I recently heard a familiar metallic grinding noise coming from my car. I conducted a bit of troubleshooting and soon realized it was coming from somewhere near the tires or brakes. “Just great…” I mumbled since I was really busy at work and knew I probably could not change the brakes myself. I called the local auto shop where I get my oil changed and had them quote me an estimate for replacing brake pads. “Two-hundred dollars an axle and one hundred-fifty dollars per rotor, for a grand total of one thousand dollars,” Exclaimed the salesman. Okay, maybe I wasn’t so busy!
I recently wrote about gas prices in the bay area, and although they have dropped a few cents, prices are still hovering at the four dollar mark! This leaves very little money in the car maintenance budget I set aside, since the expense for gasoline is included as part of this budget. I decided I would make time to change the brakes myself and considering the amount of savings, I could perform other services to the vehicle for well under one thousand dollars. I must advise those reading this article that I am very mechanically inclined and can perform quite a bit of servicing on my vehicle. There are plenty of good repair books and manuals out there for those who want to learn some of the more simple and do-it-yourself tasks. I suggest visiting your local library, checking online help forums, and reaching out to family and friends.
This seems the perfect time to share five simple money saving tips for your car maintenance. I will use my recent experience and share estimated cost and compare it with actual costs to help illustrate the amount I saved by doing it myself.
1. Changing your own Brakes. Many dealerships and auto repair shops charge on a per axle basis and include the pads and labor. Front and back brake pads are sold in pairs (per axle) total price I paid for brake pads was $50 dollars. The price I was quoted by the repair shop was $400 dollars. Total amount I saved by doing this myself was $350 dollars.
2. Changing your own oil. I am a big fan of having this service performed by an auto repair shop. Many shops run specials and also include changing the oil filter. I have tried to perform this task myself in the past, but when you include the price of the oil filter, the price of the oil, and the time invested in the procedure, including the shower after, the savings is minimal. However, savings can be incurred by the frequency of your oil change. It is recommended that your oil be changed every three thousand miles (3,000), but this is an old suggestion before the advance of new engine and oil technology. Refer to your owner’s manual and the oil itself for specifics. My manual recommends I change my oil every seven to ten thousand miles (7,000-10,000) That’s twice a year for my driving conditions, as opposed to four times a year with the outdated three thousand miles (3,000) recommendation. The price for an oil change is $30 dollars. For the old recommendations that’s $120 dollars a year. With actual recommendations per my owner’s manual that’s $60 dollars a year. Total amount saved $60 dollars per year.
3. Changing your own air filter. This is probably the easiest of all the do-it-yourself maintenance tasks on the list. In most cases all you need is a standard flat head screwdriver. Replacing the air filter in your car once a year is the average recommendation and can save you about 15% in your miles per gallon. My local auto repair shop charges $50 dollars to replace the air filter. The price of a new air filter is $15 dollars. Total amount I saved doing this myself $35 dollars.
4. Navigation devices and location knowledge. This might seem like a trivial or silly maintenance check, but the cost of getting lost and driving around needlessly can be quite expensive. Especially when you factor in gasoline, wear and tear, and the time spent using up all three. A simple navigation system or planning ahead using online mapping systems can significantly decrease the cost of getting lost. I am old school and enjoy referring to paper maps, which are available for free to AAA members. Cost of Navigation devices $100 dollars. Cost of free online tools such as Google maps or Map-quest, $0 dollars. Total amount saved $100 dollars.
5. Regular gasoline vs. Premium. As a daily 40 mile commuter, gas is a big part of my budget. Many consumers think that premium gasoline increases their miles per gallon. I am not here to debate this, as I think the jury is still out, but again I refer you to your cars owner’s manual. I do not drive a very expensive luxury car or a high performance muscle machine so my manual suggests regular unleaded gasoline as the fuel of choice for my vehicle. I have a fifteen gallon gasoline tank and filling up with regular using prices from my last article, $62.10. Filling up the tank with premium gasoline using my last article prices $65.85. Total gas savings by pushing a different button while filling up, $3.75 per fill-up.
Following these simple maintenance tips can help reduce your maintenance and repair budget. I know that not all of us can change brake pads or oil ourselves, but being aware of what some basic repair and maintenance costs are on our personal vehicles can help us make better informed decisions as consumers.