Keep Your Car Happy . . . and Save Money

Aaron Murphy, Chief of Surgery (note gloved hand on tire)

Aaron Murphy, Chief of Surgery (note gloved hand on tire)

Loyal readers will remember Amy, the proprietor of European Auto Surgeons in Gardiner, ME, a great car repair center. Her partner in crime, Aaron Murphy, is a master technician who knows cars inside and out. At our request, he put together a list of recommendations for people looking to get the most out of their vehicles while saving money and making them last.

But before we give you the list, here’s a good maintenance story that Amy sent along from a BMW technician in a different state:

So I’m sitting in my office and a 90 year old man walks through the door, smoking a cigarette (ever since he was a teenager, he tells me later) and requests I top off his oil on a 1991 3 series, because the oil level light has come on. “They told me it only needs changed every 15000 miles at the dealer”, he says. Well, I say, I recommend 5000 mile intervals. When was your last oil change?

bmw-engine1

NOT a 1991, but we liked the photo

His reply, “It only has 9100 miles on it! Never changed it!” It was a quart and a half low, and he said he would leave it for all the fluid changes and a service “when he had the time.” I begged him to leave it with me—but off he drove, full speed ahead.

Now, the list:

1)  Don’t drive your car. This may seem flip—but try to combine trips and walk or use public transportation when you can. The fewer miles you put on your car, the longer it will last.

2)  Change the oil regularly. Every 3,000-4,000 miles for regular oil, every 5,000-7,000 miles with synthetic. DO NOT go 10,000 or 15,000 miles between oil changes as some car manufacturers claim you can do. It’s bad for your engine and will wear it out prematurely. See above story.

3)  Keep your tires properly inflated. This improves gas mileage and tire wear life. Tires are expensive—make ‘em last.

4)  Keep it clean: inside and out. Washing your car regularly to keep salt and road dirt to a minimum will help keep the body from rusting out. Keeping the interior cleaned out (don’t drive around with your golf clubs in the trunk all winter) reduces weight, so you get better gas mileage and a little less wear and tear on the vehicle too.

5)  Skip the heated garage. If your car has salt on it in the winter, keeping it below freezing actually minimizes the rusting. When you park in a heated garage, the salt “wakes up” and starts eating away at the frame and body panels, exhaust system and brake lines.

6)  Attend to noises, dash warning lights and leaks right away. If you see a leak or a check engine light, get to your mechanic right away. If you don’t, you could end up spending thousands on a new engine or new transmission instead of a few hundred to fix a problem while it’s small. Worse yet, it could cause a dangerous situation (like no brakes).

7)  Follow the factory recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle. Preventive maintenance saves money on repairs in the long run.

8)  Don’t beat on it. Drive your car with some respect, and it will return the favor by lasting longer.

9)  Use good quality (OEM) parts when repairing your vehicle. They may cost more, but generally they last much longer and will save you money in the long run.

What are the best tips here you hadn’t thought of? Any of your own you’d like to share?

—jgoods

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