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Worth It: Oil Change
Spend: $25 to $50
Save: $4,000 on engine repair
Skipping just two or three oil changes will muck up your engine. But unless you’re driving a 20-year-old car, you really don’t have to go in every 3,000 miles (as some mechanics suggest). Vehicles from this century can cruise for 5,000 to 7,500 miles between changes.
Worth It: Tire Rotation
Spend: $30 to $40
Save: $600 on a new set of tires
Forgoing rotation can shorten your tires’ life by half. You’ll want to go into the shop every 10,000 miles to get those puppies circulated.
Not Worth It: A/C Inspections
Cost: $30 to $50
Some mechanics just look under the hood and call it an “inspection.” Others might crank the A/C and measure the temperature of the air coming out. Either way, you’ll know when the air isn’t working (it will not be pleasant), and you don’t need to pay for this service.
Worth It: Engine Air Filter Replacement
Spend: $15 to $100, depending on engine size
Save: 5 to 10 percent on gasoline
The engine air filter is like a veil that keeps out dust, dirt and bugs. These filters need to be replaced every 15,000 to 25,000 miles (sooner if you’re in a desert setting, like Phoenix). You can pick up a new filter at an auto-parts store and install it yourself. A dirty filter will strain your engine power and fuel economy.
Not Worth It: Brake Fluid Flush or Replacement
Cost: $85 to $110
Unless you’re an extra in Fast & Furious, your car is equipped with a lifetime supply of brake fluid, which is used to amplify braking force. This service is almost always unnecessary.
Worth It: Brake Pad Replacement
Spend: $180 to $270
Save: Umm, potentially your life
Hear that “eeek” sound every time you brake? Time to get new pads. Don’t argue. Just get them.
Not Worth It: Differential Fluid Replacement
Cost: $60 to $120
Most new vehicles come with a lifetime supply of this liquid, which lubricates the gear on the car’s axle. The only way you’d need more is if you really worked an SUV hard (say hauling a trailer full of ponies).
Worth It: Timing Belt Replacement
Spend: $340 to $460
Save: $2,000 to $5,000 for reassembling the engine
A worn belt can snap as you’re driving--potentially damaging your engine--so it’s best to take preventative action and replace that sucker some time before your odometer hits 100,000 miles. The good news? You should only have to do it once.
It’s a Toss-Up: Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) Replacement or Flush
Save: $1,500 to $3,000 on transmission repair (for SUVs)
You’ll want to consult your owner’s manual on this one. While a large SUV needs an ATF replacement every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, most passenger cars come with a lifetime supply that will support them into old age. Just take a quick peek at your manual to avoid being swindled.
Bringing your car in for an inspection is the worst. First, the mechanic scolds you for grinding your gears. Then he gets all judge-y about the passenger’s side door dent. (You barely kissed that lamppost!) Then he wants $150 to order a part you never knew existed.
Still, as the saying goes, she who skips basic maintenance is doomed to spend $2,000 on a new transmission.
In other words, sometimes you have to pay a little to save a lot.
We checked in with Jason Lancaster, editor of AccurateAutoAdvice.com, to learn where you should spend and where you can scrimp on car repairs. (You need to change your oil, ladies. You probably don’t need to change your differential fluid.)
Check out our guide to find out when to pop the hood, how much you should expect to spend and when you can safely give your mechanic a big, fat “No, thanks.”
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