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Whether you drive a Ford (F) or a Mercedes (DAI), one thing is certain: Neglect your car and you will pay in the long run.

Everyone wants to save money, but when it comes to your car, most people focus exclusively on how to save money on gas while neglecting other important areas.

This is especially true now that full-service gas stations no longer exist in most areas of the country. Self-service means that basic mechanical checks are a thing of the past.

If you haven't been properly maintaining your car, now is a great time to take some time to check all those small things that often get put off or overlooked.

Money isn't routinely spent on your car by only buying gasoline. It's estimated that more than 5% of all vehicle accidents are the direct result of lack of vehicle maintenance resulting in approximately 2,600 deaths, 100,000 disabling injuries and $2 billion in financial losses each year.

By taking the time to make sure that your car is in top working order, you will help your car last longer and improve driving safety in addition to saving money on gas.

Here are nine basic maintenance checks you should make and how they can help save you money:

1. Check gas cap: Before you laugh at this one, one in six car owners on the road is spending more on gas than they need to because of their gas cap. Approximately 17% of vehicles on the road have gas caps that are either damaged, improperly placed on or missing altogether. Gas caps that aren't firmly closed allow gas vapors to escape resulting in the loss of 147 million gallons of gasoline each year which vanishes into the air.

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2. Check oil: This is one of those easy tasks to do, but when is the last time you checked your oil? In a 2007 CarCare survey, more than one in four cars (26%) failed an oil inspection due to low, overfull or dirty motor oil. While it will cost you a bit of money to regularly change your oil, this will pay off in the long run by extending the life of your car's engine and helping to protect it against engine damage. The cost of a few quarts of oil is vastly less expensive than needing to replace an engine or having to buy a new car a couple of years sooner, which can be the result if you don't change your oil on a regular basis.

3. Check tires: This is another one of the gas saving tips that you hear time and again, but still a lot of people fail to follow. Low tire pressure costs you in two ways. It decreases your gas mileage and it shortens your tire life. In addition to checking tire pressure, also check tire tread wear. Not having enough tread on the tire increases the risk of losing traction on wet or snowy roads and a traffic accident will almost always be a lot more expensive than a new set of tires.

4. Check spark plugs: Dirty and worn spark plugs cause misfiring in the engine that wastes fuel, increases exhaust emissions and reduces power. Most people learn that they need to change spark plugs when their engine has a hard time starting, but they have been wasting money long before things got this bad since the wear is gradual. Most standard spark plugs need to be changed every 45,000 miles while long-lasting platinum spark plugs need replacement every 100,000 miles.

5. Check air filter: Air filters get clogged with dirt, dust and other material from the road. As the filter becomes clogged, the airflow through it decreases, which results in a ‘rich’ mixture of too much gas and not enough air going to the engine. The result is wasted gas and a loss of engine power. Simply replacing or cleaning a badly clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10%.

6. Check other lubricants and fluids: Having enough washer fluid may not seem important until you need it to clean a dirty window you can't see out of while speeding down the road. Anti-freeze coolant helps to protect against engine damage by keeping the engine operating within the correct temperature range and low levels can indicate there is a radiator leak. Transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid and clutch fluid all need to be at proper levels to prevent these systems from failing, which can cause driving dangers. Most of these fluids you never think about, but checking them periodically to make sure they are at the proper levels can prevent unwanted damage to the car and possibly avoid an accident.

7. Check windshield wipers: Windshield wipers are another one of those car accessories that you don't usually think about until you really need them. Making sure that your windshield wipers are working properly will help ensure that you aren't driving down the road blindly during the next heavy rain. Any accident that you get into because of not being able to properly see will be many times more expensive than the cost of a new set of windshield wipers.

8. Check battery, belts and hoses: Taking a few minutes to check your battery, belts and hoses can help prevent an unwanted roadside breakdown. Make sure that the battery cables are secure and not corroded and that all belts and hoses don't show any wear. Replacing them now will be a lot less expensive than having them replaced after a long tow to the nearest service station.

9. Check lights: Lights are your communication tool while driving and how others see you in the dark. Lights not properly working can make it harder for your car to be seen and can result in an accident. Besides the head and tail lights, be sure to check brake, parking and turn signal lights as well. Having all your lights work properly will make driving much safer.

By taking the time to do these maintenance checks now, you'll reduce the amount of gas wasted and help avoid accidents caused by lack of maintenance. The results will be a better drive, a happier car and more money in your wallet .