7 Tips to Maintain Your Car in the Smartest and Most Frugal Way Possible

Published on February 22, 2016 By Lauren

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    Do you remember your first “big kid” car? Not your very first car you might have owned in high school, but the first car you bought with your own money as an adult?

    I remember mine very well. But… for a frugal blogger like myself, this is an embarrassing story. It wasn’t a frugal decision at all. Up until I was 24, my husband and I had simply continued to drive the cars that we had owned since college. They were early 90’s Saturns.

    Time for a “big kid” car. It was a 1999 tan Audi A6 that we purchased in 2005. It was really nice. But it was expensive. In so many ways. Let me count them:

    • It was a German car, which are always more expensive to fix.
    • It was a “luxury” car. So we had to pay more for all those fancy features.
    • It had 60k miles on it when we bought it. Which is around the time that things start breaking and needing service.

    For the price we paid, we could have sacrificed the luxury name brand and instead bought a much newer modest sedan with half as many miles, wouldn’t need big repairs for a long time and would be much cheaper to maintain. Dumb move on my part.

    After a timing belt replacement among other repairs that cost in excess of $2,000, we finally got rid of the car on a trade-in. After owning the car for only 3.5 years and spending thousands on repairs, we only got $3,500 for it.

    Needless to say, I’ve learned quite a lot. Not only about making smarter moves purchasing a car, but also on how to maintain a car in the smartest way possible.

    Currently, we own 2 minivans. A 2004 Town and Country that we’ve owned for 8 years (my husband calls it his “truck”), and a 2 year old Town and Country that we paid cash for about 5 months ago. No, they’re not sexy cars in any way. They will never turn heads the way that an Audi might. But we don’t care.

    Here’s 7 tips that we follow and why they work for us and have allowed us to maintain our cars very frugally:

    1. Own your vehicle for as long as possible.

    The average length of time a new vehicle is owned is just under 6 years. That’s much better than it used to be, but if you could squeeze another few years out of your cars, you will save a lot over the long haul.

    Also, whether you buy new or used, you will always pay a price in any auto transaction. If you trade your vehicle in, the dealership is usually buying from you at a discount. And the vehicle you are buying from them is at retail price. Even if you can sell the car yourself, you might have to sit on it for a while, and the price you get might be better than trade-in, but it won’t be at the premium dealership prices. And then there are taxes and other fees on top of that.

     maintain car

    2. Owning an older model car is just fine.

    For some, the peace of mind of owning a very late model car is an absolute must. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, but just know that you’re paying a big premium.

    There’s this fear that if your car has over 100,000 miles or so, that it will break down every month and actually wind up being more expensive than if you were making a $350 car payment on a new car. It’s just not true. Especially if it’s a car you’ve owned and trusted for several years, just keep it. Run it as long as you can!

    My 2004 Town and Country just passed over 150,000 miles, and it’s still going great! And if you take advantage of the next tips, your cars will enjoy many miles in their silver years. That’s our van in the picture above… with my son giving it a car wash 🙂

    3. Have your car diagnosed for free.

    The last time you had your car taken into the shop for repairs because of a “check engine” light, did you look at your bill? Almost all garages charge between $75 and $150 just to hook up your engine to a computer and have it spit out a report.

    Here’s a better idea, drive to Autozone or Advanced Auto and they will gladly do it for free. This will help you figure out if it’s a repair you can do yourself, or if you have to take it in for service, you already know what needs to be done. You can then be certain that you aren’t being taken advantage of.

    maintain car

    photo: mario beauregard

    4. Do some work yourself.

    If you are an able-bodied person, there are certain repairs you can do yourself and save hundreds. Things like brakes, tire rotations, and even things that you think would be too difficult. Just last month, the alternator in our 2004 van broke. And my husband (who is not a car-fixer guy at all) was able to do it himself!

    The alternator was about $200, but getting a garage to do the repair would have cost about $500 in total.

    $300 saved.

    Once you know the repair that needs to be made, look around on YouTube to see if it’s something you can do yourself. If you think you will end up in way over your head, then don’t even try it. But you’d be surprised how straight-forward many repairs are.

    5. If something is broken, FIX IT.

    $100 repairs will quickly turn into $1,000+ repairs if they aren’t taken care of. For example, if your car is overheating, it might just be a simple coolant leak that a small hose clamp could fix. But if you let it go, your engine could be damaged beyond repair. Whether you do the work yourself or have someone else do it, get it done.

    6. Don’t skip the routine maintenance.

    Oil changes, tire rotations, and the routine “check-up” are all important. Being cheap by skipping them could cost you dearly down the road. Your car will degrade faster and have more issues with the engine and suspension if you let things go too long. Similar to number 4, don’t let $100 maintenance turn into $1,000+ repairs.

    7. Make sure you are properly insured.

    Question – What’s worse than getting into an accident or bumping into a parked car in the street? Answer – finding out your insurance coverage or deductible isn’t quite what you expected. Know what’s included in your policy so that if something happens to your car, you will be able to get it fixed.

    Whether your cars are old or new, maintaining them in a frugal way (not a CHEAP way) will ensure you get the lots of years out of your vehicles. And getting lots of years out of your vehicles means you save lots of money.

    This post was written as part of the Allstate Influencer Program and sponsored by Allstate. All opinions are mine. Allstate is here to help protect your firsts and the moments in between. Share your firsts with #HeresToFirsts.


  • My 2001 Toyota Camry is working on 200,000 miles and still going strong, with 28mpg around town. Bought it used in 2005, and plan on keeping at least another 5 years.

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