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7 Ways You’re Completely Wasting Money on Your Car

Following this outdated car care advice may cost you big in the long run.

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All cars are not created equal

In your parents’ or grandparents’ day, all cars were created equal—or fairly equal. Oil needed to be changed every 3,000 miles—and everyone used basically the same type. That was just one example of the many ways car maintenance was standardized among all vehicles. Today, there are as many different maintenance guidelines as there are types of cars. The good news is that auto engineering has advanced to such a degree that car maintenance is easier than ever. The bad news: Many car owners still follow the old guidelines, wasting time and cash—and perhaps even damaging their cars. Jumpstart your knowledge, save money, and avoid engine damage by reviewing these common missteps shared by Ben Perricone, territory manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic, headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware.

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Ignoring your car’s specifics

A car built in 1985 is going to have different maintenance requirements than one built in 2015. Don’t guess or assume details about your car, and don’t blindly accept a mechanic’s recommendations. Make sure you know your car’s year, make, and model, and keep the owners’ manual handy. It has all the information you need to properly maintain your vehicle. Reviewing it will save you hundreds of dollars in maintenance missteps and fuel. To save even more, find out the secrets your car mechanic won’t tell you.

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Agreeing to tune-ups

“Cars haven’t needed tune-ups in 20 years,” says Perricone. Older cars needed tune-ups every 20,000 to 30,000 miles. Now, computers, the brains that operate modern cars, have erased the need for such tune-ups. Before you agree to one, find out the specifics of what will be done. Changing spark plugs and oil filters are routine maintenance steps that may be classified as “tune-ups” when they really shouldn’t be. So ask questions—and check your owners’ manual. Remember, older cars are the ones that may need more traditional “tune-ups.” If you ultimately decide to get a new vehicle, learn the car safety features to keep in mind when you’re car shopping.

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Getting a lube job

In most cases, lubricating a car’s chassis (the vehicle’s framework) is as archaic as the tune-up. The ball joints and other parts of modern cars are permanently sealed so there is no need for lubrication. Again, understand what year, make, and model of the car you have. One note: Trucks are different than cars. Some have grease fittings on ball joints and tie rods and may need lubrication. But late model passenger cars generally don’t need any lube jobs, says Perricone.

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Getting your engine flushed

Yes coolants, often called anti-freeze, do need to be changed. But flushes can damage your car. To understand this, consider that flushes are often sold as a way to rid your engine fluids of dirt and other contaminants. The problem is that flushes can also damage the car, causing seals to leak. Cars don’t need flushes unless you have driven through high water or in other extraordinary situations. Again, checking your owners’ manual comes in handy because a 1978 pick-up truck, for instance, may need a flush, depending on many factors.

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Choosing synthetic oil

Synthetic oils have advantages that are needed and used to optimize the function of some modern engines. But synthetic oils don’t benefit all engines, especially those of older vehicles. Ensure you are using the correct viscosity and grade for your particular vehicle. For more money-saving tips on your car, find out the 34 car-buying secrets dealers won’t tell you.

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Ignoring brake fluids

Newer cars have caps on the master cylinders that keep out dirt and grime but don’t seal the system. After two years, brake fluid has absorbed as much water as it can possibly hold and still properly function. “The moisture will go to work attacking all components,” says Perricone. “That same water trapped in the system will attack anti-lock brakes and other expensive components.” The bottom line: Change your brake fluid every two to three years.

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Using a quick fix for foggy headlights

Ever notice that headlights yellow and grow murky? That limits visibility especially at night and during dangerous driving conditions, which decreases safety. Don’t buy the ready-to-use headlight restoration kit or the at-home fixes detailed on the Internet, says Perricone. Any improvement from those fixes (that cost about $20) will only last a few weeks. Instead, go to a reputable service station. They will sand the lens, remove the damaged plastic, polish the surface, and retreat it with protective coating for about $100.

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham is an award-winning Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in writing about personal finance, automobiles, insurance, and lifestyle topics. Her work appears in People magazine, Automotive News, MoneyTalks News, Fortune, US News & World Report and Mental Floss. She also has written for corporate clients including Nationwide Insurance, Hartford Insurance, Johns Hopkins University, and the National Automobile Dealers Associaton.

Dunham also writes feature stories on musicians, television, pets and travel. That work has appeared in USA Today, Gannett, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and many other publications.

Before moving to full-time freelance work in 2008, Dunham was a managing editor of several business-to-business and healthcare publications. She was also a daily newspaper report for Gannett Newspapers.