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July 24, 2015

This is dedicated to my amazing husband who I consulted to write this post and who has taught me more than I ever thought that I wanted to know about basic vehicle maintenance.

Summer time typically means road trips to visit family or driving longer distances to vacation destinations. In the next four months, my family will be making two 13 hour trips each way to visit family. All of that travel means that we will be doing some basic vehicle maintenance before we head out on the road. We hope to save ourselves the headaches and stresses which could result from not properly taking care of the engine or tires.

When planning ahead for travel, it’s easy to overlook the importance of making sure your vehicle is up for the drive. I can’t stress enough the importance of doing a quick run-through of basic vehicle maintenance before heading out on the road. You don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road in an unfamiliar area, when you could be enjoying those precious vacation hours instead.

Here are 7 basic items of preventative vehicle maintenance to save you money.

1. Oil Change

Most vehicles need an oil change every 4000 miles or as recommended by the manufacturer. You should also check oil levels between changes. If the engine oil is low, it can cause damage to the engine, reducing the life of your vehicle. Besides checking the oil dip stick, some signs of low oil are smoky exhaust or overheating engines. Learning to do an oil change yourself can save yourself some money. Mechanics charge for both labor and parts, so you will be

2. Invest in good tires

When living paycheck to paycheck, it can be hard to fork over more money for the higher-rated tires, but the more expensive option will usually save you money in the long run. Better tires mean better fuel economy, safer travel, decreased likelihood of a blow out, and less wear on your undercarriage.

3. Tire Pressure

Checking the tire pressure before traveling could save you both money and headaches. If your tire pressure is not set correctly, it can cause undue wear on the tire and reduce traction. Low tire pressure will reduce the life of your tires, meaning that you will have to replace your tires sooner than necessary.

Too low of a Psi will cause you to drive with lower fuel economy, so you will be unnecessarily spending more money on gas when you travel. Also be sure to avoid over-filling your tires, which could also wear them out prematurely. Psi should be set to vehicle specifications via the manufacturer’s recommendations, not to the tire specifications.

Taking care of your tires will allow them to last for upwards of 40,000 miles. Some high-rated tires can last for up to 80,000 miles. Invest in a tire pressure gauge to keep in your vehicle. They are fairly inexpensive and great tool to have on hand.

4. Alignment

Skewed alignment will wear down your tires and force your vehicle to work harder than necessary. Just like trying to ski in the V position, or trudging through deep mud, misalignment slows down your vehicle. This resistance will reduce your fuel economy and cause harmful wear and tear on your vehicle’s undercarriage.

5. Antifreeze

Before traveling long distances especially, be sure to check the levels as antifreeze keeps your engine from seizing in the winter and prevents overheating in the summer. If your coolant bottle is low there may be an antifreeze leak. Antifreeze is added to the coolant overflow bottle, but it can be added directly to the radiator. Never unscrew the cap on your radiator while the engine is hot, because the cap is under pressure and the fluid, which will be between 150 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, can cause serious burns. Be sure to use a 50/50 diluted fluid mixture of water and antifreeze or the manufacturer’s suggested fluid.

6. Windshield wipers

Drivers from hot and humid states like Florida and Louisiana need to replace them more often than a driver in Maryland for example. The heat and humidity can cause the rubber strips to either crack or rot. You don’t want to be driving through a heavy rainstorm and have your wipers fail on you. Windshield wipers should be replaced at least annually, but in harsher climates, you should consider replacing them bi-annually.

With windshield wipers, more expensive is not always better. In my experience, the cheaper ones work just as effectively as the more expensive options.

7. Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid which is often overlooked, is what allows your transmission to shift and function properly while driving. For automatic transmissions, the fluid is what causes the gears to change. Follow your manufacturers recommended specifications, and never mix different types of transmission fluids.

Basic maintenance will save you money

I am amazingly lucky to have a husband who not only does 90% of our car maintenance himself, but who has taught me a great deal about basic engine safety and inspection. With the exception of tire alignments which require more tools than found in typical household garages, most of the items on this list are easy to learn how to do yourself. Even learning how to do just one or two items on this list will save you money.

If you don’t feel comfortable working on your vehicle, at the very least make sure to take it in for basic maintenance before traveling long distances. Especially if your travel will make you reach or go over the recommended miles between maintenance, it’s better to go ahead and get it done before hand.

Don’t overlook the necessity of taking care of your car’s oil, fluids, and tires. Basic maintenance will save you money through better engine performance, better fuel economy, and extended life of your vehicle.

Do you have a car maintenance checklist which you address before you travel?