How to Budget for Car Maintenance & 7 Maintenance Tips

How to Budget for Car Maintenance & 7 Maintenance Tips

August 12, 2019    Car Care

It’s no secret that owning a vehicle is a big expense. While most people make room in their budget for monthly insurance fees and the ever-increasing price of gas, regular maintenance is often forgotten about. Budgeting for preventative vehicle care means you’ll be able to catch issues early and save yourself some money in the long run.

Regular car maintenance could be the difference between a car that starts in the morning and one that doesn’t. But what exactly does car maintenance entail? To learn more about what it is and how you can implement it into your existing routine, you’re in the right place.

The car maintenance guide will cover:

Car Maintenance Basics

Look, car maintenance isn’t glamorous, but it is absolutely essential to the longevity of your vehicle. You can’t just purchase a car and hope it’ll run like a charm for the rest of your time with it. A dependable, long lasting and well-maintained car takes intentional effort and a little bit of cash.

Our car maintenance guide can help illustrate your car’s needs and what you need to do to make it happy. By knowing where to focus your attention when, maintaining your vehicle can and will be a cake-walk that saves you a bit of money down the line. Not only that, but it’ll also make it a safer ride for you and anyone else traveling in your vehicle.

So where do I start?

There are plenty of myths out there when it comes to servicing your car. We’ll bust the big ones a little later on in this article, but the easiest way to know what your car needs is to go straight to the source.

Pick up your owner’s manual and skim through it. Our car maintenance guide will provide you with some general car maintenance tips. But for your vehicle’s specific needs, the manufacturer has you covered.

What goes into maintaining your vehicle?

Well, a lot of things. Your vehicle has a lot of moving parts, and they all need to be looked after in one way or another. Some more often than others. However, in the car maintenance world, “how often?” isn’t necessarily a question of time – it’s usually one of distance travelled.

Vehicle maintenance is often a result of wear-and-tear, among other things. In your car’s case, the more you use it, the more you lose it. The more you drive your car, the harder it works and the faster the materials inevitably start to break down. That’s why we speak in terms of kilometers or miles driven when considering what sort of maintenance needs to be performed on your vehicle. People who don’t drive their car very far or very often probably won’t have to keep it maintained as frequently as someone who does.

How much should I budget for car maintenance per month?

You probably won’t have to use it as often, but it may be a good idea to set aside a fixed amount of cash every month so that when maintenance costs do come up, you’re prepared for it. According to CAA, maintenance costs can run you between $500 and $700 per year. Broken down, you may want to put away anywhere from around $42 to $58 per month. Of course, the more you have set aside, the more prepared you’ll be.

But don’t forget that vehicle maintenance costs do vary. They really depend on what your car needs in the moment and the kind of car your drive.

Car Maintenance Checklist, Schedule and Costs

So here it is – a checklist of the major parts of your vehicle that need maintaining. Our car maintenance guide will also provide you with approximate costs and service timelines for these items, but again, you’re going to see a lot of “it depends” and “check your owner’s manual.”

Nothing is cut-and-dried when it comes to your vehicle. Every car is different, meaning they all have their own specific needs. Birchwood Credit wants to give you the resources to help put you and your vehicle in a position to thrive. It’s up to you to implement these changes, but with our checklist, we’ll do everything we can to help you understand the ins-and-outs of general car maintenance.

Maintenance Before 10,000 km

This is basically everything my dad never shut up about. The stuff you’ll need to take care of before every 10,000 km-or-so. For some maintenance under this category, you’ll probably have to take care of it even more often. Don’t worry, we’ll give you more specific timelines for each.

These are all fairly basic tasks, but skipping out on them can have a major impact on your car’s performance.

Change Oil and Oil Filter

Your vehicle literally needs to be a well-oiled machine, or else its not. There’s a lot of metal under the hood and a lot of friction going on to keep the thing running. Without any lubrication, the gears, pistons and cylinders operating your engine can heat up, meld together and seize up.

Plus, dirty oil is thick, erosive and can do more harm to your vehicle than it’s worth. The longer you wait to change the oil, the dirtier it will get. Your oil filter will help keep it clean for a little while, but it can only filter out so much.

Topping your engine up with fresh oil and changing out the filter every 6,000 kilometres will ensure a smoother ride and a healthy, longer lasting engine.

How much will it cost?

Oil and oil filter changes can run you anywhere from around $27 up to around $87. The lower end of the spectrum will land you the run-of-the-mill stuff. However, as it gets more expensive, you’ll be paying for higher quality synthetic oil.

