Over the last decade, it's actually gotten cheaper to maintain cars and trucks. Why? They're better built. And new models don't even have some parts that needed regular tune-up or replacement, such as condensers, carburetors and points. Today's coolants, belts and hoses have a longer lifespan, too, some up to 10 years. Sophisticated systems also monitor vehicle performance, so a small problem, like an oil leak, can be remedied before it leads to a big one, like a seized engine.
Even basic upkeep--the routine oil and filter change--is no longer required every 3,000 miles. Most new vehicles can run 7,500 to 10,000 miles between oil changes, cutting oil bills in half.
Or how about cutting oil-change costs altogether? Many dealers are throwing in free periodic maintenance with new-car purchases, including oil, tire rotation, replacement brake linings, wiper blades and fluid checkups. On Ford's 2011 Lincolns, maintenance is free for three years or 45,000 miles. Coverage on any new BMW is four years or 50,000 miles. You can also compare total estimated ownership costs at intellichoice.com.
Too busy to keep tabs on your fleet? A dealer's service center will do that, too, sending you monthly reminders with an online account. Or you can buy software programs to estimate and analyze operating expenses and notify you when specific vehicles need service.
But if you're a fleet of one, there's plenty of maintenance you can do yourself to save money. Replacing the air filter and topping up transmission, brake and windshield fluid levels are tasks anyone can do by reading the owner's manual.
While you've cracked open that manual, also check out what your tire pressure should be--particularly if you haul cargo. Underinflated tires increase rolling resistance--and that's bad for handling, braking and fuel economy, and wears out tires faster. No point ruining a $500 set of tires for lack of a 50-cent stop at the air pump.
Likewise, don't risk damage to your hybrid's batteries by letting them run down. Although most hybrid batteries are designed to last 150,000 to 200,000 miles, they shouldn't be left dormant. Run the engine for 30 minutes at least every 90 days to keep the battery recharged.
- Don't rely on dashboard alerts for oil and tire pressure readings. Sensors can malfunction. Periodically remove the dipstick to check the oil level yourself.
- Stow jumper cables in your trunk to save tow truck fees--and time off the road.
- Hire the experts. Today's onboard electronic systems require specific diagnostic tools usually found only at a dealer's service center.
- Watch out for recalls. Check your auto manufacturer's website every month, or edmunds.com, which lists recalls for every make and model.
- Keeping your business vehicles in great shape not only keeps your enterprise rolling now, it'll pay you back when it's time to trade them in later.
-- Jill Amadio