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Agriculture Today

Keeping up with car maintenance can actually save money

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Jeff Deines
On The Road Again
October 26, 2011 | 3,030 views | Post a comment

Today I hung around one of those oil change places waiting in line on that annual car inspection. While it beat sitting in a dentist’s chair, it still isn’t among my favorite things to do. Most garages and places that do inspections certainly don’t get rich doing them, so most use the opportunity to sell other goods and services. I probably waited a total of 30 minutes, and in that time, every customer was hit with a sales pitch.

One person had no choice. A headlight was out, so the vehicle would not pass the inspection if it weren’t repaired, so she took a new light without even asking about the price. One customer refused any services and escaped with her $14.50 sticker. Another had a bill for $110, having purchased wiper blades, an air filter, and an oil change. But the prize winner was the last customer, who was talked into a fuel injection cleaning treatment for big bucks. What surprised me most on that last sale is it was seemingly close to an impulse buy, as the lady had no intention of purchasing anything other than the sticker when she went in -- but got convinced the car would run better after the cleaning. Would it?

It is very likely it would have, but did it need to be done? Certainly any cleaning was not time sensitive and therefore could have been better planned for another time. The best way to use these services is by carefully watching the maintenance schedule in the back of the owner’s manual, and using it as a guide. Following factory-recommended service intervals can add to your car’s reliability, and avoid costly over-repair.

If the schedule recommends your antifreeze should be changed at five years or 60,000 miles and the sales people are asking to do the service at 50,000, it makes sense to reject such services -- especially if the place tries to use scare tactics. It is easy to be convinced to accept these services when you don’t completely understand how your car works. Most people fall into that category.

If you no longer have your owner’s manual, the information may be available online or the dealer can provide you with said information. Personally, I change oil at 5,000 miles whether using synthetics or not, although synthetic changes can be stretched a lot further. I do antifreeze flushes at five years, and at 10 years, I do another flush and a hose replacement. Serpentine belts are replaced when I see cracks or after five years, whichever comes first. I use a fuel injection cleaner such as 44K or Seafoam in the gas tank every 10,000 miles. I use the kind you pour in the tank -- not the professional “cleaning” -- and I do this as cleaning maintenance to avoid buildup.

When it comes to automatic transmissions, I drop the pan early at the first 15,000 for inspection and cleaning, a new filter, and I top off the fluid. Then, I do a full fluid flush through the cooling lines every 50,000 miles thereafter, unless the fluid begins to change color. I rarely ever take the pan back off if the first change was relatively clean.

If the car is equipped with a timing belt, follow manufacturer’s recommendations, or replace it every 100,000 miles. If driven by the timing belt, replace the water pump, too.

When it comes to air filters, I change them about every 30,000 miles, unless they get dirty early from dirt roads and such. I also change cabin filters for the air conditioner and the fuel filter every 30,000 miles.

Most tune-ups nowadays are recommended at 100,000 miles, with a PCV valve and sparkplug wires, if so equipped. Some manufacturers also suggest flushing brake fluid and power steering fluid periodically, as well as the rear end oil -- but these need to be looked up to verify.

While all of the above sounds like a lot of expense, being talked into doing it too early can add to maintenance dollars. Of course, these services done at the proper intervals are necessary if you want to keep Betsy running as long and reliably as possible, but educating yourself and keeping good records will stop over-repair and wasted money.

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