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Vehicle Maintenance: How to Stay Safe and Save Money

Michael Kelly

It’s estimated that vehicle malfunctions cause 50,000 automobile accidents per year.

These malfunctions include tire wear-and-tear, brake failure and faulty engines, steering, and transmissions. But routine vehicle maintenance and inspections can help keep you and others safe. Maintenance can also help you save money by preventing degradation of your vehicle.

This article explains:

  • The financial costs of not maintaining your vehicle
  • Important areas of your vehicle you should maintain
  • And the best ways to do so

The True Cost of Vehicle Maintenance

Routine maintenance can go a long way toward helping you save money and keeping your vehicle running. The following list is based from a report by It covers the yearly cost of services needed to maintain your vehicle and how much it could cost you later you should you decide to skip them.

Regular oil changes.  Changing your oil every four months or 4,000 miles can help reduce engine friction and increase engine lifespan. Regular oil changes can cost around $120 a year, but if you skip out, you could end up paying around $4,000 to replace your engine.

Tire rotation. Tire rotation should cost around $50. Experts recommend that you do it every 7,500 miles. If you don’t, you may need to shell out at least $800 to replace all your tires sooner than necessary. Plus, you’ll be dealing with decreased gas mileage as a result of unbalanced tires.

Timing belt replacement. A timing belt replacement is typically the steepest of all the costs on this list, topping out at around $600. Replace the timing belt based on the manufacturer’s suggested time-frame. If you don’t, you’re looking at approximately $2,500 to repair your engine or about $4,000 to replace it.

Brake inspection. Well-maintained breaks are essential for safe driving. They also help prevent wear on rotors and disks. Regular brake inspection and maintenance can cost between $150 and $375 a year. The cost of replacing rotors or discs is about $600. Plus, you’ll need to buy the new brakes!

Changing plugs and filters. Replacing spark plugs and filters can help ensure your vehicle passes inspection. The yearly cost for replacement is around $100. You may be looking at about $700 to get your car in compliance if you skip this.

How to Maintain Your Tires, Brakes and Lights

Tire failure is the leading cause of vehicle malfunction-related automobile accidents. It accounts for nearly 44% of accidents caused by vehicle malfunction. Brake failure or degradation is second and accounts for 25% of vehicle malfunction related accidents.

Also, 40% of all fatal car accidents occur at night, despite the fact that there is 60% less traffic on the roads. Well-maintained head and taillights help ensure that you can see hazards while driving. They also help ensure that others can see you. The following are simple tips to help you maintain your tires, brakes and headlights.

Tire Maintenance

Alignment. If your vehicle is pulling to the left or right. then it’s likely that the wheels are out of alignment. Your wheels can go out of alignment when you drive over a pothole or snag a curb when parallel parking. Unaligned wheels can increase tire wear, reduce fuel mileage and decrease handling. If you suspect that your wheels are out of alignment, take your vehicle to a garage to have them fixed.

Inflation. As a general rule, tire pressure drops about 1 pound per square inch for every 10° decrease in temperature. Tires inflated to the correct PSI handle better, brake better, improve fuel economy, last longer and are safer. Check the owner’s manual of your car to find the appropriate PSI for your tires. Use a pressure gauge to check your tire PSI every month. This can help spot slow leaks and changes in tire pressure caused by temperature change.

Rotation. Rotating your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help maximize their effectiveness and longevity. This will also help to ensure that they wear evenly over time. Rotating your tires every 6000 to 8000 miles will also alert you to any abnormal wear patterns. These abnormal wear patterns could be a sign of other issues with the car. Unless you are truly qualified to perform your own vehicle maintenance, don’t try to rotate your tires on your own. Schedule a visit with a garage and pay to have it done by a professional.

Tread. Your vehicle may not handle as well as it should if the tire treads are worn out. Adverse weather conditions in any season can make driving be more dangerous and even more dangerous if your tires don’t have enough tread. There’s an easy test to determine if your tires have enough tread. Place a penny, with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you, in the tread of the tire. If part of Lincoln’s head is not visible, your tire has enough tread. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head, it’s time for new tires.

Brake Maintenance

Your braking system is one of the most noticeable parts of your vehicle when they need attention. If your brakes are malfunctioning or in need of service, they will most likely make a noise, smell, or stain. This list can help you identify warning signs that your vehicle’s brakes need repairs.

  • Warning Light / Routine Problem
  • Squeaking or Squealing Noise / Brake Pad Issues
  • Grinding Noise / Worn-through Brake Pads or Rotor Issues
  • Fluid Stain Near Tires / Brake Fluid Leak
  • Burning Smell When Parked / Sticking Brake Pad
  • Vibration While Stopping, Feeling That Your Vehicle Is Pulling to One Side or a Harder Time Pressing the Brake Pedal / Malfunction With the Brake System

Head and Tail Light Maintenance

Test. It’s important to test the brightness of your head and tail lights. You can do this by parking your car on a level surface, about 5 feet away from a wall. If your home has a garage, it can be a great place to try this. Park your car so the headlights are facing the wall. Turn your headlights on and check to see if one or both of your headlights appears dim or yellow.

It’s common for headlights to move out of alignment when a car drives over a pothole. Make sure that the headlights are neither too high nor low and that they are both at the same level. Next, back your car into the parking space and check the rear lights. Make sure that both tail lights are lit evenly when you hit the brakes.

Clean. Oxidation can happen to the plastic shell covering a vehicle’s headlight bulb. This causes the plastic shell to become foggy or yellow. Fortunately, removing the oxidization is almost as easy as brushing your teeth. You will need toothpaste, a clean rag, rubber or vinyl gloves, a bucket of water and some masking tape.

1. Start by putting on rubber or vinyl gloves and washing the area with a sponge or cloth and soapy water.

2. Allow some time for the headlights to air dry.

3. Mask off the areas surrounding the plastic shell with masking tape.

4. Dab some toothpaste onto a clean cloth and scrub the surface of the headlight in small circles. Apply more toothpaste and add more water as needed. You may need to do this for several minutes per headlight.

5. When done, remove the masking tape, rinse the headlight with water and air dry.

Replace. You should never replace only one headlight or tail light on your car. Always replace the pair together or you’ll end up with headlights of uneven brightness. Check your owner’s manual or an online bulb finder to find the type of bulb your vehicle needs. Of course, an auto repair shop should be able to find the correct bulb and install it for you as well.

Saving Money and Staying Safe

Maintaining your vehicle can help you save money and stay safe. The lower costs to inspect, replace and repair parts of your automobile can help you avoid paying much larger sums of money in the future. These smaller repairs can also improve your vehicle’s handling, braking and responsiveness. Use this vehicle maintenance log to help keep your car in top shape.

NEXT: Don’t wait until it’s too late –  11 Tips for Finding a Trustworthy Auto Mechanic

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