and dip the clean dipstick all the way back into the slot where it came from.
Pull it back out, and check your oil levels. If the oil levels fall between the two notches, you’re good! If it’s low, you’ll want to add some oil.
To add oil, carefully unscrew the cap with this icon in your engine bay:
Then, add a half quart of motor oil. Be sure to add the grade your engine likes, which will be listed in your owner’s manual (e.g. 0W-20, 5W-30).
Lastly, just screw your oil cap back on nice, and be sure to call dad to make him proud!
Oh, and you should know that adding oil is different from changing oil. Adding oil doesn’t make it cleaner – it just tops it off. For clean oil, you’ll need an oil change once a year.
6. Change your oil once a year (and not at Jiffy Lube)
- Cost if you do: $40.
- Cost if you don’t: Up to $7,500 for an engine replacement!
If you’ve been getting your oil changed at one of those “fast oil change” places, I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that you’ve been getting ripped off. Unless you drive a specialty performance car, oil changes simply shouldn’t cost between $80 and $200 like these silly places charge.
Plus, these places tend to find “problems” that don’t really exist, and overcharge for those too. Even worse, the quality of labor at these places tends to be much lower than you’d receive at an independent mechanic.
But what really gets my goat is that these fast oil places will pressure you into getting your next oil change within 3,000 miles, when most synthetic oils will last up to 10,000 miles, according to Consumer Reports. That’s wasteful, bad for the environment, and dishonest.
So forget Jiffy Lube!
Instead, here’s a secret that’ll save you hundreds on oil changes over the next few years. Any independent mechanic will change your oil for around $15 as long as you supply your own oil and filter.
Walmart, Costco, and Amazon are all great places to buy oil. Five quarts of ultra high-quality synthetic oil will run you around $20, and filters are about $5. So all in, you’ll be spending as little as $40 for an oil change.
Oil changes keep your engine bits from grinding together, so they’re perhaps the most important form of preventative maintenance you’ll perform on your car. Get one every 10,000 miles or one year, whichever comes first. I recommend setting an annual calendar note for, say, July 6th: “Oil Change Day.”
In between your annual oil change, it’s a good idea to check your oil levels every other time you gas up. Doing so can make sure you don’t have a leak or other issues pop up. Here’s how to check your oil level:
- Pop open your hood.
- Look for a dipstick like this one.
- Pull it out.
- Wipe it clean with a towel.
- Dip it and pull it out again.
- If the oil level falls between the two notches (or MIN MAX markings), you’re good!
- If it falls below the MIN marking, add a little oil.
- If the oil is milky or has particles in it, you might have a coolant leak or other issue; take it to your mechanic, and celebrate that you found an issue early on!
7. Check your transmission fluid
- Cost if you do: Free to check, $100 to replace every 20,000 miles.
- Cost if you don’t: Up to $3,400 for a transmission rebuild!
Your transmission is the part of your car that contains all of your gears and switches between them as you drive. Like your engine, it’s a very complex component filled with moving parts needing constant lubrication to stay operational.
And like your engine, your transmission will die without its happy juice!
Unlike engine oil, transmission fluid can last anywhere from 15,000 miles of hard city driving with lots of gear changes to 60,000 miles of highway driving. Most honest mechanics will check your transmission fluid for you, but it’s a good idea to check it yourself every few thousand miles or so.
Checking your transmission fluid is as easy as checking your oil levels. Look for a dipstick that’s a different color from your oil dipstick. If you can find it, pull it out and check the color of your transmission fluid.
If your transmission fluid is any color but reddish/pink (like black, brown, or burgundy), congrats! You caught a problem early on. Take it to your mechanic and report your findings pronto.
If you can’t find a transmission dipstick, it means that you have what’s known as a sealed transmission. Many modern cars have sealed transmissions to keep unskilled DIYers out. If you can’t find a dipstick, just ask your mechanic to check your transmission fluid during your next oil change.
8. Top off your coolant
- Cost if you do: $20 every 30,000 miles, 1 minute of labor.
- Cost if you don’t: $1,000+ in engine and radiator repairs.
Your radiator is like your engine’s own A/C unit. Its job is to keep the engine cool by flushing a special fluid called coolant in and out of the engine to dissipate heat. If your engine doesn’t get enough coolant, it can quickly overheat, leading to an immediate breakdown and potentially thousands in needed repairs.
That’s why your coolant temperature gets its own special place in your instrument cluster. If you ever see this needle starting to climb above the halfway mark, pull over immediately because your engine may be overheating like a Husky in Phoenix!
