Today, we’re going to focus on maintenance. Keeping our car going for as long as possible is often likely to save us the most money. So how can we maintain our car cheaply, while still being safe and legal? There are three main avenues that we’ll delve into.
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Some assume that the standard of service for the car will be higher at main dealers. This isn’t always true, so why not try an independent dealer? We pay less for the name and the fancy showroom tea and coffee that no one drinks. Our money instead goes towards keeping our car safe on the road. As it should be. There are too many cases where we pay for the name rather than the product. One of the main money saving rules is to focus on what service we are actually getting. It will pay if we concentrate on this, rather than who the service is coming from (within reason).
I serviced my Focus at the main dealer when I first bought it as I didn’t know any better. We naturally trust the bigger brands and rest assured that our car is being taken care of. However, I started to notice that some (minor) jobs were being missed. I had used independent garages before when I had my old BMW 320i. I actually found the independent dealers to be more knowledgeable in some cases. This is especially true if we are lucky enough to find an independent dealer who specialises in the car that we have. This is certainly worth an internet search and could save us a lot of money and peace of mind. I would argue that both can be equally important.
Another advantage is that we often have more influence over what jobs we want done (and not done) on the car. There were a number of occasions where working parts had been replaced at main dealers. Nobody is suggesting that we only replace parts when they’re about to fail, as this is unwise and unsafe. However, replacing parts prematurely can be expensive and wasteful. Servicing the car at independents gives us the choice to select what parts actually go on. This has saved me a great deal of money. In any case, there will always be tea and biscuits when I get home. I personally use a great garage near where I live in North West London, and can’t recommend them highly enough!
Get The Parts
If and when we find out what work the car really needs, we can save even more money by getting the parts ourselves. If we pay for the parts and labour from a garage, how do we know they will get the best deal? Note, I use the phrase ‘getting the best deal’ not ‘buying the cheapest parts’. We don’t always want the cheapest parts either, because they may be faulty and need replacing more often. I’ve found this out the hard way.
There are plenty of stores that will sell parts for cars. They aren’t unnecessarily cheap for a given reason. I know a few car mechanics who buy the parts from these stores and then add them onto the service. This is convenient, but not always the best value. A little bit of homework, plus a short internet search could save us plenty. This is a good return on investment that I would encourage more of us to get involved in. There are even applications that can help out with this, for those of us who are a bit more ‘down with the kids’. Which I’m very much am. I think.
Getting parts ourselves means we have more control over what goes on to our motor. In future I may provide links to some of the sites and brands of parts that I use so stay tuned for further updates. I’m helpful like that. Or at least I will be. Good to have a plan in any case. I personally always insist on buying parts myself, as this gives me more control. I like control. Almost as much as I like to focus on maintenance, but not as much as I like tea and biscuits.
If we want to earn even more service points, why not have a go at changing the parts ourselves? It’s our vehicle after all. We should remember that the last item taken off should be the first one put back on. I change my own spark plugs and air filter. I only don’t do the oil change because I don’t have a jack (that I trust). A main dealer asked me for £120 to change a gasket on the top of the engine. This was to address a slow oil leak. I bought the gasket myself for £10 and did the job myself within 40 minutes. The leak has not returned since.
If we are patient (and can hold a screwdriver), it may be surprising just how much we can do ourselves. A lot of the jobs we may need to do don’t require that many tools or skills. For my engine, a spark plug change needs one tool. It’s the same story for the air filter or engine coolant. Changing the HT leads requires no tools at all! Grab those biscuits and some tea, watch the odd online video and then crack on. Let’s start with the simple jobs (air filter for example), and then work from there. Let’s have confidence in our abilities. It won’t hurt to have the phone number of the local mechanic handy, just in case.
One piece of equipment that helped me with my DIY is a diagnostic reader. It’s a little device that plugs into the car’s dashboard and tell us what’s wrong with it. This is key for ensuring that no extra expensive work gets done without permission. The reader costs a few quid, and can be teamed up with various mobile phone applications, so can be easily understood. Even by me. Sort of.
Hopefully that has helped us keep a focus on maintenance for the long term health of the car. So now that we can maintain our car on the cheap, let’s get more into specifics of how we drive to keep our money in our pockets, and our car out of the garage.