If you don’t know much about cars, you’re in the right place. The financial freedom we talk about here at Saving For Hope is made much easier by not having a car payment. But cars with high miles and no warranty have problems and lots of people don’t know what to look for, how much it will cost, what needs to be done, and which services are scams. I’m going to try to take some of the mystery out of high mileage cars and break down the 100,000-mile wall that keeps car buyers out of their budget.
The first thing I want y’all to know is that cars break. You didn’t need me to tell you that, but I wanted to assure you that it’s normal and intentional. Parts have lifespans and once you hit 100,000 some bigger ticket items hit the end of the road (pun intended). I’m not selling you on some idea that you’ll never have to repair your car, but we can delay some of these repairs and make them easier to manage.
While repairs aren’t cheap, we can still save money in the long run.
Here’s a list of tips to maintaining, and saving money on used cars.
- Aggressively maintain your vehicle
This is true for any car you want to make last, but don’t skimp on maintenance. Look at your owner’s manual and find the maintenance schedule. It tells you the manufacturers recommendation for routine servicing, usually every 5,000 miles. Most people don’t follow this because they feel like it’s overkill. You want overkill. You’ll spend more money on maintenance than you ever have, but it will be worth it.
I thought about including the nerdy math to prove it, but it was boring. So, here’s the summary; Regular car maintenance delays paying for the repair. The repair will still need to be done eventually and will cost the same, but the extra time frees up more of your money to invest. Click To Tweet The cost of the regular maintenance is almost always less than the values of that extra time.
- Change you oil sooner than you think you need to
Oil is essential to a car. I’ve seen a few videos of people trashing junk cars by seeing how long they can drive them without oil. Your car won’t last 5 minutes without it. There are so many moving parts rubbing against each other in a car engine that it needs constant lubrication, so it doesn’t just break from friction and wear. Oil breaks down over time and it burns, making it ineffective. Look at your owner’s manual for the recommended interval between oil changes but if it seems big trust your gut. It can only help.
- Let your car idle when you start it up
Startup is the most damaging time for your engine. When your car sits, all the oil sinks to the oil pan at the bottom. When you fire it up later, it has to pump that oil through your engine, so there’s a few seconds where your engine isn’t properly lubricated. Sit for a minute or two and let that oil get everywhere it needs to be.
- Don’t bother worrying about these things
- Fuel system treatments
These are supposed to mix with the gasoline in your tank and clean out gunk in your fuel system. They don’t really, and the little bit they do doesn’t make any difference. They’re an easy sell because they’re cheap, but don’t worry about it
- Fuel additives
Lots of products claim that if you mix them with your gas they do cool stuff. They don’t work. You won’t go faster or get better gas mileage. And besides, we’re on a budget and don’t need extras.
- Nitrogen in your tires
Dealerships like to put pure nitrogen instead of air in your tires because it holds pressure longer, doesn’t change as much with the seasons, and has no moisture. The biggest reason though is to get you to come back to them more often and buy stuff. Air is free and adding air a few times a year is not big deal. Many gas stations have free-to-use pumps and many drive-thru oil change shops fill up tires for free. If you have nitrogen, you won’t hurt your tires using regular air. You’ll just need to use regular air from then on, which isn’t a problem.
- Premium gas
This is an issue because the name is misleading. The different types of gas at the pump aren’t different qualities, they’re different properties. High performance engines use premium because it’s harder to ignite and can withstand the higher pressures in those engines without igniting prematurely. You get no benefit from paying for “premium” gas if your car doesn’t explicitly need it.
- These things are not scams
- Synthetic oil
This is not just another way to charge you more money, it is better than conventional oil. I’ve seen plenty of people romanticize conventional oil as “old school”. It’s not “old school” it’s just old. Not only does synthetic oil do its job better and longer, requiring fewer oil changes, but remember that tip about letting your car idle? Synthetic oil is designed to stick around in your engine when you shut it off, so then when your start it up again there’s still some oil there. Protect your engine at start up, especially if it has a lot of miles.
- Air filters
Your engine needs air just as much as it needs gas. You “gas” pedal actually just lets air in. Restricted, dirty airflow does a number on your gas mileage. Don’t listen to your friend who says you can just blow it off and put it back. That’s not how they work. Change them if you wouldn’t want to breathe through them.
- Cabin air filters
Speaking of breathing, the air you breathe can have a filter too. Many modern cars come with cabin air filters that clean air coming in through the A/C and people tend to be unaware of that fact. It was always an easy sell when I’d show someone this nasty air filter with dead bugs in it and say, “You’ve been breathing through this. Would you like to not?”. It’s not going to extend the life of your car, but your lungs will thank you.
- Find a good mechanic
Do this before you need to. If your car breaks down (new or used) you need to know where the tow truck will drop your car off. My experience has told me to stay away from chains. They’re more likely to invent issues while creating even more by improperly fixing the non-issues. Look for places that will honestly tell you if something doesn’t need to be done and respect your decision when you want to wait on a repair.
- Do as much as you can yourself
I learned how to do car stuff out of necessity. I watched online videos and read repair manuals. You don’t need to be a mechanic, but every little thing helps. Your synthetic oil change will go from $90 to $30. You can rent specialty tools from any auto parts chain, and you can get your batteries charged there for free too. Be careful, as I’ve had places bring my battery to the back, not charge it, and tell me it’s dead to try and sell a new one. If you drained it because you forgot to turn your lights off then it’s probably still good, just take it somewhere else.
If you can’t hold a wrench to save your life, find a friend that can and buy them lunch. As one of those friends I can tell you that food is acceptable payment. These tips will help you save more money in the long run. Enjoy!
Alan Muise, a contributor to this blog, holds a Business Specialist technical degree, and is currently enrolled at the University of Central Florida’s College of Business. Alan is a former youth pastor and currently serves as the worship director at Aloma United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. He is a wonderful husband, entrepreneur and risk taker.