Recently, I got some surprising news about my car. It was barely a year old and had less than fifteen thousand miles on the odometer, but I had to take it to the repair shop for new brake pads. Thinking that this would cost only a few hundred dollars, I was shocked to learn that the total bill was closer to $1,100. What happened? I demanded answers from my extremely friendly mechanic, a man with large teeth who couldn’t stop smiling. Of course he was happy—he was getting my money.
Apparently, I brake for just about anything and anyone. Darn those silly bumper stickers, but it’s true in my case. I brake for squirrels, birds, cats, etc. I thought I was being an overly cautious driver for the past twenty years, but apparently, I just didn’t know how to use my brakes. This made me think about the folly of my ways, my bad braking habits, and the general abuse I’ve given to my various cars over the years. Determined to turn over a new leaf, I decided to put together some good advice for my fellow car owners.
These are things that anyone can do at home, from washing the car to changing the filters. To find the air filter or oil filter in your car, you’ll need to consult your car manual. If you cannot locate it in its usual spot (a.k.a the glove compartment), contact your car manufacturer or check for a PDF version of the manual online. Some general recommendations:
- Wash the exterior somewhere between once a week to once a month, depending on how often you drive and where you live.
- Vacuum the inside of your car as often as you clean the exterior. Dirt and grime can ruin the upholstery of the seats and also create a stinky situation when the windows are rolled up.
- Change the air filter every twelve months or 10,000 to 12,000 miles. If you live in a dusty area, change it sooner.
- Completely change the oil (and filter at the same time) every 3,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on how and where you drive. If you live in an extreme temperature climate, frequently drive on dirt roads, or often carry heavy loads, then the engine in your car burns more oil. You will need to change the oil and filter sooner than later.
- Check the pressure on your car tires. If you don’t have a tire pressure gauge, head to any gas station. You can find the tire PSI listed in your car manual or on the car doorjamb on the driver’s side. Always check the pressure when the tires are cold. Under-inflated tires can increase tire wear and might cause an accident. They also waste more gasoline.
Maintain the Fluids
Before any long road trip, you should check the level of all your car’s fluids. Your car manual has the location of each fluid reservoir. Traditionally, the oil and the transmission fluid should each have their own dipstick located somewhere under the hood of the car. For the other fluids, they should each be contained in transparent reservoirs that have markings on the outside. You can purchase replacement fluids at gas stations, car washes, and even grocery stores. Important fluids to check regularly:
- Oil. Maintaining or adding oil to your engine is different from a complete change. When checking the level of oil, be sure that it falls between the two hash marks on the dipstick. If the level is below the hash marks, add a quart of oil.
- Windshield wiper fluid. Some cars have dipsticks to check the level of this fluid. It won’t hurt the car if this fluid is low. But if you are expecting snow or cold weather, be sure to fill up on windshield wiper fluid.
- Antifreeze coolant. Make sure the engine is cool when checking this fluid, or else it can spray out as you open the reservoir. When replacing the coolant, be sure to read which type you have. Some antifreeze should be mixed 50/50 with water beforehand.
- Transmission fluid. It should be red in color and should last as long as 100,000 miles in newer cars. If the color is brown or black, then it replace it.
- Power steering. You would know if this fluid is low; the steering in your car would suddenly take five burly men to command. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes one bad incident to make you a believer in checking this fluid on a regular basis.
- Brake fluid. Cars should not consume brake fluid. If you notice that this fluid is low, take your car to a mechanic immediately. This means that there’s a leak in the brake line and your car could fail to stop.
These tips will help you save money … and save your car.
- Don’t step on the gas or brake pedals too harshly. Basically, stop driving like a maniac. It wastes gas and causes extra wear and tear on your brakes.
- Drive the speed limit. You get better gas mileage.
- Warm up the engine before you drive. The oil is still cold in the engine when your car first starts and warming it up will prevent engine wear.
- Don’t idle. If you find yourself sitting around with the engine running for more than a minute, turn off the engine.
- Cruise control is a gift from the gods. Use it and I swear you’ll be much happier. Not only will you get better gas mileage if you stay within the speed limit, it also grants your foot a reprieve from stepping on the gas peddle for long stretches of time.
- Avoid traffic if possible. The constant stop-and-go wastes gas and wears on your car.
- Get your car serviced regularly. If it’s a new car, check with your dealer to see what the recommended interval is. If you’re a high-mileage driver, then get your car tuned up more often. Tune-ups should include a general analysis of your car’s engine and undercar, safety, and computer systems.
So take to the roads, my fellow drivers, and drive carefully—hopefully you will never have to pay $1100 for new brake pads.