Cheap Out – or Not Cheap Out?
understandably edgy about the Obama Recovery not
and trying to avoid as many unnecessary expenses as they can. When
it comes to your vehicle, there are some things you can cheap out
on to save a few bucks and some other things you shouldnt
neglect, even if it costs you some coin. Better to pay a little
now vs. a lot later.
okay to cheap out on:
unleaded vs. premium
Some car engines
require premium; others recommend that you use it.
Read your owners manual. If it says the engine requires premium,
then you ought to use premium, otherwise, youll end up losing
not just performance but probably some MPGs, too. If the engine
was designed to burn higher octane fuel, combustion will be less
efficient if you feed it lower octane fuel. And if the car is pre-computer
you could damage the engine by using low-octane gas. Modern cars
(early 80s and up) all have engine computers that can compensate
to an extent for low octane fuel, but older, pre-computer cars dont
and use of low octane fuel in an engine that needs high octane fuel
will result in premature combustion inside the cylinders
(this is that knocking or pinging yourehearing) and that will
eventually kill the engine.
If your owners
manual says premium fuel is only recommended, then you can
probably get away with using regular unleaded and given the current
appx. 20 cents per gallon difference in cost between regular and
premium, that could save you a lot over the course of a year. If
you have an 18 gallon tank, filling up with regular vs. premium
and saving 20 cents per gallon puts almost $4 back in your pocket
at every fill-up. That works out to about $200 a year in savings.
You might not
get every last horsepower your engine is capable of delivering
and you might suffer a slight mileage drop that could eat away the
up front savings at the pump. The loss of a few hp is
probably nothing youll miss or even notice but keep
track of your gas mileage with and without
premium to see whether the difference is big enough to make going
back to premium fuel the smart thing to do.
PS: Using premium
in a car designed to run on regular is a total money, economy and
performance waster. Higher octane fuel is not better fuel; it just
burns more slowly than lower octane fuel. If your cars engine
was designed to burn lower octane fuel and you feed it high-octane
(slower burning) fuel, combustion will be less efficient, which
will give you less power and poorer mileage. And youll be
paying more at the pump, too. Duh. Dont do it!
convenient, but they are also a huge and unnecessary expense. The
typical basic wash costs around $12-$14 and most of
these joints up-size you with extras such as wheel/tire wash, paint
protection/wax and underbody wash. By the time you come out the
other end, you could be out more than $20 and thats
before you tip the attendant who vacuums out the carpets. Do this
a couple times a month and youre tossing close to $500 out
every year. Is washing your own car a time-consuming hassle? Maybe.
But if saving moneys the goal, this is a great way to do it.
You can do as good a job or better in your own driveway, for free
or next to free (you do have to buy car wash soap, a bucket
and so on) and come out hundreds ahead every year.
equivalent to several tank-fulls of free gas!
tires vs. speed-rated tires
More and more
late model and new cars are coming from the factory equipped with
tires designed for safe high-speed cruising at sustained speeds
of 130 mph or more. In some case, a lot more speeds as high
as 150-plus MPH. Sustained.
you drive your car this fast for sustained periods, you can often
save a lot of money by going with tires that have a lower speed
rating. A standard S (rated for safe sustained speeds up to 112
mph) or T (118 mph) rated tire is certainly adequate for American
highways, where few cars drive faster than 80 or 90 mph for extended
periods of time.
mph), V-rated (149 mph) and ultra-performance W (168 mph) and Y-rated
(186 mph) tires are Fantasy Tires on U.S. roads, where driving anywhere
near such speeds is also ultra-illegal. A few daring drivers might
occasionally run their cars over 100 for a few seconds. The rest
is talking points, not reality.