Thankfully, keeping your engine coolant topped off is also super easy. After your car has been parked for at least an hour, giving your coolant time to, well, cool off, pop the hood and look for this cap:
Slowly and carefully unscrew it. Once it’s off, do you see coolant? If not, time to top off!
It’s really that simple. Check your owner’s manual (or Google) for the type of coolant your manufacturer recommends (e.g. extended life, 50/50, etc.), and you can pick up a gallon jug for $15 at any auto parts store.
If you notice that your car is still overheating, check underneath the car for a coolant leak. You can’t go far with a faulty cooling system, so you’ll want to bring your car in for repairs ASAP.
9. Change your own cabin air filter
- Cost if you do: $10 every 20,000 miles.
- Cost if you don’t: Poor airflow/quality, or $140+ to let a dealer do it!
I tend to avoid dealerships for repairs because they consistently charge twice what an independent mechanic will charge for the same service and the same parts.
Case in point, I once took my old Lexus to the local dealer for a recall. While they performed the recall service, they also did a 30-point “courtesy check.” To precisely no one’s surprise, the dealer found six “overdue services.”
Among other things, they wanted to change my tires (which had plenty of tread life left), change my oil at 2,700 miles for $120 (lol), and lastly, change my cabin air filter.
For this last service, the “stealership” wanted an eye-watering $140. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming the cabin air filter must be buried somewhere requiring tools and labor to access.
Wrong! In reality, you can change your cabin air filter with your bare hands in under two minutes. This is because most cars are designed to make accessing the cabin air filter really simple. In most cases, all you have to do is check your glove box for a little plastic door. Remove that, put in a fancy carbon-activated filter for $9, and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve saved $131.
Best of all, with your newfound mechanical knowledge, you’ll save $131 every time you need to change your filter (which, if you’re wondering, is every 20,000 miles)!
10. Change your own windshield wipers
- Cost if you do: $13 twice a year.
- Cost if you don’t: $80+ to let the dealer do it (with crappy wipers).
“We recommend a wiper replacement” is the car dealership equivalent to, “Do you want fries with that?” It’s one of their favorite “services” to upsell for a few reasons:
- Since wipers go bad after six months, pretty much every car that goes in for servicing genuinely needs its wipers replaced.
- It takes a dealership 60 seconds and $13 worth of parts to replace wipers.
- Yet they charge $80+ for it.
So, like a Large Fry for $2.79, $80 wiper swaps have insane profit margins. But while $3 on fries is still worth it, having dealers swap your wipers is a total waste of money.
High-quality wiper blades cost $6-$10, so you can pay as little as $13 with tax to change your own wipers.
And you can do so in the parking lot in under two minutes. Wiper blades include instructions on the packaging – and most use a simple clip-on, clip-off system.
Dealerships will tell you that your car doesn’t have wiper blades, but wiper “shells” that require you to “refill” the rubber blade inside. That’s why they have to do it.
While it’s technically true that many modern and especially luxury cars have fancy wiper blade “shells,” you can still remove the whole shell and replace it with the $6 Michelin blade without really changing the look of your car. Just keep your OEM wiper blade shells handy for when you sell the car.
11. Inspect your timing belt (and see if you have a chain)
- Cost if you do: Free, $500 to $1,000 preventative service.
- Cost if you don’t: Sudden breakdown, $2,000+ post-breakdown service.
Inspecting your timing belt takes 15 seconds and can save you $1,500+ in repairs. Here’s how.
As the name implies, your timing belt keeps several critical engine components in-sync with each other. It’s also a common point of failure in older cars, as timing belts are made of rubber. If you hear rhythmic squeaking coming from your engine bay, it may be a sign that your timing belt may be cracked, dried out, or have debris on it.
Timing belt failures can often sneak up on you because a worn-out timing belt may not make a loud enough sound or cause a check engine light. Thus, it’s a good idea to simply eyeball your timing belt every 10,000 miles or so.
You may have to remove some plastic engine covers, but most cars with gas engines will have their timing belt easily visible. And since timing belts can move fast, you’ll want your car off while you look.
Your timing belt should look smooth and silky, like a black fruit rollup. If it looks grainy, cracked, or inconsistent, you should consider taking it in for inspection.
Catching a rough timing belt before it breaks is a huge win, since replacing a worn-out timing belt can be as cheap as $300 to $500. But if it breaks while you’re driving, not only will it put you in danger, it can seriously damage other engine components and cost you $2,000+ to repair.
So give your ol’ timing belt a quick scan every nine months or so, and one day, you’ll save yourself a couple of grand.
Oh, and one last thing: consult your owner’s manual to determine whether you have a timing belt or a timing chain. Timing belts need replacing every 60,000 to 80,000 miles, while timing chains can last 120,000 miles or even the lifetime of the car.
