How to Save Money While Extending the Life of your Car

Date August 15, 2011

One of life’s greatest conveniences is the automobile. It can, however, become quite cumbersome when not maintained properly and unexpected expenses arise due to necessary repairs.  All too often, required and preventative maintenance needs can easily fall by the wayside, resulting in a shorter life span for the car.  Unmaintained cars often break down faster than those that receive regular service and care, resulting in hundreds, even thousands, of avoidable repair bills. The California Department of Motor Vehicles would like to offer common maintenance tips that will certainly lengthen the life of your car.

The following represents a list of tips that provide a general overview of basic maintenance. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for more specific directions on how to properly maintain your car:


Through preventative care for your car, you can reduce the chances of it breaking down and leaving you stranded. Be sure to prevent engine failure by inspecting belts and hoses monthly. Replace worn, glazed or frayed belts. Take your car to a mechanic to tighten them when more than 1/2″ of slack can be depressed between the pulleys. Remember to replace bulging, rotten or brittle hoses and tighten hose clamps in order for your car to operate smoothly. If a hose looks bad, or feels too soft or too hard, it should be replaced. If not replaced, a belt or hose can eventually tear or snap apart which could lead to engine failure and possibly leaving you stranded, with a broken down car, at an inopportune time.

Brake Fluid

Don’t wait for the next time someone stops short in front of you to know if your brakes are working properly. Check brake fluid monthly to ensure your brakes have enough fluid to promptly stop. First, wipe dirt from the brake master cylinder reservoir lid. Pry off the retainer clip and remove the rubber cap or unscrew the plastic lid, depending on which type your car has.  If your car is low on brake fluid, you may not be able to stop immediately, potentially leading to a collision. If you need fluid, add the approved type and check for possible leaks throughout the system.

Power Steering Fluid

No one wants to work harder when they don’t have to and the same goes for your car. To keep your car from being over worked, check the power steering fluid level once a month. If the fluid levels aren’t regularly checked, over time the internal power steering components will tend to wear down and become filled with debris, forcing the power steering pump to work harder than it needs to.  Simply remove the reservoir dipstick to check the steering fluid level. If the level is down, add fluid and inspect the pump and hoses for leaks

Transmission Fluid

Check transmission fluid monthly while the engine is warm and still running – make sure the parking brake is also on. With your foot on the brake, shift to the “drive” position and then back to “park.” Remove the dipstick, wipe dry, reinsert it and remove it again. Make sure the fluid level is above the line marked “MIN,” or as recommended in the owner’s manual. Failure to keep transmission fluid at the minimum level can lead to car problems such as erratic transmission shifts or, at times, damage to the system. If needed, add only the approved fluid type.  Check your owner’s manual for the approved fluid type for your car.

Engine Oil

Check your oil at least once a month. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean. Reinsert it fully and remove it again. You should be able to easily see the level of oil on the dipstick. If it is low, add the recommended oil type. The performance levels are dependent on the type of oil used.   To maintain peak performance, refer to your owner’s manual for the manufacturers recommended mileage for oil changes.  Manufacturers typically recommend an oil change at 5,000, 7,000, or even 10,000 miles, depending on driving conditions. Replace oil filter with every oil change. Changing the engine oil in a car will keep the engine clean and lubricated; if ignored it could lead to an engine failure.


Going green has been the new trend and it applies to your car , too. Don’t get caught driving an environmentally hazardous vehicle. Cars registered in areas subject to the biennial smog certification programs are required to submit evidence of a smog certification every other renewal period. Owners of cars six or less model years old will pay an annual smog abatement fee for the first six registration years instead of being required to provide a biennial smog certification. The registration renewal notice mailed to you by the Department of Motor Vehicles will indicate if a smog certification is required. If a smog certification is required, and you have not had a smog inspection, you may still pay your registration fees to avoid any late fees. However, you will not receive your new registration or year sticker until the smog information has been received by the DMV. It is important to get smog checks to assess your car’s emission levels. Cars with excessive emissions are required to be repaired before returning to the road. For more information on smog checks and where to find a smog test station nearest you, check our website

As you squeeze in that last summer or fall road trip, be sure to keep up the maintenance of your car to ensure that you will reliably, and safely, get to your destination. The DMV recognizes that some people may be less car savvy than others.  Auto repair shops and other businesses in the auto industry can assist you with the upkeep of your car. A well-maintained car will last years beyond its life expectancy and save you money over time. Remember to check your owner’s manual for specific maintenance needs and visit our site, to watch videos about car maintenance.

If you need a new car, or simply want to refinance your well-maintained car, contact MCCU for a low-rate, no application fee auto loan! And, you won’t have to make any payments for the first 60 days (interest will accrue)!

Comments are closed.