You can find
out what the speed rating of your tire is by looking at the alphabetical
designation on the sidewall. For example, a 225/50HR16 tire is an
H-rated tire for a 16-inch rim. This information should also be
listed in your vehicles owners manual. See here for
more detailed info about tire ratings.
tires also usually provide better braking and handling performance
than standard type tires. That means your car might not corner as
well or stop as quickly if you go with a lower-cost, less aggressive
tire. However, these losses would likely be noticeable only under
extreme conditions on a test track, at the limit
of the vehicles handling/braking abilities. Under normal driving
conditions, its likely you will never notice the difference.
In fact, the cars ride may be smoother, since standard-type
tires give a better ride than aggressive, performance tires
The key thing
is to be sure that whatever tire you choose meets the minimum load/heat/traction
rating listed by the vehicle manufacturer. So long as they do, you
cheap out on:
(and oil quality)
on either oil changes or the oil itself is probably the most penny-wise
and pound-foolish thing you can do to your vehicle. Stretching oil
change intervals beyond the recommended maximum time/mileage interval
assures accelerated engine wear, reduced fuel efficiency and possibly
even a premature catastrophic failure. Using low-cost (and low-grade)
oil that doesnt meet the minimum API/SAE specifications does
the same thing and will absolutely void your warranty
coverage. You could be left holding the bag for thousands of dollars
in engine damage because you tried to save a few bucks on oil.
important to key your oil change intervals to the type of driving
you do. Many people go by the maximum intervals touted by the vehicle
manufacture which are touted precisely because they let the
automaker make the car seem low maintenance. However,
the maximum intervals often apply only to cars driven under so-called
normal operating conditions. And what many of us subject
our vehicles to every day especially stop-and-go driving,
short trips, etc. actually qualifies as severe
or heavy-duty use and the recommended changeout
intervals will be more frequent.
In addition to using oil that meets the manufacturers recommended
minimums, be sure the oil filter you use also meets the manufacturers
requirements. A below-spec filter can cause problems and
will also void your warranty if a failure occurs. Also, if you are
a do-it-yourselfer, be sure to keep receipts for all the
oil/filters so that you can prove you used the manufacturer-recommended
stuff in case of a warranty claim. If you have your oil changed
by a non-dealer be sure they use the right type of oil and filter
(and that it is listed on your paperwork).
sure to check the dipstick yourself after they are done. Some of
these quickie-lube places have been known to over or under-fill
coolant doesnt mean forever. It also doesnt mean it
will last as long as advertised, either. Its important to
periodically check the condition of the coolant in your radiator
or have a competent mechanic check it for you. Contaminated
coolant can lead to a gunked-up/ruined radiator which can
be a very expensive part to replace. It can also lead to overheating,
which in a modern engine with aluminum cylinder heads risks catastrophic
should be checked at least every two years, regardless of the advertised
shelf life of the product thats in there. And it should be
changed every five years, at the outside, if you care about the
long-term health of your vehicle.
smart to periodically open the radiator cap (engine completely cold!)
to check the fill level. You may catch a minor, pinhole-type leak
(or perhaps a a larger problem, such as a leaky head gasket) before
it develops into a major leak and a big hassle.
should appear bright green (or orange-red,if its the long-life
type) and translucent, not cloudy. If it looks dirty, it probably
is dirty and probably needs to be changed.
neglect to regularly check and change their vehicles
windshield wiper blades. These should be replaced as soon as they
can no longer clear the glass without streaking. Blades usually
last about six months, but sometimes wear out much sooner if subjected
to harsh/extreme conditions. Winter driving and road salt
is especially hard on wiper blades. Obviously, if you cant
see, you cant drive safely and no amount of money in
your pocket is worth risking wrapping your car around a telephone
forget to regularly check (and top off) your windshield washer reservoir.
In heavy usage, you can run dry surprisingly quickly and
even the best/freshest wiper blade can be rendered helpless by a
windshield coated with road salt and muck. Its smart to keep
a jug of the stuff in the car, so you can fill up right away instead
of having to drive around half-blind, like Mr. Magoo, looking for
a gas station or auto parts store.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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