True cost of not maintaining your car

There is some debate about how often drivers should change their oil. Many car experts recommend getting the work done every 3,000 miles or three months, especially if you often drive in stop-and-go traffic or your car idles for long periods of time.

However, some car manufacturers recommend longer intervals between oil changes. The safest advice is to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for your specific car.

"The definitive answer is to check your owner's manual," says Vyvyan Lynn, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Auto Repair."

"Few people read their owner's guide, but it's golden."

Cost of skipping: Potential engine failure.

2. Tire rotations, air pressure checks and tire alignment 

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 6,000 miles, or as often as the car manufacturer recommends.

In addition to having tires rotated, check to make sure tires are properly inflated at the pressure specified in the owner's manual. This prevents unnecessary wear and helps extend tire life.

"It costs barely anything to make sure your tires are properly inflated, and air is practically free," says Steven Eppinger, president and CEO of, a website that helps car owners track their maintenance histories. Keeping your tires properly inflated will get you better gas mileage, Eppinger says. And with gas prices around $3.50 in some places, savings can add up quickly.

The Car Care Council also recommends getting your car's wheel alignment checked once a year. An alignment adjusts your vehicle's steering and suspension so that it's in line with your car manufacturer's specifications.

Cost of skipping: Excessive tire wear and poor gas mileage.

3. Replace timing belt at recommended intervals 

Not all vehicles use timing belts, but many of today's engines do. Your car manual will tell you whether your car has one, and if so, when it needs to be replaced. The Car Care Council says that timing belts are typically replaced between 60,000 and 90,000 miles, but check your owner's manual for your car's recommendation.


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