Car Maintenance on A Budget: 5 Tips to Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

The cost of car ownership extends well beyond the purchase price. Buyers must also consider expenses like insurance, fuel, taxes, maintenance, and repair in a car’s total cost of ownership. When buyers take these expenses into account, they may find that cars with a higher initial purchase price have a lower cost of ownership than less expensive options. This is one example of why buyers must do their research before they begin shopping.


Repair and Maintenance Costs are Hard to Predict

Repair and Maintenance Costs

Unlike insurance, taxes, and fuel, planning ahead for repair and maintenance costs can be difficult. You can find information on a car model’s overall reliability to get a general sense of which brands are better than others. However, it’s almost impossible to predict repair costs until something breaks.

Fortunately, proactive car care is a great way to prevent breakdowns before they happen and spare your wallet a whole lot of pain. With that in mind, here are five car care tips that will keep your vehicle running for years to come:

1. Perform Regular Inspections

You don’t have to be a certified mechanic to keep watch over your vehicle’s health. Even the least mechanically inclined person can do plenty of things to ensure their car stays in good operating condition.

  • First, use an inexpensive tire gauge to regularly check the pressure on your vehicle’s tires to ensure they’re correctly inflated. You can find the ideal pressure range printed on the sidewall of your tires. Underinflated tires wear out faster and must be replaced more frequently.
  • Next, check fluid levels in your vehicle, including the oil, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, and power steering fluid. Your vehicle’s manual should have a section outlining the procedures for checking each item. If one of these levels comes up low, refill it yourself or take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for help.
  • Finally, look under the hood for signs of problems. These could include fluid leaks, battery corrosion, frayed wires, or more. If something looks amiss, it’s time to schedule a repair appointment.

Proactive inspections catch problems early so you can avoid breakdowns and reduce overall maintenance and repair costs.

2. Change Fluids Regularly

Your vehicle’s fluids are its lifeblood, which is why it’s so critical to keep them clean and topped off. That’s why regular fluid changes are essential to any comprehensive car care schedule. Different manufacturers will have different recommendations for how frequently you should change fluids. Most cars need fluid changes every 3,000-5,000 miles.

However, some newer vehicle models only need fluid changes every 10,000 miles. Regardless of the frequency, keeping up on these basic services is the best way to ensure your car continues running well over the long term.

3. Watch Your Tire Tread

Tires inevitably wear out. And when they do, your car’s performance and handling could be negatively affected, particularly in adverse weather conditions. To avoid this, pay attention to your tire’s tread for signs that it’s time to replace them.

One easy way to do this is with the so-called penny test. Place a penny between the tread ribs with Lincoln’s head pointing towards the tire. If you can see his entire head, it may be time to replace your tires.

4. Prioritize Regular Maintenance

Prioritize Regular Maintenance

Most manufacturers establish a vehicle maintenance schedule outlining when important tasks should be performed. Many of these maintenance tasks are scheduled to align with major mileage intervals — brakes every 30,000 miles, water pumps every 60,000, and so on.

Your dealership should know your maintenance schedule and can help you stay on top of these repairs with important service reminders. You might consider purchasing from a dealership that offers vehicle maintenance and repair services as an added benefit to your purchase.

For example, Oak Motors ( offers to buy one, get one free oil change for vehicles purchased through the dealership that is still under our 36-month, 36,000-mile warranty.

It’s easy to skip regular maintenance if your vehicle is running well. However, these services are designed to prevent breakdowns by replacing items at the end of their lifecycle before they fail. So, the longer you go without performing routine maintenance, the more likely you are to experience an unexpected problem leaving you stranded on the side of the road.

On the plus side, adhering to a regular maintenance schedule makes it easier to anticipate when you’ll have significant maintenance expenses so you can budget accordingly.

5. Address Problems Immediately


Sometimes you can tell your car has a problem before it starts running poorly. It might start making a funny noise, the tires might shimmy in an unusual way or you might detect a whiff of burning plastic. If you’re worried about your finances, you might be tempted to ignore these problems hoping they’ll disappear.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Instead, minor problems that aren’t fixed quickly inevitably become larger, more costly issues. So, if you think there’s a problem, check it out as soon as possible. Your car and your wallet will thank you.

Take Care of Your Investment

Take Care of Your Investment

Owning a car is a significant financial responsibility, and being financially sound means incorporating the cost of regular car maintenance into your vehicle budget. These calculations will help you determine how many cars you can afford before you start shopping and may even help you choose between available options on the dealer’s lot.

Once you bring your car home, it’s critical to follow through on your maintenance plan by performing regular inspections, changing the fluids at the appropriate intervals, and following your vehicle’s routine maintenance schedule. With those pieces in place, your car will become an asset you can rely on for years to come.