Rotate Tires

The process of rotating your tires involves moving them from one position to another, ensuring that they wear down evenly. Different mechanics follow different position rotation patterns, but generally they’ll move the rear tires to the front and the front tires to the rear.

Try doing this between every 5,000 to 7,500 km. However, it’s even more important to stay as consistent as possible with it. If your goal is to keep your tires as evenly worn as they can be, consistency will only help you in the long run.

Aligning your tires doesn’t necessarily have to happen as often as a rotation, but occasionally it can be beneficial to get both done at the same time.

How much will it cost?

Rotating your tires alone can cost you anywhere from around $24 to $120. However, an alignment will typically cost between $75 and $200, and they’ll usually throw in a rotation for free.

Wash Your Car

For heaven’s sake, please wash your car on a regular basis. I owned a Volkswagen Rabbit for nearly 9 years, and I can probably count the number of times I washed it on two hands. The salt and dirt it accumulated caused it to rust and it spread like a virus. Once I decided to sell it, I had to drop the price down nearly 20 per cent from its market value at the time and even then I had a hard time getting rid of it.

Here’s a tip I wish I had listened to.

When your car looks dirty…

Wash it.

It’s that simple. A car wash may not seem like an essential piece of maintenance, but it could save you a couple hundred, or even thousand, dollars down the line. Plus, your car looks good under all that dirt. Let it shine, baby!

How much will it cost?

A standard car wash will usually run you under $15. If you’re feeling real fancy, though, you can bring it through to the Chamois Car Wash and pamper it inside and out. The full service will cost you around $25.

Maintenance After 10,000 km

This vehicle maintenance is a little more specific and a little more pricey than anything that came previously, making it all the more important. Most of the following maintenance is crucial in keeping you safe and retaining your vehicle’s value.

It’s easy to shrug off what seem to be large investments in the moment, but neglecting this maintenance could stem into larger, more costly issues down the line. We suggest getting ahead of them to save yourself the hassle later.

Change Filters

Engine Air Filter

Your engine’s air filter makes a little easier for it to breath. It catches all the dust and dirt that finds its way into your vehicle, making it a little less stuffy in there.

Changing it every 20,000 to 40,000 km should do the trick, but if you live in a particularly dusty environment, you may have to keep a closer eye on it.

Cabin Air Filter

The cabin air filter works similar to the engine air filter except it keeps dust and debris out of your vehicle’s interior. It cleans up the air you breath so driving is a little more enjoyable and safe.

It’s a good idea to replace it as often as the engine air filter – every 20,000 to 40,000 km.

Fuel Filter

Your fuel filter catches all the dirt and rust particles that could be flowing through from your fuel tank. Your car needs a healthy stream of fuel travelling through the lines, and a clogged filter can block off the flow of fuel to your engine.

Changing out the fuel filter, however, isn’t as definite as changing out the air filters. It all depends on the type of fuel you’re using, the make and model of your vehicle and the distance you’re travelling. You should consider having your mechanic check in on the fuel filter as often as you switch out your air filters. You probably won’t have to change it as often, but it’s good to know the filter’s status.

How much will it cost?

Having a mechanic change out your cabin and engine air filters will cost you around $70 to $100 a pop. The fuel filter can run you up to $165.

Wheel alignment

Wheels are the workhorse of every vehicle and making sure they’re properly aligned will improve the longevity and performance of your tires. You can get all four wheels aligned at once or choose to get the front or back pair done separately to spread out the cost.

How Often Should the Wheel Alignment Be Done?

Most likely, your mechanic will suggest doing your wheel alignment every two years or so. However, in order to budget for larger vehicle maintenance down the road, it’s suggested you get your vehicle’s alignment checked annually. Every 20,000 km is a safe guideline. Experts also recommend getting the wheel alignment checked anytime new tires are installed. For most Manitobans, this means when you change your winter and spring tires. If you drive a luxury vehicle, such as an Audi or BMW, the alignment should be done more often since the vehicle has wider tires.

What Is the Average Cost of a Wheel Alignment?

The exact cost is dependant on how many wheels you need aligned. If only two of your wheel need alignment, the average cost is usually around $75-$200 . If your vehicle needs a four-wheel alignment, that cost will most likely double. Some mechanics will recommend getting a tire rotation at the same time. Yes, this will increase the cost of your trip to the mechanic shop, but it will save you money in the long run.

Change Brake Pads

Brake performance is arguably the most important part of your car. A good mechanic will not grant you a safety without a properly functioning set of brakes, and that can drastically lower the value of your vehicle and put anyone in it in danger.

Your brakes, just like the rest of your car, are made up of many different parts. One of them being your brake pads. Whenever you apply your car’s brakes, the brake pads rub up against the brake rotors behind your tires, creating friction and eventually slowing the wheels’ rotation.

