5 Things YOU Can Do to Save Money and Keep Your Car Out of the Shop

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Image adapted via iStock

I can grow a garden, DIY many home projects, and multi-task cooking and homework help like nobody's business. For the most part I feel like if something ever happened to lay up my hubby, I could hold down the fort pretty ok on my own for a little bit. But then, there's the cars. You see, we have a tight budget, and well, let's just say our cars are paid for. They're not the prettiest, or the newest, but they are paid for. And, for the most part, they run well and get us where we need to go. But, they do so because my hunky, eye-candy, handy man hubby keeps them that way. In the summer time he can often be found under a car, tinkering with this or that, and I'm happy to say “whatcha doin'?” and tune out his answer as long as it is somewhere along the lines of “fixing this, or maintaining that.” 

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Lately though, we've been having a lot of “What would we do if this happened?” type conversations, where we've discussed who would take our kids if something tragic happened, if our kids would ever eat a balanced meal again if I weren't around, and how the heck I would manage our cars if something happened to him! It got me thinking, and I became determined to learn a little more about car maintenance. Here are 5 things I learned, that are pretty easy things to do yourself, and that can save you a lot of hassle, and keep you from getting taken advantage of by a mechanic who might assume you don't know any better!

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Image via Flickr/ ** RCB **

1. Keep an Eye on Your Tire Pressure

Keeping your tires inflated with enough air to keep you rolling down the road efficiently is very critical when it comes to getting from point A to B. Before you leave home, get in the habit of looking at your tires briefly. You should get to know what normal looks like for your car. At first you're going to need a  tire pressure gauge to check the air pressure according to the specifications printed on the side of the tire. If you cannot read or interpret the numbers on the sidewall of the tire, remember that most all passenger tires for cars, trucks, and vans are made to operate safely within a range of 32-37 psi. If your gauge places you within this range, you are ok to hit the road. If you are below this range or you feel your tire looks unusually low, many gas stations have air stations where you can easily fill them. Keep the gauge in your car at all times in an easy to locate place such as the glove compartment or near the spare tire. Tire pressure not only affects the safety of driving your car down the road, but properly inflated tires can also improve your MPG!

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Image via Flickr/ HighTechDad

2.  Locate Your Spare Tire and OEM Tool Kit

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All vehicles produced within the last 30-40 years have come from the factory with a spare tire and enough tools to change a flat if needed. Get to know where and what your car is equipped with. All cars should have a small scissor jack that will push the vehicle up or down vertically, allowing for a wheel to be removed and replaced on the fly. All cars should have a breaker bar, or large long metal bar with an end to it that will fit over the lug nuts. Each wheel usually has 4 or 5 lug nuts that hold each wheel onto the hub assembly of your car. 

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Beyond these two tools, the variety and quantity of tools tend to vary with the model and make of the car you purchase. In most cases, the term, “you pay for what you get” applies here. Be familiar with your car's equipment before you purchase your car. Know how to remove the spare tire from its location. Do it once in the summer and keep the assembly lubricated with some grease to ensure easy removal in the event of a roadside fix. After you purchase your car, be sure to check the air pressure of your spare tire at least once every 6 months, as they tend to lose pressure over time. If you have a full size spare, the same procedures and pressure range mentioned before are good to follow. If you have a smaller spare, or “doughnut”, higher pressures are usually required for safe operation. Again, refer to the side of the tire itself for the air pressure specifications and keep a tire pressure gauge handy.

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Image via Flickr/ Donnaphoto

3. Educate Yourself about Flat Tire Removal and Replacement

 Although exact vehicular specifics vary from car to car, some basic steps can be followed for safety in the case of a flat tire. While flat tires are easy to spot from outside your car, they are not always easy to determine immediately while driving. If you are in motion, a flat tire will usually produce a drastic change in the vehicle's handling and is often associated with a flapping noise.

