auto

True cost of not maintaining your car

Basic maintenance includes changing the spark plugs, air filter, fuel filter, PCV valve and oil regularly, Parlontieri says. Checking ignition timing and adjusting the carburetor (if you have an older vehicle) can reduce emissions and greatly improve the odds of passing an emissions check.

"It's amazing what following the maintenance schedule in the owner's manual can do for a car when it comes time to take the test," says Parlontieri.

Bad emissions also involve an environmental cost that we pay in the air we breathe.

"When you fail a test, it means your car is creating a lot of pollution," says Parlontieri.

Cost of skipping: Damaged catalytic converter, failed emissions test.

Getting the best deal

It's a mistake to delay routine maintenance simply because your budget is tight, Reed says. Instead, he recommends learning more about your car's basic maintenance requirements before you take the car to the shop.

"I don't want to tell anybody to skip anything. Instead, the best way to save money when you're going to get your car serviced is to know exactly what's required, and have that done and nothing more," he says.

People who know little about their cars sometimes are persuaded to undertake repairs that may not be necessary, Reed says.

"I recently took my truck in to be serviced, but before I went, I looked online and saw that the estimated cost should be $152," Reed says. "When I went in, the service person tried to recommend that I get extra work done that would bring the total to $382. I challenged him, and he literally tossed the higher estimate in the trash and told me I was right. He did that because I did the research and had the verification."

Lynn agrees that a car owner can save money simply by knowing what routine maintenance is required on the car and when the maintenance is scheduled.

Another way to stretch your dollars is to find a good, trustworthy mechanic, she says.

"There is a fear factor people have when it comes to taking their car to the shop," says Lynn. "To get over the fear, you've got to find an auto repair shop that you're comfortable with. Get recommendations from friends. Then, ask the mechanic about his or her credentials."

Following your car manufacturer's recommendations for oil changes, tire rotations and routine checkups requires relatively little upfront cost. However, the benefits can pay off in the long run with better fuel economy, an engine that runs well and a longer car life.

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