It’s important to know which one you have because shops and dealers will often try to scam you into replacing your timing belt when in reality, you have a perfectly good chain already. If you know you have a chain, and your shop refers to your belt, run away from that shop!
12. Wash your car to save your suspension
- Cost if you do: $10 per wash.
- Cost if you don’t: $1,000s in lost resale value.
If you’re one of those people who tends to wash your car once every Blood Moon, I’d encourage you to greatly increase your frequency to at least twice a month.
That’s because washing your car has several surprising benefits beyond just a shiny look:
- Improved visibility. Removing that thin layer of grime can greatly improve your outwards visibility and even prevent an accident.
- Maintained value. Keeping your car clean will preserve the integrity of the clearcoat, helping to maintain its looks and thus its resale value.
- Happier suspension. If you live in a cold area with road salt or a coastal area with sea salt, that salt won’t just eat away at your paint – it’ll rust and rapidly age your suspension components if left on there for too long. Thus, a good wash with an undercarriage spray is practically mandatory at least twice a month.
- Higher MPG. Dirt adds weight and reduces your car’s aerodynamics and lowering your MPG. Yep – driving a clean car isn’t just better feeling – it’s cheaper!
If you don’t have a bucket, hose, and a driveway, I strongly recommend finding your nearest touchless drive-through car wash.
As much as I prefer to support local businesses, I don’t recommend using a hand wash service – employees there often use the same towels and buckets on multiple cars, meaning they can be spreading the previous car’s dirt and grime onto your car.
Touchless is the way to go – and the extra $2 to $5 for the undercarriage spray is worth it!
13. Clay bar your car to make it look brand new
- Cost if you do: $15 for a clay bar kit.
- Cost if you don’t: Worse looking paint, lower resale value.
A good wash makes your car look better, but if you want your car to truly look brand spankin’ new, you’ll want to clay bar it.
Claying, or clay barring, is the process of wiping a literal bar of clay across your car’s paint to pick up all the contaminants that a basic wash wasn’t strong enough to remove – things like bug remains, tree sap, and millions of stubborn dirt particles.
The results of a decent clay bar job speak for themselves. Removing that final layer of dirt makes your car go from “recently-washed old car” to “brand new car” in the looks department.
Quick money-saving tip on clay barring – if you start running out of clay bar lubricant, you can dilute what’s left with distilled water without losing much of its dirt-removing potency – no need to buy another $20 bottle.
14. Apply a ceramic coating to save your paint
- Cost if you do: <$100 for a ceramic coating kit.
- Cost if you don’t: Paint chips, paint wear, lower resale value.
A really thorough clay job can take over an hour – and unfortunately, everyday driving can make your car look dirty again in a matter of weeks or even days.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make your car look new and shiny for much longer?
Enter ceramic coating.
You may have heard the term before if you purchased a high-end sports or luxury car at a dealership. They likely tried to upsell you on a ceramic coating or “paint armor” service for a measly $1,500 to $5,000.
Thankfully, as is the case with most optional dealership services, you can do it yourself for well under $100.
A ceramic coating is a chemical solution that bonds on a molecular level the paint on your car, creating a thin layer of “armor” that repels rocks, dirt, and debris while keeping your car looking brand new for months or even years.
Ceramic coatings are carefully applied by hand using a tiny applicator no longer than three inches. So naturally, they take a while – up to 30 minutes per body panel, or four to five hours overall.
But a good ceramic coating will not only preserve your car’s freshly-clayed look – it’ll protect it from chips and scratches, preventing expensive body shop repairs and greatly improving your resale value.
15. Detail your interior
- Cost if you do: $50 paid once, 2 hours every 3 to 6 months.
- Cost if you don’t: $1,000s in lower resale value.
You probably saw this one coming. After all, your car’s interior deserves just as much love and attention as the exterior!
While an interior detail doesn’t provide the mechanical benefits of an exterior detail, it still pays for itself 20 times over by preserving your car’s value.
After all, would you pay full resale price for a car with a big stain on the carpets? Or cracked leather on the seats?
Giving your car an interior detail can be quick, easy, and rewarding. Investing $20 to $50 in the right products can return your car to showroom shape, and most of these products you’ll only ever have to buy once.
Here are some I strongly recommend:
- Microfiber towels are a necessity for all car detailing jobs, in and out. Their ultra-fine fibers will do a better job at picking up dirt and grime without leaving swirls or scratches. They’re also sensitive enough to clean your infotainment system screen.
- Dashboard wipes keep the plastic/rubber of your dashboard from bleaching and cracking in the sun (once that happens, it’s almost impossible to replace).
