What do you need to do to keep your car running optimally? Who has time to keep up with all of that?
It’s not as bad as you might be thinking. And the effort you put into car maintenance will pay you back both financially and practically.
You may also wonder how much to expect to pay for maintenance and whether any car insurance companies cover car repairs.
We’ll give you a rundown of essential maintenance steps and how much of a budget you should make for those expenses. And we’ll also explore insurance options and programs that cover maintenance.
What are the regular maintenance guidelines?
Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will provide you with the maintenance protocol specific to your car, but generally speaking, there are some universal checklist items you can expect to have done.
Oil changes are one of the most critical areas of routine maintenance for your vehicle. While years ago, experts recommend changing your engine oil every 3,000 miles, most newer vehicles only need the oil changed every 5,000 miles.
Cars are built to be more efficient and run cleaner, so the oil doesn’t get as dirty and requires changes as often.
Between oil changes, you should monitor your oil level every month so that you’ll notice right away if you develop a leak.
Tires are one of the more expensive items on your maintenance checklist. You can expect to spend between $600 and $1,000 at once when you purchase new tires. If you have a heavy vehicle like a pickup truck or large SUV, you’ll probably pay more than that.
To help your tires last as long as possible, keep up with tire rotations. Generally, if you get your oil changed every 5,000 miles, you should get into the habit of having your tires rotated around the same time.
Check your tire pressure weekly. Air temperature fluctuations will change your tire pressure, so frequent monitoring can help you ensure they’re always optimally full. If you have too much tire pressure, the middle of your tire tread will wear out more quickly, and if you have too little pressure, the sides will wear down.
Not only will properly inflated tires help them last longer, but they’ll also reduce your accident risk. Proper tire pressure gives the driver better control and improves traction, especially when braking or swerving to avoid a crash.
Most of your vehicle’s fluids won’t require you to fill them, at least not regularly, but you should check your fluid levels so that you can discover leaks before they cause problems.
Window washing fluid is one that you’ll need to fill often. Gas stations typically carry washer fluid. If you live where winter temperatures dip below zero degrees, you should look for a fluid that resists freezing even at extreme temperatures.
Keeping your vehicle washed and waxed will extend the life of your car’s paint and body. If paint starts chipping, rust can set in and eat away at your car more quickly than you anticipated.
You should use a soft cotton rag, plenty of water, and soap designed for vehicles to wash your car. Periodically, an application of wax will keep water from sitting on your car’s exterior and will protect your vehicle from sun damage and other weather-related elements.
Pro tip: If you get your oil changed at its manufacturer-specific dealer, they’ll help you keep track of more significant but less regular maintenance needs. Often, they’ll let you know that sometime in the next six months, you’ll need brake work, fluid flushes, or whatever other less routine maintenance projects you should anticipate.
How much does vehicle maintenance cost?
The cost to get your vehicle serviced will vary depending on where you live, where you take the car for service, and the type of vehicle you drive.
The following costs are general estimates, and you can expect your actual prices to vary:
- Oil changes – $50. Usually, you’ll need the oil changed two or three times a year.
- Tire rotations – Usually free if you have them done where you purchased your tires. If budgeting would help you prepare for when you need new tires, set aside $50 each time you have a rotation (about $100 – $150 a year). By the time you need new tires, you’ll have the money set aside for them.
- Fluids – $15 a year for washer fluid.
- Exterior maintenance – $50 – $200 annually. If you wash and wax your car yourself, you’ll pay on the lower end of this estimate. If you use a carwash, you can expect to spend about $10 every time you run your vehicle through.
The less-regular maintenance items will cost you quite a lot more money. Some manufacturers recommend major maintenance every 100,000 miles, and it’s normal for these major service items to cost around $2,000.
Brake pads should be replaced every three or four years or so, depending on how many miles you drive. Expect to pay about $250 for brake pads on a small car.
You should plan on a transmission fluid flush every three to four years as well. Plan to spend about $200 for the flush.
When you add up all the regular maintenance costs and prepare for more extensive regular service recommendations, you should make a budget and plan for about $1,000 a year for maintenance.
That’s a big number, and it may feel overwhelming, but it breaks down to less than $100 a month. And when you do preventative maintenance, you’ll save money on major repairs that accompany a neglected vehicle.
Still, if you don’t want to think about maintenance, there are some options to consider.
What options do I have to help pay for maintenance?
People often wonder if a vehicle warranty or mechanical breakdown insurance will cover the costs of routine maintenance.
They don’t. Warranties and breakdown insurance are similar to each other in that they will help you pay for major mechanical issues, but only if those issues are unrelated to regular maintenance.
Vehicle subscriptions, on the other hand, take vehicle ownership and make it as simple as possible. Some programs provide you with a vehicle, maintenance, and insurance, and you just have to make one payment a month.
Usually, you’ll pay more for this service than you would by taking care of all the details yourself. Still, many people are willing to pay for the convenience and peace of mind, as evidenced by the surging popularity of subscription programs.
For most people, budgeting for maintenance costs is the best strategy. You know your vehicle will need upkeep, and if you’re prepared for it, you’ll save yourself the stress of having to come up with the money you don’t have.
Regular maintenance saves you money in the long run. Plan for maintenance when considering your budget for the total costs of a new car. Keep up on the standard frequent maintenance issues and plan for the more considerable preventative service costs.
You can consult your owner’s manual or talk to your manufacturer-specific dealer to make sure you plan accordingly and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for taking care of your car.
Melanie Musson is an automotive maintenance and insurance expert who writes for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsuranceEZ.com. She grew up in an insurance agent’s household and has five years of professional experience in the field.
This content is brought to you by Anne Davis.