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Top 7 ways to save money on car servicing

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Updated 10 Oct 2019

Rachel White

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You can’t always tell when your vehicle is going to break down. But without too much effort or mechanical knowledge, you can respond to some noticeable warning signs.

These tips will help you get in touch with how your vehicle feels, and to take notice of its little warning signs. And stop small repairs becoming large, costing you both more money, and more time with your vehicle off the road.

1. Lights

If your brake lights, reverse lights, indicators, fog lights or headlights are not working it could cause an accident.

It’s good practice then, every so often, to get a friend to walk around your car while you activate all of the lights to check they are working.

If you’re on your own and want to check, just find a reflective building that you can park in front of so you can see the lights working (or not) in the reflection.

Don’t forget to check your hazard lights and keep in mind where they are located so you can flick them on quickly if ever required.

2. Windscreen and wipers

A clear unobstructed view of the road is essential for vehicle safety. If you can’t see where you are going then you are not driving safely.

Windscreen chips and cracks

Other than making your car fail a roadworthy test, chips or cracks in your windscreen can impede your view.

A chip in your windscreen can turn into a large crack very quickly, so it’s best to have a chip fixed as soon as possible to avoid replacing the whole windscreen.

If you don’t replace a damaged windscreen you may be subject to water damage, weakening of the vehicle structure, and it could affect the operation of the airbags.

When you wash your car or are sitting at traffic lights, make a conscious effort from time to time, and have a look at the windscreen and note any chips, and have them looked at.

You can also be prepared ahead of any trouble, and call into your local windscreen repairer and pick up some chip stickers.

These can temporarily cover a chip in the windscreen and stop it from becoming a larger crack, hopefully saving your windscreen on the drive to get it repaired.

Wiper blades

Wiper blades/refills can deteriorate over time due to dirt, sunlight, extreme weather, and contaminants.

You can tell when it is time to replace your wiper blades/refills as you will experience streaks, wiper judder, smearing, or areas of the windscreen that are left unwiped.

If you notice any of these signs pick up a replacement set and fix it yourself, or, some car accessory stores will replace them for you (in my experience, sometimes for free, others for a small charge).

Or you could have them attended to on top of your regular car service.

3. Tyres

The thin black strip that is the meeting of your tyre tread and the road holds a lot of responsibility and should be respected with regular checks.

Tyres should have at least a continuous 1.5 mm depth of tread, and be free of defects.

Wear indicators|

Each tyre has at least four wear indicators to show you when the tread has worn down to 1.6 mm.

Located on the side wall of the tyre, on the edge of the tread, are small triangles, pointing to bars moulded within the tread.

These bars are the wear indicators, and if the tread pattern is level with the wear indicator then it is time to replace your tyres.

Wheel inflation, alignment, and balance

Also make sure you check for uneven wear, which will indicate either incorrect tyre inflation or the need for a wheel alignment and/or balance.

It’s best to check your tyre inflation when the tyres are cold. The pressure in your tyres will change after a long drive, so check tyre pressure prior to heading off on your journey.

A wheel alignment is recommended every 10,000 kilometres, or when you notice the vehicle pulling to one side when driving on an even surface.

If you require a wheel balance you may notice vibration through your steering wheel.

Tyre pressures vary according to for different types of tyres and vehicles, so ask the tyre supplier for the recommended pressure for your tyres, or check your vehicle plate, usually found on the inside of the door sill, which will state your vehicle’s tyre pressure recommendations.

4. Fluid leaks

You have probably noticed in shopping centre car parks a black stain in many car spaces. This is from fluids, usually engine oil, leaking from vehicles parking there.

If you notice a stain or puddle at your regular parking space, your vehicle may be leaking engine oil or another type of fluid.

If you use your vehicle’s air conditioner please note that there is likely to be clear water that pools under your vehicle.

If it is clear water and you have just been using your aircon, then don’t panic, it’s just condensation from cold components of the air con system hitting the warm air outside.

If you do notice a puddle under your car, which is not clear water, make note of the colour of the fluid, and how large the puddle is.

Then let your mechanic know. If you have a significant leak be sure to keep an eye on the warning lights on your dash, as can will light up if certain fluids are too low.

If you see a warning light show on the dash pull over, switch the car off, and seek mechanical assistance.

If you were to have a significant coolant or engine oil leak and kept driving, you could overheat and cause damage to your engine.

Fluids are there to stop overheating or friction so without them, serious damage could occur.

So keep an eye on what may be dropping underneath, actively check your oil dipstick and be alert for any warning lights, should they appear.

Lastly, and this is a bad one, is leakage from your clutch master cylinder, if you own a manual transmission vehicle.

How do you spot this one? If the seal breaks or deteriorates, fluid will enter the car via the clutch pedal, and deposit itself on your shoes, or car mat.

In an instance of this type of leak, have it looked at by a mechanic as soon as possible, as the end game for this leak being unattended is the likely inability to change gear.

5. Fuel consumption

Keep an eye on your fuel consumption. It could be gradual over time, or a sudden realisation that you are paying more at the pump but it’s not because of higher mileage or fuel prices. This is something that can be easily missed and can go undetected.

