“The value of proper car maintenance is priceless,” writes Liza Barth at the Consumer Reports auto blog. “Regular maintenance of your vehicle can save you money on vehicle repairs and keep it running smoothly for many years to come.” In particular, Barth encourages readers to keep on top of two easy (but critical) components of car care: oil changes and tire pressure.

Change your oil
The “quick lube” places want you to change your oil as often as possible, but the 3,000-mile oil change is essentially a scam (or marketing ploy, if you prefer). Frequent oil changes might be necessary if your car puts in heavy duty, but for many vehicles it’s okay to change the oil every 7,500 miles or six months (whichever comes first). Consult your owners manual for the recommended schedule for your car. (On my Focus, for example, Ford suggests replacing the oil every 5,000 miles.)

When I was younger, I’d change my own oil. Somehow I got out of that habit. Edmunds.com, in their guide on how to change your oil yourself, reminds us why this might be a good idea:

You’ll save roughly a hundred dollars a year doing this procedure on your own. Oh, and maybe another ten bucks or so when you say no to the guy at the quick-lube place trying to sell you a five dollar air filter for $14.95…If this doesn’t appeal to you, go to Jiffylube or Grease Monkey or your local quick-lube shop, shell out 30 bucks, and be done with it.

Clever Dude recently shared detailed instructions for how to change your car’s engine oil. If you’re more visual than verbal, this video from the Backyard Mechanics does a great job of going over how to change your own oil (once you get past the lame first minute):

Inflate your tires
It’s also important to keep your tires properly inflated.

  • If tires are under-inflated, fuel economy and handling suffer.
  • If tires are over-inflated, they’re more easily damaged, and the vehicle will experience a harsher ride. Overinflation also makes it difficult to stop under wet conditions.

To care for your tires, check the air pressure at regular intervals (once a month is good) when the tires are cold. (I drive mine to a nearby service station to make the check.) Check the tread depth, and look for other signs of wear. Finally, fill the tire to the pressure recommended in the owners manual (or on the doorjamb placard), not to the pressure listed on the side of the tire.

A well-maintained vehicle is not only safer, but costs less to run. As Benjamin Franklin is said to have observed, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A little money spent now can prevent bigger expenses down the road.

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