There's Good News Behind These Car Maintenance Tips: Mainly Stable or Lower Costs

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With spring blooming across most of the country, a traveler's thoughts turn to the open road — and to take a nice ride getting there.

But slow your roll, car lovers. Before you hit the gas pedal in earnest, make sure you offer your vehicle some tender loving care this spring. The good news is that the cost of maintaining a vehicle is stable or in decline, even as fuel prices stay low.

According to AAA, gas and oil costs were down by 10% from 2013 to last year, and should continue to fall in 2015. Maintenance costs, were up 2% in 2014, while tire costs (both purchase and maintenance) were down 1% last year. While industry analysts expect the business of providing maintenance to remain lucrative as drivers hold onto their cars longer, look what experts at Automotive Fleet say about maintaining even huge numbers of vehicles this year:

We expect [preventative maintenance] pricing to either remain flat or decrease somewhat. Continued stability related to the cost of oil, along with increasing drain intervals and increasing acceptance of synthetics should have a favorable impact on PM costs. Additionally, more [original equipment manufacturers] are offering free services, which will lower perceived costs in this area.

To squeeze the most savings from your auto maintenance budget without sacrificing the quality and care your vehicle needs, it helps to blend the basics with the creative, auto experts say.

Take the wear and tear from winter weather on your vehicle. "I detailed cars professionally for about four years when I was younger, and noticed that most people overlook the paint after a long winter of salt and gravel," says Bryan Marsden, a blogger with the personal finance site FatWallet.com and an auto aficionado. "You should always check to see how harsh the winter was on your car. If needed, rent a high-speed buffer and use a mild to light polish to get any particles and scratches out of the clear coat and paint."

"Once you got the paint smooth and free of minor scratches, put a coat of good wax on it, but don't wax it in direct sunlight — it may not dry properly, and may leave hard-to-remove wax streaks on your clear coat of paint," Marsden says.

Sarah Robinson, the first female test driver at Michelin North America and a Michelin Motorsports marketing manager in Greenville, S.C., says the best place to start with your warm-weather maintenance is your tires. Here are three of the most important things you can do to protect your tires, according to Robinson:

  • Check your tire pressure: Keep your tires properly inflated. Not only are properly inflated tires safer, they also increase fuel efficiency and last longer.
  • Check your tread depth: Tread depth is absolutely critical to stopping. If your tread is below 2/32 of an inch, your car's ability to grip the road in adverse conditions is greatly reduced and it's time for new tires.
    Rotate your tires: Tires should be rotated every 7,000 miles or six months to maintain even wear and preserve balanced handling traction. After a long winter, make sure your tires are being rotated regularly.
A bonus tip from Robinson: "If you have to replace your tires but can only replace two, make sure you replace the back tires first," she says. "The back tires are the most critical for keeping the car going in a straight line and avoiding fishtailing, regardless of whether you have front-wheel, all-wheel or rear wheel drive."

The experts at Edmunds.com recommend checking your wiper blades too. "Your wipers work hard all winter removing dirt and debris, including salt spray," says Phillip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at the online auto giant. "Since the life expectancy of a wiper blade is six months to a year, check that the blades are making full contact with the windshield and have not dried out."

For a full spring maintenance checklist for your vehicle, Bosch Car Care Centers in Broadview, Ill., offers the following tips and tasks for U.S. drivers:

Tires: Inspect tread and frequently gauge tire pressure.
Brakes: Have brake pads and rotors assessed for wear.
Wiper blades: Replace damaged and worn blades with new, beam-style blades that contour to your windshield.
Filters: Have cabin air and engine filters checked and replaced if necessary.
Fluids: Check levels of oil, coolant, transmission, brake, power steering and windshield fluids.
Belts and hoses: Have inspected for wear.
Battery: Perform a diagnostic inspection on vehicle battery.
Lights: Ensure front and rear lights are working, including directional, brake and flashing hazard lights.
HVAC system: Have a vehicle's A/C system checked by a certified technician to ensure optimal performance.

— Written by Brian O'Connell for MainStreet

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