You don t have to> live in Detroit to see that more drivers are hanging on to their cars for a longer period of time.
High unemployment and dwindling financing options are pushing fewer consumers toward new car dealerships. On average, U.S. car dealers sell 17 million cars a year, but this year U.S. auto sales are projected to drop to nine million, says Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for the New York branch of the American Automobile Association.
Broadly speaking, fewer new cars on the road means more in need of fixing up. And as consumers look to cut costs, many of them are tackling auto repairs on their own. Fifty-one percent of vehicle owners say they re performing more maintenance on their car instead of going to a mechanic than they were a year ago, according to a survey commissioned by Honeywell Consumer Products Group, a car-care products manufacturer and conducted by Kelton Research, a market research company.
By making certain tweaks and repairs on their own, consumers can increase their car s longevity and end up spending less cash at the mechanic, says Rich White, the executive director of the Car Care Council, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers on how to maintain their cars. Think of it as preventative medicine for your sedan.
A visit to the mechanic once or twice a year is recommended (not unlike a visit to the doctor), since they can tackle problems like an oil change or headlight replacement, which can be more challenging at home, especially on newer luxury vehicles, White says.
Before you start on repairs, locate your owner s manual, which comes with your care, and repair or service guide, which is sold at dealerships and parts stores. Leaf through it for guidance about the parts you might need or whether the manufacturer recommends that you leave a particular task to the dealer.
Regular gasoline is adequate for most sedans and subcompact cars. But drivers of luxury vehicles, like BMWs or Mercedeses, or sports cars should check their owners manuals, which typically recommend premium gasoline, says Mark Scott, spokesman for Autotrader.com, a comparison shopping site for cars. (Newer models often list this information on the gas cap or inside the gas door, as well.) Pass on the recommended gas and your car s performance will decrease.
A lower-octane fuel may also cause a knocking sound in a high-performance vehicle. That generally means the gas is igniting before the motor is in the right position, a problem that can damage your engine, Sinclair says.
Aggressive driving and sudden braking will put additional wear-and-tear on your brakes. Instead, drive with an even temper and gently apply the brakes, and you'll save several hundred dollars on repairs.
On average, mechanics charge $80 to $90 to replace brake pads and replacing all of your brakes can cost $400 or more, says Scott.
Drivers who skip the mechanic and change their brake pads on their own, can find front brake pads starting at $25 for $23. That s about 40% less than the mechanic s price.
However, replacing brakes on your own requires several specific tools, including a new brake rotor, caliper and fluid. Front rotors cost $56 to $68 and rear brake rotors cost $36 to $53. Calipers cost $10 to $15 and brake fluid can cost as little as $3 for a bottle of 12 fluid ounces . All told, replacing a set of brakes can cost as little as $207, a 48% discount off the mechanic s price.
On average, most tires lose one to two pounds of air per month, says Tony Molla, a spokesman for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which certifies car mechanics.
Cars with underinflated tires are less fuel efficient, more accident prone and more likely to get a flat, Molla says. (Owners manuals often include recommended tire pressures.) The stakes are high. Even at discount store Wal-Mart (WMT),
By purchasing a tire-pressure gauge a quality one will cost around $29 you can check periodically that your tires are rolling with enough air. To inflate them, visit a local gas station where it s free or costs a couple quarters. (Some new car models include a remote tire pressure monitoring system, which alerts you to underinflated tires, Sinclair says.)
A more hands-on approach is to rotate your tires, or switch their positions from the back to the front and vice versa, after every 5,000 miles, says David Buckshaw, a technical trainer at Honeywell Consumer Products Group. This is especially for cars with front-wheel drive because more pressure is exerted on the front tires.
To rotate your tires, you ll need jack stands, which cost $23 for a pair, to prop the car up and a wrench, which costs $10, to take the tires off and move them around. (A wrench and a spare tire are included in the sales of most new cars.)
When your wipers leave streaks on the windshield, it s time to replace them. Wiper blades can cost as little as $10, but some mechanics charge around $15, Molla says.
To check how much wiper fluid is left, pop the hood and check the dipstick. A gallon of windshield wiper fluid costs just over $3, but a mechanic will charge $5 to $6.
Over time, a car s air filter can become clogged with dirt, dust and even bugs, and those blockages choke off the air that a car needs to run efficiently, White says.
To change an air filter, pop the hood and unsnap or unscrew the box that covers it. An air filter can cost as little as $13, but some mechanics can charge as much as 30% more, Molla says.
In most cases, changing a car s tail or signal lights involves unscrewing the old light and replacing it with the new one, Molla says.
Check your repair or service guide for directions. Some lights like the headlights are harder to replace on higher-end vehicles, where an entire front assembly needs to be taken apart, Sinclair says.
It s easier to make such changes on cheaper cars like Hyundais and Toyotas, he says.
Tail lights typically start around $4.50, reverse lights are $4, turn signal lights cost $6, and head lights cost around $11. However, mechanics can charge around $30 for light changes, Molla says.
Keeping your car s antifreeze (or coolant) at the required level is one of the most important ways to keep your engine in good health.
Under the hood, an often-clear plastic container houses the antifreeze. Remove the cap when your engine is cool to see if the coolant level is low. (Often, there are marks in this reservoir that indicate a sufficient level.)
Purchase a bottle of antifreeze for as little as $9 and pour an appropriate amount into the reservoir.
After a few years on the road, cars are bound to get minor scratches. Drivers who take their car for a paint job at a body shop should be prepared to pay for more than just a ding. In order to match the color of your car, most shops are likely to paint an entire door or section (wherever the scratch is), so the color blends in, Molla says. These broad paint jobs can cost $400 or more, Scott says.
Instead, purchase a bottle of touch-up paint, which costs $6 to $7, to cover those scratches.
You re driving and suddenly a pebble hits your front windshield and leaves a small crack. Now what?
Mechanics or technicians will seal a crack (sometimes up to 12 inches long) for $40 to $70, Scott says. That s cheaper than replacing your window, which costs $150 to $350, he says.
An oil change is a common sight in a neighborhood driveway, but changing the oil on your own isn t necessarily cheaper than paying a mechanic to do it.
You ll need several items, including jack stands, which cost $23 for a pair, to raise the car off the ground, an oil filter wrench that costs $8 to $20, motor oil, which costs between $3 and $11, a funnel for $14 and an oil drain pan that can go for as little as $3. All told, the equipment costs at least $51. On average, oil changes at car shops cost $35 to $40, Molla says. Of course, you might do it more than once.