Car ownership can eat a big hole in your budget, but for most of us it’s an essential item in our lives. However, there are ways to trim car maintenance costs. With regular care and a few tweaks to your driving habits, you can chip away at your every-day costs of running the car and ward off expensive vehicle repair costs down the line.
Getting your car serviced
Saving money doesn’t mean taking shortcuts in caring for your car. As tempting as it might be to skip the annual service, you could actually be building up bigger problems and a more expensive repair bill in the future.
The point is, prevention is better than cure; regular car servicing will prolong the life of your car and save you money in the long run.
How often should your car be serviced?
Even if you’re trying to save money on car maintenance costs, most manufacturers suggest servicing at least once a year, or every 12,000 miles. Each vehicle is different though, so check the recommended service schedule in the owner’s manual.
Interim or full service?
If you drive an average number of miles each year (i.e. below 12,000 miles) your car will probably only need one full service each year. The garage will typically do an oil and filter change, top up fluids, change the air filter, check the car’s main components and make detailed checks on the engine, brakes, steering, clutch, drive belts, tyres, heating and cooling systems.
If you drive more than 12,000 miles a year, or your car is getting older, the extra wear and tear might warrant an interim service between full services to check and replace any components or parts that are wearing out more quickly, and to keep an eye on oil levels etc. An interim service is still pretty thorough, but it won’t make quite as many checks as a full service.
If your car is still under warranty, you should always stick to the manufacturer’s servicing schedule, as you could invalidate the warranty if you don’t.
Should you buy cheaper replacement parts for your car?
When you’re trying to save money on your car maintenance costs, there’s an obvious temptation to purchase cheaper, non-manufacturer parts. Let’s look at the pros and cons of that.
- Prices for non-original parts are nearly always cheaper, so in the short-term you’ll have change in your pocket
- Sourcing non-original parts is easier, with a wider selection of makers in the spare parts market
- The quality of some non-original parts can be as good as those from your car’s manufacturer.
- Using non-original parts could invalidate your car’s warranty. This will prove costly if you ever need to invoke your warranty with the manufacturer.
- Not all car parts are created equal. Many non-branded car parts aren’t the same quality as the manufacturer’s part, or they don’t fit quite as well. That could lead to a fault developing, which could prove more expensive in the long run.
- Non-original parts sometimes come with little or no warranty, whereas most manufacturer parts usually have a warranty of at least a year.
If you’re not an expert, rely on the advice of a trusted mechanic or service centre. They know which brands are most reliable.
Can you save money on your car’s MOT?
By and large, the maximum cost of an MOT is fixed by the Department of Transport. For cars with up to 8 passenger seats, this is currently set at £54.85. You might be able to find a lower price if you shop around, but always be careful to use a reputable, competent garage.
You could also make a saving by looking out for special deals which discount the MOT cost if you get your car serviced at the same time.
Drive a little differently to reduce wear and tear
Over time, wear and tear on your car will lead to extra maintenance costs. It’s inevitable that parts will need to be replaced from time to time, but you can slow the impact of wear and tear – and save money – with a few thoughtful tweaks to the way you drive.
Avoid too many short journeys
There are a couple of problems with short journeys.
- Short journeys, or journeys with lots of stops and starts (for example a van on a delivery route) not only increase fuel costs, they increase wear and tear, too.
- They don’t allow a car’s engine oil a chance to reach a high enough temperature to burn off excess moisture, which means the oil can become gummed-up like tar. This isn’t good for the engine and may lead to costly issues unless you change the oil more frequently.
Try to avoid too many short journeys – it will save you money at the fuel pump and help to extend the life of your engine.
Let the engine warm up
Drivers who jump in the car and streak away in just a few seconds aren’t giving the vehicle’s fluids a chance to circulate before it’s driven. A warm-up of even 30 seconds or so could reduce wear and tear on the vehicle and lower your long-term maintenance costs.
Likewise, if you’re heading for a dual carriageway or motorway near the start of your journey, let the engine come to its normal operating temperature if you can before driving at higher speeds or RPM.
