Down the Road
Well, now you've got the car. Hopefully you negotiated a good deal and weren't taken for a ride.
But buying a car is just the beginning. Now you have to take care of it. If you don't, you'll end up spending much more than you saved.
The best way to avoid major repair costs is with general vehicle maintenance. Early diagnosis of a problem is almost always less expensive than waiting until it can no longer be ignored. For example, if the brake pads need to be replaced, do it sooner rather than later. If you wait until you hear a loud grinding noise and your car loses its ability to stop responsively, you've probably ruined your rotors. And that's expensive.
Even though you want to keep your car running smoothly, you shouldn't over-maintain it. Replacing something the second it makes a noise can get very costly and very wasteful. Follow the maintenance guide in your owner's manual. It will keep your warranty valid and ensure that you don't go overboard with your trips to the auto shop. Also, keep all maintenance and repair records -- including date, mileage and amount paid. Being able to show a history of consistent maintenance will do wonders for your ability to sell the car.
You should be even pickier about choosing a repair shop than you were about choosing a dealership. After all, this is going to be a much longer relationship. Ask friends and family for some recommendations. You want a repair shop that has high-quality work, but won't rip you off with extra charges, unnecessary repairs, substandard parts, etc.
If the car is still under warranty, you should certainly go back to the dealership to have repairs taken care of. But you might want to compare their service charges for any other work. Dealerships are notorious for charging more for work than unaffiliated garages.
On every repair job, get a second or even third opinion. Price and repair suggestions may be very different.
It is suggested that you get an oil change every 4,800 kilometres for some vehicles. But if you check your oil level and add some oil whenever it's low, you could get by without an oil change for another 3,000 kilometres.
Just remember: oil is to a car as water is to a horse. If it runs out, it dies. The engine will be destroyed. Dust, dirt, heat, cold and city driving accelerate the need for an oil change. You shouldn't need to change your oil before you reach 4,800 kilometres, but never go longer than the manufacturer recommends.
Get a tune-up every 48,000 kilometres or so. Your owner's manual usually recommends that the tune-up include the following:
- Fuel-filter replacement
- Air-filter replacement
- New spark plugs
- Fan-belt, fluid (transmission fluid, oil, wiper fluid, coolant, etc), positive crankcase, ventilation valve and battery inspection.
At about 80,000 kilometres, do all of the above, and escalate the search for rust, check the alignment, and have a mechanic check the engine's compression and hoses.
When winter approaches, if you live in a place where it freezes, you'll want to "winterize" your car. This involves the following:
- Replacing the coolant and wipers, and making sure there's adequate wiper fluid
- Checking the tires, battery, lights, heater, brakes and defrosters
- Equipping the car with an ice scraper and emergency supplies such as flares, blankets and tools
- Never letting the gas tank fall below a quarter full, to prevent moisture from freezing in the gas lines.
Watch for uneven wear, leaks and tread depth. Under-inflated tires wear faster and more unevenly, wreaking havoc on things like alignment and gas mileage. The treads on a healthy tire should be more than 1/16th of an inch deep. A good test is to place a penny into the tread, and if at least part of the queen's head is obscured, the tire is fine.
Salt, sand and other chemicals used on roads during the winter will eat your car alive if you're not careful. The remedy? Wash it -- often. And don't forget about the undercarriage. Even though your car may have a finish that resists rust and corrosion, the undercarriage is still vulnerable to the elements. If you don't take care of it, your car could have a beautiful finish on the outside, but be hollowed out from underneath.