Reasons for higher fuel consumption

  • Fuel Leaks
  • Dirty fuel injectors
  • Incorrect timing
  • Worn or damaged spark plugs, leads, coils or distributor
  • Low octane fuel
  • Incorrect tyre pressure
  • Defective thermostat
  • Defective oxygen sensor
  • Worn timing belt
  • Dirty air filter
  • Incorrect valve clearance
  • Worn rings or valves
  • Defective MAP sensor
  • Clogged catalytic converter, exhaust

If you notice a decline in fuel economy let your mechanic know. The earlier they detect any fuel issues, and get it fixed, the less you will pay at the pump.

Tactics to increase fuel efficiency

  • Use a higher octane fuel, it may cost more but is worth it in the long run. Buying the cheapest fuel may not be the best in the long term for your car.
  • Buy fuel from a busy service station that regularly turns over its fuel.
  • Check your tyre pressure regularly.
  • Avoid accelerating and braking heavily.
  • Whenever possible don’t drive on an almost empty tank.
  • Remove the roof rack if it's not being used.
  • Carry out regular car servicing.

If you do a lot of city-style, stop-start driving through the week, then try to take your vehicle for a scoot along the highway on weekends.

Or at least a run where you are doing at least 80 kilometres per hour for an extended period, allowing the engine to get up to temperature and at higher revs to give it a clear run. This will also help in charging your battery.

6. Engine missing, or loss of power

When we say missing, it’s not a situation in which you need to call Liam Neeson. It’s that feeling of the vehicle shuddering at idle, or a hesitation/skip/jerk when accelerating.

Or your vehicle could be finding it harder to get up hills, can’t pull away at the lights as quickly, it misfires, or you put your foot down to overtake someone only to find nothing happening.

In any of these situations it could range from being only slight to very noticeable, but if you do notice the engine missing, or experiencing loss of power, it can be indicative of a potential problem.

So what might be going on?

  • Incorrect timing
  • Airflow obstruction
  • Worn or fouled spark plugs
  • Poor fuel
  • Incorrect air/fuel ratio
  • Faulty ignition source
  • Electrical fault
  • Faulty sensors
  • Transmission faults

If you experience missing at idle or during acceleration then it’s best to have your car looked at by a mechanic.

If you keep driving you could be doing damage to your engine. Faulty components that aren’t fixed straight away can also have an effect on other components which can also fail.

For example, worn spark plugs will eventually burn out your coils, which will stop cylinder operation, and then you won’t be able to drive your car.

So a small miss or loss of power that you choose to ignore can go from being a small expense to a major expense, and you could be without your vehicle for longer than you might expect.

7. Engine hard to start

So your pride and joy is starting to struggle to get started. It might be happening when the engine is either cold or warm. Here are some culprits that could be the cause:

  • Starter motor
  • Ignition
  • Air/fuel issues
  • Battery

If your starter motor is faulty your dash lights will likely remain bright, but you may experience a single click, or no sound, no crank, or no start when you try to start the car. In any of these instances, you will want to visit an auto electrician.

If your car cranks over fine but doesn’t start, then there may be an issue concerning air, fuel and ignition.

These are all required to start a car, so in this scenario, you will need to get a mechanic to diagnose the actual problem.

If the vehicle has been sitting for an extended period of time, it cranks over but doesn’t start, then you may need to drain and replace the fuel, and look at injectors, or even replace the fuel pump.

Other non-starting issues that can arise may be due to your ignition key, and alarm/immobiliser if installed. You may need to replace the key, transmitter or transmitter battery.

If your battery is weak, dead, or has a poor connection, you may notice your dash lights are dead or very weak, electric windows will be slow, and your interior light will be dim.

In this instance, you should check your battery terminals are connected correctly, and not corroded. Or your battery may be near its end.

Getting a longer life out of your car battery

Under normal conditions, you should get at the least 2 years out of a battery. Here are some ways to prolong your car battery:

  • Have your vehicle serviced regularly
  • Avoid leaving car accessories on which drains the battery.
  • Keep your battery clean
  • Make sure the battery is secured down so it doesn’t vibrate and terminals become loose
  • Jump-starting a flat battery can do damage so get assistance from a professional
  • Have your batteries charging rate checked when the car is being serviced
  • Drive your vehicle regularly, if it is sitting for extended periods of time this will affect the battery charge
  • Never use tap water to top up water in your battery. Only use distilled, de-mineralised or deionised water or if you are in a desperate situation then you can use clean rainwater.

When replacing or disconnecting a battery a memory minder should be used to maintain a power supply. This ensures that the computer won’t lose your idle memory speed and you also won’t need to re-enter your radio security code.

Other things to keep in mind are that warmer weather will reduce a battery’s life due to faster water loss, so if you live in a hotter region you should look for a battery with a larger reservoir — more water = more time until it’s low.

A flat battery will put more strain on your engine starting, and will then increase fuel consumption. So if you notice your car struggling to start, get it checked out!

If you’ve read this far, you obviously care about your car. A lot. So next time you need a service, repair or inspection, visit AutoGuru

We let you search, compare and book from over 1600 qualified mechanics who eat car troubles for breakfast.

Image credit: Australian money RicardoCorralT

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Written By

Rachel White

Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars. This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.