Don’t ride the brake
Is your right foot constantly on and off the brake pedal? Most drivers aren’t even aware they’re riding the brake in this way, but it does cause unnecessary wear on brake systems. Try to drive at a speed that doesn’t require constant adjustment with the brake.
Likewise, if you’re heavy-footed, your brake pads will need replacing much sooner. Braking gently prolongs the life of your brake pads, and your passengers will appreciate a smoother journey, too.
Look after your car’s battery
You can prolong your car’s battery life with a few easy-to-follow tips.
- Short journeys put more strain on the battery than longer ones. Even if you don’t need to, take the car for a longer spin once in a while to give the battery a chance to recharge properly.
- Modern cars contain plenty of gadgets and technology for our comfort and entertainment, but by-and-large they rely on the battery to power them. Whenever you can, switch off power-sapping interior lights and heaters, and unplug devices from the USB port or 12V supply.
- Depressing the clutch when you start the engine reduces the effort needed for the car to start. This can reduce a little of the load on the battery. Many modern cars already have a start system that require you depress the clutch before the engine will start, but older cars don’t.
- Warmer temperatures are better for a car battery, so keep your car in a garage if you have one.
- Don’t ignore battery warning lights on the dashboard – if the battery is flatter than it should be you risk damaging it if you flatten it completely.
Basic car maintenance tasks that will save you money
Whether it’s you or your local garage doing the work, the important thing is not to neglect these basic car maintenance tasks, and to get them done at the right intervals. Some outlay is inevitable to keep your car in tip-top condition, but a well-maintained car will need fewer costly repairs over its lifetime. It will be more fuel-efficient, too.
Change the oil regularly
Old engine oil becomes sludgy and dirty over time. It doesn’t draw heat from the engine effectively and it won’t help the smooth lubrication of your engine’s many components. Change the engine oil regularly to avoid components wearing out, a blown gasket, or the whole engine seizing up.
Oil and air filters
These can become clogged and dirty over time, so make sure they’re changed at regular intervals. If you get your car serviced, this will be on the mechanic’s task list, but they’re reasonably simple tasks, so a competent DIYer may want to do it themselves.
Check tyre pressure
Regular checks on your car’s tyre pressures will help decrease wear and tear on the tyres and increase fuel efficiency, saving you money over time. Your owner’s manual will give guidance on the correct tyre pressure, but there’s often a handy sticker on the inside of the driver’s door with this information, too.
Although it’s an extra, small expense, professionally aligned wheels can also reduce wear and tear on tyres, and improve steering response and general handling, too.
Replace spark plugs and leads
Spark plugs are related to your car’s ignition system. They’re used in petrol-driven vehicles to ignite the fuel air mixture in the cylinders, but they’ll gradually wear out and need to be replaced.
Most manufacturers recommend changing spark plugs every 30,000 miles or so, but this can depend on several factors, such as the type of spark plug used, contamination from oil leaks and heavier wear and tear from revving the engine too hard.
Top up car fluids
Your car’s fluids are essential to the smooth running of your car. These include:
- engine oil (see above)
- coolant levels/antifreeze
- brake fluid
- power steering fluid
- clutch fluid
- windscreen wash*
*Never use washing up liquid as car screen wash. It contains salt, which can corrode your paintwork and be costly to repair!
If you get your car serviced regularly, these fluids will be checked and topped up for you. If you do your own car maintenance, make sure these fluids are on your checklist.
Keep your car clean
Believe it or not, you can prolong the life of your car and help it hold its resale value simply by washing it! When grime gets into moving parts, it increases wear and corrosion. Road salt from an icy winter will add to the risk of corrosion, and bird droppings, if not washed off quickly, can ruin a car’s paintwork.
This is definitely a job you can do yourself at very little expense.
Don’t ignore warning lights on your dash
Drivers of modern cars are rather spoilt these days. It seems there’s a warning light for almost everything that might go wrong! If you spot one, don’t ignore it – get the car checked for problems.
By the same token, don’t wait for a warning light as an alternative for carrying out regular checks on all the things we’ve mentioned here. A few minutes of your time is a cheap investment and could save you from a stressful car repair bill.