True cost of not maintaining your car

People on tight budgets are often tempted to skip some routine car maintenance services, or at least to delay an appointment with the auto shop.

Car care checklist

  1. Consistent oil changes
  2. Tire rotations, air pressure checks
  3. Replace timing belt
  4. Annual brake checkup
  5. Replacing the PCV regularly
  6. Changing spark plugs and filters

However, poorly maintained vehicles cause thousands of wrecks each year. The bill for accidents resulting from unperformed vehicle maintenance tops $2 billion a year, according to a 2004 study by Car Care Council, an advocacy group based in Bethesda, Md.

Even if you are lucky enough to avoid a crash, putting off maintenance is likely to reduce your car's life span.

"If you don't maintain your car, you're taking a vehicle that might have been driven for 200,000 miles over its life, and you're knocking it down to maybe 150,000 miles," says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at

The true cost of not maintaining your vehicle can include hefty repair bills for bad brakes, failed emissions tests and maybe even a failed engine. Following is a list of some common maintenance requirements for automobiles and the costly problems that can occur if they aren't completed.

1. Consistent oil changes 

Regular oil changes help keep your engine clean and lubricated, says Deanna Sclar, author of "Auto Repair for Dummies."

"Oil cuts down on the friction that can literally wear away the parts of the engine," she says. "One of the most important maintenance-related things you can do is change your oil frequently."

Must-do car maintenance

Wondering how to keep your car in tip-top shape? Follow these "must-dos" from or pay the price of skipping. Cost estimates are based on data from January 2014.

 Regular maintenanceCost of skipping
When it comes to car maintenance, pinching pennies in the short run can lead to hefty repair bills down the line.
Regular maintenance: $1,000+
Total cost of maintaining car
Cost of skipping: $8,000+
Total cost of not maintaining car
Regular oil changes
Regular oil changes help keep your engine clean and lubricated. Oil cuts down on the friction that can literally wear away the parts of the engine. Change your oil every 5,000 miles or four months, or follow the manufacturer's recommendations for your specific car.
Regular maintenance: $120
One year of oil changes
Cost of skipping: $4,000
Cost of engine replacement
Tire rotation
Rotating tires -- switching the tire position from front to rear and vice versa -- helps them wear equally. A tire rotation should generally be done every 7,500 miles, or as often as the car manufacturer recommends.
Regular maintenance: $50
Tire rotation every 7,500 miles
Cost of skipping: $350 - $700 
Cost of tire replacement
Timing belt replacement
Replacing the timing belt at the manufacturer's suggested interval can save big bucks. If the timing belt fails, the engine will cut off and the car will slow down until it stops. A lucky car will only require a new belt. An unlucky car could suffer severe engine damage.
Regular maintenance: $600
Replacing timing belt
Cost of skipping: $2,500 
Repairing the engine
Brake inspection
Brake disc pads and shoes eventually wear down. Checking your brakes annually allows you to spot wear before it's too late. By contrast, neglecting regular brake work could eventually lead to more costly rotor or disc replacements.
Regular maintenance: $150 to $375
Replacing brake pads or shoes
Cost of skipping: $300 to $600
Replacing rotors or drums
PCV valve replacement
The positive crankcase ventilation, or PCV, system regulates crankcase pressure and ventilates blow-by gases, which helps prevent engine oil leaks and sludge buildup.
Regular maintenance: $25
Replacing PCV valve every 30,000 miles
Cost of skipping: $100 to $1,000+
New valve cover and/or engine seals
Changing plugs, filters
The best way to improve the odds of passing an emissions test is to maintain your vehicle. A well-maintained engine is usually a clean engine. Such basic maintenance includes changing the spark plugs and filters.
Regular maintenance: $100+
Cost of changing plugs, filters
Cost of skipping: $335 to $700+
Cost of getting car to compliance

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