If keeping your car's maintenance costs down feels like a losing battle, try employing a few less-obvious strategies. The most important: Read your owner's manual cover to cover. Today's vehicles come equipped with long-life belts, coolant, batteries and hoses, while carburetors and distributors are things of the past. Electronics take charge of many adjustments in today's engines: More than 80 percent of vehicles' systems are controlled by computers, which practically tune them and monitor the parts, says Michael Vaughn of Ford's service program. But that doesn't get you off the hook. Following the recommended maintenance schedule in your owner's manual not only keeps repairs at bay, but extends the life of your car.
Check tire pressure often, especially if you carry heavy loads, recommends Chuck Halper, Hyundai's vice president of service. Underinflated tires increase rolling resistance, affecting handling and braking as well as fuel economy, and can prematurely erode treads.
But don't fall into the trap of believing you have to change the oil every 3,000 miles to lubricate the chassis or prevent wear. "While the recommended schedule can vary by car, most oil-change intervals are around 6,500 to 7,500 miles," says Honda's Art Garner. "Changing your oil more often may not be necessary."
The following checks and suggestions will pre-vent more expensive repairs:
Compare maintenance costs before you buy a car.
Buy a tire gauge and regularly check tire pressure, including the spare's.
Check interior and ex-terior lights and signals.
Check belts for wear and hoses for leaks.
Keep records. If you don't follow your dealer's recommended maintenance schedule, you put your warranty at risk.
Any gas station can add oil, but when other dashboard warning lights flash, head for your dealer.
Your dashboard mes-sage center can alert you to low oil pressure and coolant, but by the time the light comes on, you'll probably have to stop driving or you'll damage the engine.
Winterize and summerize your car according to the owner's manual.
Log on to the Car Care Council's Web site: www.carcarecouncil.org.
Jill Amadio has reported on the automotive industry for 23 years as an editor and consultant.