It’s simple – every time you apply the brakes, the pads wear down just a tiny bit more. Eventually, you’re going to have to replace them. Again, the schedule varies from circumstance to circumstance – some last longer than others. Expect to perform brake pad maintenance every 40,000 km-or-so.

Other signs your brake pads should be serviced include:

  • You hear/feel clicking, grinding or screeching when applying the brakes
  • Your steering wheel vibrates when applying the brakes
  • Your brake pad warning light turns on
  • Your car is favouring one side when applying the brakes
  • Your vehicle is slower to stop than usual
  • Your brake pads look thinner than usual
  • Your brake pedal sits lower than usual

How much will it cost?

Mechanics will typically charge you per axle when changing your brake pads. You can expect to pay anywhere from around $100 to $300 per axel including labor costs. If you’re changing the brake pads for both axles, it could cost up to $600.

Transmission fluid flush

The transmission allows your vehicle to shift gears. Flushing the fluid at least once a year will keep your transmission in top shape and prevent bigger, and more costly, issues from arising.

How Often Should the Transmission Fluid Be Flushed?

The myth surrounding flushing your transmission is that it doesn’t need to be done often. However, most mechanics actually suggest otherwise, saying every 50,000 to 80,000 kilometers is a good time to bring it into the shop. If you’re vehicle is an automatic transmission, you won’t have to do a fluid flush until about 100,000 kilometers or more. Manual transitions require a more regular transmission fluid flush.

What Is the Average Cost of a Transmission Fluid Change?

Whether you’re getting your fluid flushed at your dealership, mechanic shop or a service centre, the cost usually ranges between $150-$300. Though it is a pricier maintenance cost, it will ensure your gears are shifting properly while stopping and starting your vehicle.

Timing belt replacement

A timing belt makes sure the different components of your engine fire at the right time. While you’ll probably only need to replace your timing belt once every five years or so, it’s a good idea to get its integrity tested during an annual tune up.

How Often Should the Timing Belt Be Replaced?

The rule of thumb used to be to replace your timing belt every 60,000 to 80,000 kilometeres. But since the technology in vehicle’s has improved over the years, that time has been increased to every 100,000 kilometers or more. Double check your owner’s manual to be safe and pay attention to any unusual noises that could indicate your belt needs replacing.

What Is the Average Cost of a Timing Belt Replacement?

Replacing a timing belt is one of the more costly vehicle maintenance procedures, averaging between $500 – 900. However, the longer you put it off, the more it could cost you. Some mechanics say the replacement cost has been as high as $2,000.

Replace Spark Plugs

Yeah, your car needs gasoline to run, but without electricity, it can’t even start. Spark plugs are an essential part of the ignition process, creating, as the name suggests, a spark to ignite the fuel in your engine to get it up and running.

In terms of how often you should have them replaced, this would be a good time to check your handy-dandy owner’s manual. Different manufacturers recommend different frequencies, and the gap between the suggested minimum and maximum number of kilometers is quite wide, ranging from around 30,000 km up to as high as 80,000 km.

How much will it cost?

Spark plugs are cheap, but the labour to install them takes up the bulk of the costs. Expect to pay around $40 to $150 for the replacement.

Replace Battery

Your battery works with your vehicle’s alternator to power all the electrical components of your car. The battery feeds power to the ignition, and once it’s started, your alternator supplies power to the electronics – radio, lights and other accessories.

A car battery is the one exception to the “distance traveled” rule. The reason being that batteries depreciate over time even if they’re not constantly being used. You should aim to put a new battery in every 3 to 5 years.

That being said, you may have to change it before that. If your lights appear to be more dim than usual or your vehicle is having trouble starting, it may be time for a replacement.

How much will it cost?

Car batteries can cost anywhere from $118 to $216, and that includes labour. If you want to install it yourself, expect to pay anywhere from around $50 to $180.

Regular Inspections

Although some repairs aren’t technically considered “regular” maintenance, inspecting the different parts of your vehicle is. You can check out many of the following items yourself or have a professional perform an inspection during your next oil change. But others might require a little more expertise.

Whether you have to bring your car to a professional or do it yourself, be sure to keep a close eye on your vehicle’s:

  • Drive belt
  • Tire pressure
  • Windshield wipers
  • Horn
  • Headlights and brakelights
  • Spare tire
  • Fluid levels
  • Exhaust system
  • Ignition system
  • Steering system
  • Suspension
  • Air conditioning performance

A couple thousand kilometers can do some work on your vehicle, but if you’re checking in on the basic components regularly and maintaining them as necessary, you can realistically add a couple extra years to your vehicle’s lifecycle.