- Leather care wipes will preserve the look and integrity of your leather seats, steering wheel, and shift knob. They also tend to smell amazing.
- Carpet cleaner will help you scrub out old stains from your car’s cloth seats and floor mats.
- Glass cleaner costs $1 at Dollar Tree and can keep your glass clean on the inside and outside – increasing visibility and thus the safety of you and your passengers.
Meguiar’s is pretty much the top brand for all this stuff, and it’s what the pros use for $150 details. It’s pricey but worth it.
And for more tips on how to detail your specific car, perform a YouTube search for “[your make, model, year] interior detail.” You’re bound to find a video that offers specific tips on cleaning your car’s materials and which products are best.
16. Invest in new floor mats for improved safety
- Cost if you do: $50.
- Cost if you don’t: Lower resale value, potential crashes!
Back in 2009, Toyota got in big, big trouble for putting floor mats in cars that could actually slide up and push the accelerator. This design flaw soon proved to be fatal, causing several crashes before Toyota and the NHTSA could alert the public.
However, while Toyota got busted for making new floor mats that did this, the reality is that any old, worn-out floor mat has the potential to interfere with your pedals and cause a serious accident.
If your floor mats tend to shift around while you drive, or look like crap in general, it’s time for a new set.
New floor mats don’t just look much nicer and improve the value of your car – they come equipped with anchors or other technology to prevent sliding. And if you’re tired of cleaning your floor mats, you can invest in some nice rubber ones that easily hose off.
For looks, convenience, and safety, dropping $50 on floor mats is practically a no-brainer maintenance tip.
17. Replace your own battery (and get a free battery next time)
- Cost if you do: $90.
- Cost if you don’t: Car won’t start, dealer charges $400+ for battery swap and terminal cleaning.
In most cars, swapping out the battery isn’t much more involved than swapping the AAAs in your TV remote. But first, let’s learn how to spot a car battery that’s going bad:
Generally speaking, there are four telltale signs that your car battery is soon in need of replacement:
- Your car’s engine starts slowly.
- Your lights and other electronics are dim.
- You get a battery-related check engine light (which you can scan with your new OBD-II scanner!).
- Your battery is 4+ years old.
When it’s time to replace your battery, don’t take your car to the dealership unless it’s under warranty. Instead, head to an auto parts chain like Pep Boys, Autozone, etc., and ask them to pick out the right battery for your car.
Oftentimes, associates at these stores will come outside and install your new battery for free. If they don’t, it’s still pretty easy:
- Remove the negative/black terminal first (you may need a socket wrench).
- Remove the positive/red terminal next (yep, positive is red in the car world ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).
- Unscrew any additional brackets holding the old battery in place.
- If they’re dirty with corrosion, clean the battery terminals with a wire brush dipped in baking soda and water.
- Ensure both terminals are bone dry.
- Insert the new battery, and bolt it down under any retaining brackets.
- Install the positive terminal.
- Install the negative terminal.
If your car still doesn’t start, double-check your connections and ask a technician inside to confirm the battery has charge. If it still doesn’t start, have a mechanic test your alternator.
If it does start, congrats! My last battery-related tip is to see when your free replacement warranty expires and set a calendar note for the month before. Then, bring in your old battery for a free replacement. Most of the time, stores will replace car batteries under warranty no-questions-asked, essentially making it a BOGO deal and saving you $90!
18. Replace your own headlights (with superior LEDs)
- Cost if you do: $20.
- Cost if you don’t: Dealer charges $300 per pair for halogen bulbs.
Replacing your own headlights and taillights is another great way to save 90% off of what a dealer would charge. Plus, you’ll have more flexibility in choosing which kind of bulbs you want if you DIY.
If your left headlight goes out, chances are that the right one is soon to follow since they were presumably installed at the same time. Thus, the dealership will want to replace both.
Replacing both at once is a good idea, but per usual, the dealership will charge you out the wazoo for it – usually around $150 per side.
They’ll also install OEM headlight bulbs like the one your car came with. Now, that’s not always a bad thing (OEM bulbs tend to last a while), but having one of your bulbs go out is a great opportunity to replace your halogens with LEDs.
Compared to the halogen bulbs your car probably came with, LEDs last longer, require less power, and according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they’re brighter, too. They also look nicer – halogens tend to burn yellow, while LEDs burn white or blue – making an older car look more modern.
