National Consumer News

4 tips for better car maintenance on the cheap


By Theo Thimou,

AAA’s Your Driving Costs study estimates the typical driver spends $766.50 a year on car maintenance. That includes parts and labor. But it doesn’t have to be that expensive. Here are some ways to lower your costs without sacrificing quality car care.

Get free or discounted auto repairs done by the manufacturer

Vehicle recalls get a lot of publicity in the news, but too often people just ignore them in their daily lives. It’s estimated only one out of three people will comply once notified of a recall. But in the world of car maintenance, not everything is a full-blown recall. Many times when there’s no official recall, there still might be a TSB (technical service bulletin) from the manufacturer.

Thousands of TSBs are issued each year, as automakers become aware of systemic problems reported by mechanics and consumers.  You can preview both full-blown recalls and TSBs for your vehicle by make, model and year at the Center for Auto Safety website at and at Another good resource to know about for TSBs is In addition, Consumer Reports also has a write-up about so-called “secret or hidden warranties.” By knowing if there’s an active TSB, you can take it to the dealership and show it to them. With known issues like TSBs, very often you can get free or discounted repairs, even if you’re out of the manufacturer’s original warranty period.

Stretch your oil changes a bit

Most owner’s manuals for newer vehicles will tell you it’s acceptable to go 5,000 miles between oil changes under normal conditions. This has become something of the new norm. In fact, a Consumer Reports study also recently put the brakes on the myth of the 3,000-mile oil change. They found no noticeable difference in engine protection whether you changed the oil every 3,000 or 7,500 miles.

Ultimately, this one has to be a personal decision. Maybe you’re comfortable changing every 3,000 miles and think 7,500 is too long to wait. Then why not split the difference and do it every 5,000 or so miles? You’ll be saving about a third by going those extra miles between oil changes. Experts say a $20 oil change is the best preventative maintenance you can do. So the interval is really up to you as long as you don’t exceed what’s recommended in your owner’s manual.

Reduce the cost of what you pay for tires

Have you gotten sticker shock when you needed replacement tires for your car? Chances are you may have expensive non-standard tires. Automakers create multiple lines of a single vehicle at different price points. One of the up-sells they add to the pricier lines are fancy wheels that are larger than usual tires.

Some models even have speed-rated tires that are designed to perform at 149 mph or higher. We’ve all seen the commercials with stunt drivers tearing it up on closed roads. It’s like James Bond syndrome! But how often do you drive even 100 mph?! Do you really need those high-performance tires?

Want to avoid a big bill for tire replacement down the road? Check out the tire size and type before you buy a car. Or simply ask the dealer about the replacement tire price. Of course, for many people style is king and they don’t care if they have to pay extra. But if you do care, use to check tire prices.

Another good place to check is Sam’s Club. In addition to free tire rotation and free repair of flats, Sam’s Club has a benefit that is very unique: Emergency roadside tire service! For three years from purchase, Sam’s Club members have 24 hour toll-free access for emergency tire change service. That’s a deal!

Don’t forget the salvage yard for replacement parts

If something breaks on your car and the estimate you get from the body shop or mechanic is too large, what about doing the work yourself? This works particularly well if the fix is a minor one. Because nobody really wants to be charged $100 to change a light bulb or a car horn!

Here’s a real-life story about how this worked out for one of Clark’s listeners. “Back when I lived in Atlanta traffic, I listened to Clark everyday. I drove a Honda and the horn button was broken,” Kati W. told Team Clark. “I originally contacted the dealer and they estimated the repairs to be around $170 and said the airbag would need to be re-packed. Based on Clark’s advice to another listener, I went to a Honda only salvage yard in an Atlanta suburb. They found the part I needed, charged me a dollar and it took me about 30 seconds to attach it!!! I honked my horn all the way home in tribute to Clark!”

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