Car Maintenance Costs by Brand

The make of your vehicle has a direct impact on how much you can expect to spend on car maintenance. Luxury brands such as BMW or Jaguar require higher quality materials and fluids to run properly, and thus, will cost more to service than other vehicles. Whereas with brands like Honda or Kia, you can get away with servicing using more baseline materials.

Here are the average annual vehicle maintenance costs for all 15 Birchwood Credit brands, according to Repair Pal:

Average Annual Maintenance Costs by Brand

BMW – $1,081

Buick – $541

Chevrolet – $625

Ford – $718

GMC – $ 747

Honda – $414

Hyundai – $453

Jaguar – $1,021

Kia – $428

Land Rover – $1,220

Lexus – $589

Mini – $897

Nissan – $487

Toyota – $439

Volvo – $768

5 Car Maintenance Tips and Myths Busted

And to top off the car maintenance guide, we wanted to bust a couple car maintenance myths before you hit the ground running. Sometimes vehicle maintenance is made out to be much worse than it actually is. Let us clear a couple things up for you before you go:

1. Mechanics just want to rip you off – Correction: BAD mechanics just want to rip you off. They’re definitely out there, and some will try to squeeze a little extra cash out of you, but there are also some great, extremely helpful professionals out there. Usually, their priority is keeping you safe and obeying the law. If they come across something that deems your car unsafe to drive, they are obligated to fix it. Plus, it’s probably for your own good anyway.

2. A flat tire means you need a new one – This really depends on the condition of the tire, but generally speaking, the leak can usually be patched up. However, if the hole is too large and the rubber is unevenly split, you’ll likely have to replace it.

Here’s a hot tip: if you feel that your tire is leaking air, do not drive on it. At that point, a simple patch might be the answer, but by driving on a flat tire, you risk damaging the rim. That’s when you’ll definitely have to switch it out.

3. All four tires should be replaced at the same time – As long as you purchase a tire that is the same model and size as the rest, you’re in the clear. Don’t waste your money buying four new tires when one gets a little dinged up.

4. Independent repair shops are cheaper than dealerships – While this can be true, it’s certainly not a fact. Any repair shops can be expensive and any repair shop can be cheap. You’ll find that if you shop around, everyone will give you a different price. Some more than a dealership, some less.

With dealerships, you’re often working with professionals who really understand the ins-and-outs of your vehicle. They often work on similar cars and are likely to understand its needs faster and more accurately than someone who isn’t as familiar. Plus, if you are going to the dealership you purchased your vehicle from, you may have a warranty to take advantage of.

5. Premium gas is better than regular gas – It’s simply not true. The premium title refers to the fuel’s octane rating, which measures the level of knocking around that happens in your engine during combustion. Some vehicles, typically high-end luxury cars, require higher octane gas to offset the how much the engine moves around. Check out your owner’s manual. If it says you don’t need to use high octane gas, there isn’t much benefit to purchasing premium fuel.

7 Summer Car Maintenance Tips – Road Trip Ready

Get an Oil Change – If you are near the timeframe for getting an oil change it’s a great idea to get it done before a long trip. Low or Dirty oil can increase wear and tear on your engine.

Fluids – Another important check is to look at fluid levels. With hot heather your engine will need to have the coolant levels where they need to be. This can also lead to unnecessary damage. Make sure to check all your fluid levels before any road trip.

Air Conditioning – AC not blowing as cold as it used to be? Expecting hot temps on your long road trip? This is sometimes overlooked because it’s more of a luxury but it can really make or break your road trip so if you can get it checked out.

Wiper Blades – These are often overlooked but are actually quite important for your safety. You really don’t appreciate them until you need them. But when you do, and if you have nice new fresh ones, you will be happy.

Tires – Tires can get neglected but are another thing you should be checking regularly. Worn out tires can cause trouble in the rain with low traction(safety issue). Tire bulges or slow tire leaks can be a nightmare if they start to act up while your on the highway. Best to take care of it before any trips.

Belts – This is a simple check to ensure you don’t have any obvious issues with your engine belts. A simple cracked belt that breaks while your on the highway can delay your holiday for hours.

Brakes – Brakes are obviously important. They are easy to check and highly important for safety.

You’re All Set

We hope our car maintenance guide helped put a few things into perspective for you. Vehicle maintenance is never fun, and incurring unexpected costs can be frustrating. But if you follow some of the tips and keep tabs on the important maintenance you just learned about in our guide, you should have a solid handle on it. Your vehicle’s in good hands.

Rebecca Lake
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