Here’s a direct comparison on my own Miata – the LED is on the right, while the left headlight and fog lamps are halogens:
Once you determine the bulb size you need (e.g. 9005, 9006), you can purchase a pair of LEDs on Amazon for between $15 and $60. Then, you can YouTube a tutorial on replacing them in your car – most only take a few minutes.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that most of these tips also apply to other exterior bulbs. Your high beams, low beams, turn signals, fog lamps, tail lights, and reverse lights may be just as easy to replace as your headlights. At the very least, you can save money on parts by supplying your own LEDs to a shop to install for you.
19. Swap out your engine air filter for $10
- Cost if you do: $10 every 15,000 miles.
- Cost if you don’t: Up to $80 parts and labor.
Like replacing your wiper blades, changing out your engine air filter is one of those things dealerships love to do for you because it costs them $8 and two minutes, and they’ll charge you $80+.
But don’t be intimidated by your engine air filter. In most cars, it’s extremely accessible, and replacement filters cost just $10 on Amazon.
To inspect your filter, you’ll first need to locate your air box in your engine bay. It’s usually a big plastic box connected to your engine by a large diameter tube (that’s your air intake, where air passes into your engine from your air filter).
Anyways, remove the plastic tabs or clips around your airbox to expose the filter.
Pull out your air filter, and if it’s full of dust, muck, and grime, it’s definitely time for a replacement (they need replacing every ~15,000 miles, so if you can’t remember the last time, it’s time).
If the filter looks OK, you can apply the light test. Turn on your cell phone light and shine it through the filter. If less than half the light shines through, it’s toast – time for a replacement.
But again, replacement air filters are dirt cheap, so to speak. You can typically find one on Amazon for ~$10.
Pop it in and your engine will breathe again and thank you!
20. Don’t trust AWD or all-season tires – get snow tires
- Cost if you do: $900 for a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks mounted and balanced.
- Cost if you don’t: Untold damage when you slide off the road.
Most cars these days come equipped with all-season tires, which are designed with a special compound that provides comfort, grip, and a quiet ride under most road conditions.
In that way, all-season tires are like long-sleeved shirts; they work well in spring, summer, fall, and even warmer days of winter.
But neither a long-sleeved shirt nor an all-season tire is any good in the snow.
“In order to provide good performance in a variety of driving conditions all-season tires inevitably have to compromise some winter performance.”
So when it comes to winter weather, “having the right tire matters.” Winter tires have completely different rubber compound, tread depth, and tread pattern specifically designed to provide grip under snowy and icy conditions.
Can you still run a quick errand in the snow on all-season tires? Yes, but “don’t be surprised if your car slides a lot or takes longer to come to a complete stop,” writes MotorBiscuit.
$900 may be a steep investment, but if there’s any lingering doubt that you’ll need snow tires, consider this: according to Kelley Blue Book, 75% of Canadians use snow tires, and 80% say they’ve saved them from a collision.
You also shouldn’t trust your AWD or 4WD system in the snow. Simply having power in all four corners will not help your tires grip in snow and ice – nor will it have any effect on your braking distance.
According to Dunn Tire, in snowy conditions, “a 2WD drive vehicle with snow tires on all four wheels will outperform a 4WD vehicle with regular tires.”
Lastly, once the salt trucks come through and dry off the roads, don’t forget to wash your undercarriage to get that corrosive salt off!
21. Drive your car at least once a month
- Cost if you do: $10 every 20,000 miles.
- Cost if you don’t: Poor airflow/quality, or $140+ to let a dealer do it!
Just like a pet, your car actually needs play and exercise – just on a less frequent basis.
Cars are designed to be driven. The process of internal combustion, moving pistons, and several types of fluid moving is what literally keeps them alive.
If you let a car sit for too long, it actually starts to deteriorate faster than if you’d been driving it all along. After one month of inactivity, the following starts to happen:
- The battery dies.
- Tires develop flat spots that cannot be repaired.
- A lack of fluids/moisture causes seals and gaskets to develop cracks.
- Stagnant gas starts to mix with oxygen and congeal.
- Rust accelerates on brake rotors and suspension components.
- Paint can suffer damage.
- Rodents and insects can move in and cause permanent damage.
Leaving your car in a garage ameliorates some of these issues, but not the most expensive ones like flat spotting and gasket leaks.
Therefore, if you’ve been neglecting your poor car during work-from-home, just take it out for a 10-minute spin. If you know you’ll be gone for over a month, have a buddy check-in and take your car for a wash, or to the zoo, or to Ben & Jerry’s if it behaves.
But seriously, cars need love, too, and spending just 10 minutes with your car every month can keep the candlelit between you.
Cars can be an expensive headache, but performing these basic maintenance steps yourself will not only prolong the life of your car and save you thousands today – they’ll preserve the value of your car for a potential sale tomorrow.