When replacing a flat tire with a spare tire, be sure to get your car off the road and to a safe and level place of ground and put the parking brake on. Once your car is on level ground and out of the way of traffic, remove the scissor jack and tool kit from the vehicle, and proceed to jack the car up into the air near the site of the flat tire. The owner's manual should provide good detail on where to place the jack under the car to lift it vertically. If this information cannot be located, be sure to  place the jack on a frame rail or an area where the metal on the bottom of the car appears to be reinforced. Before lifting the car, loosen but do not remove the lug nuts for the wheel.

Once the wheel is in the air, remove the lug nuts and pull the wheel off the car. (If the rim does not come off easily, tap the top and bottom of the wheel with increasing force until the wheel loosens.) Then place the spare onto the hub and re-tighten the lug nuts or hub studs. Lower the car, remove the jack, and re-tighten all the lug nuts in a star pattern, (as if you were drawing a star without lifting your pen from the paper.) Gather up your tools and belongings, and hit the road. Be sure to get to a shop before you return home for the evening to get your original tire repaired or replaced, and to have the lug nuts tightened to the proper specification on your spare if an immediate repair to the original is not possible. Be sure to travel at speeds no higher than the recommendation on the side of the spare tire to ensure safe travel until your original can be replaced.

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Image via Flickr/ bradleygee

4. Check Your Oil and Other Fluids

On most cars, the lever to release your hood can be found by reaching down with your left hand while sitting in your driver seat, and then pulling a handle of some type with an icon indicating the hood of the car. Once under the hood, you can check your fluids by following the directions mentioned on the sticks and in the owner's manual. Be sure to be familiar with where your engine oil and windshield washer fluid go. They are usually very clearly marked. Always be sure you know which fluid is required for each location, as adding the incorrect fluids can cause problems fast! You can add too much, so be sure to measure accurately based on what your readings are for fluid levels.  Be sure to make sure the hood is tightly latched down after the engine compartment inspection has been made. 

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Image via Flickr/ gvgoebel

5. Get a Roadside Service Plan

Sometimes trouble will strike that is beyond your ability to fix in the moment. In these circumstances it is extremely helpful to have AAA, or another roadside service provider. In the case where your vehicle is not in driving condition and you need to have it towed, the cost of the service will usually cover the tow cost, up to 100 miles, which is enough to get your car home, or if not, to a mechanic. This service has proven itself valuable to me more than once, whether in the case of a roadside failure, or just a failure of my brain to work! (I may have locked my keys in the car once. Ok, more than once.)

While you might not call yourself a mechanic, knowing how to do these things yourself can save you from taking your car to the shop just so you can pay a mechanic $50/hour just to tops off your fluids or put a little air in your tire. And while some things are beneficial and easy to do yourself, other things can and should be left to an expert. For example, you could learn to change your own oil. But, an oil change is usually around $25 at the shop, including the cost of the oil. If you were to do it yourself it would probably end up costing you more in cost of oil, filter, oil pan, and your time … not to mention getting pretty dirty and needing to find somewhere to take your old oil for disposal. 

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What other car maintenance would you like to know how to do for yourself? Do you feel comfortable doing the things we've listed? What car maintenance do you do?

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5 Things YOU Can Do to Save Money and Keep Your Car Out of the Shop

Jeanna Strassburg is a wife, and mother of three, who enjoys kitchen dance parties and summer time! Jeanna received her bachelor’s degree in Education from Brigham Young University-Idaho in April of 2007. She enjoys spending her time cooking, cleaning and tending to the proper duties of a stay at home mother… NOPE! Truthfully, she enjoys eating the food, but not making it or cleaning up after it. She likes to have a clean home, but loathes laundry and dishes. Loves her children, but coul ... More

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1 comment

  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I have yet to learn how to drive. Yeah a bit late bloomer here 🙂 I was once said I was born a commuter. And because my husband knows how to drive, I didn’t see the urgency to learn how to drive. But yes, we do discuss “car issues”. I have learned few things in theory, not the practical/actual though 🙂 Nice to know article!

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