Carpools are a great way to save money and time. But while sharing the responsibility of hauling kids to soccer, school, or dance means fewer trips for the family vehicle, it still causes wear and tear on your car.
According to a study conducted by AAA, the costs associated with maintaining a car jumped 11.26 percent from 2012 to 2013, and now repairs run a sedan owner 4.97 cents a mile. Over the course of 5 years and 75,000 miles, that’s more than $3,700.
Having driven my share of carpools (and making a few car mistakes along the way), I’ve learned a few tricks that help trim and curb car maintenance costs. Before pulling out to run your next carpool shift, consider these tips that are sure to spare your budget being deflated by costly car repairs.
Warm things up. It’s tempting to hop in the car, fire up the engine and race off to pick up all the kids in your car pool. But your car’s motor would rather you give it a change to ‘wake-up’ and warm up, especially after sitting for a day or two of when the temperature is below 50 degrees. Warming up an engine allows the oil to heat up and circulate through the motor to best protect all the moving parts and reduce the need to shell out a lot of dough for a costly engine repair.
Check the oil. I’m embarrassed to admit, but this one I learned the hard way in my 20’s after running out of oil. Gulp! Don’t see your engine seize up and face a repair bill that runs in the thousands – or the need to buy a new car. Get in the habit of checking the oil once a month to make sure there’s enough to properly lubricate all the engine’s moving parts and ensure that oil is clean enough to do its job. It only takes a few minutes to do yourself and most repair shops will check oil for free, but checking can spare your engine from running too hot and wearing out faster than normal.
Steer clear of cheap gas. Filling up with off-brand gas can leave your car vulnerable to fuel that’s not properly filtered. That’s because cut-rate stations might cut corners by not providing pump filters, or not changing them out regularly. Paying a few extra cents per gallon at trusted stations or for well-known names means you’re gassing up with ‘clean’ fuel that’s properly filtered and also may contain additives that help your car engine stay clean.
Check your tires. While you’re waiting for your tank to fill up at the pump, take a moment to take stock of your tires and make sure they’re properly inflated. Not only can this increase gas mileage to save you money at the pump, it extends the life of your tires. “Proper tire pressure can increase fuel economy by up to 12 cents per gallon and could also add 10,000 miles to your tires,” says John Dierken, store manager for Discount Tire in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The recommended tire pressure for your vehicle is located on the driver’s side door jam or in the owner’s manual, not on the tire.” Most gas stations and car washes have free or low-cost air filling stations. Dierken says tires stores often check and refill tire pressure for free.
And remember bald isn’t beautiful. Look at the treads to spot uneven tire wear, a sign your tires are out of balance or may not be properly inflated “Lack of tread affects a tire’s road gripping ability,” says Dierken.
Don’t tune out strange sounds. Squeaks, clanks, rattles and chirps can be early warning signs that something’s amiss under the hood. Ignoring them will rarely result in the problem resolving itself. Investigate a strange sound as soon as possible to prevent a small (or small-ish) problem from growing into one that busts your budget.
Don’t be a drag. Rolling down the windows can increase fuel consumption by as much as 13 percent on the highway. Instead of the wind blowing through everyone’s hair, keep your little passengers cool and refreshed by using your car’s ventilation system or air conditioner.
Freshen up. A dirty air filter can decrease your gas mileage, costing you 10 percent or more at the pump. Checking it once a month (most service stations provide this service free of charge) and replacing it when dirty or per your car’s recommended service schedule (whichever comes first) helps protect gas mileage and your car’s overall health.