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Don't be afraid to ask questions. (Image: MATJAZ SLANIC / Getty Images)

A Beginner's Guide to Car Maintenance

Ok - I don’t love to admit it, but I know nothing about cars. I don’t care about cars, or how they run, I just want mine to work. And when it doesn’t, I have found myself at a loss for where to go and who to listen to. Especially because (and I hate that this is a fact, but it seems to be) - a younger single gal can stereotypically have a harder time getting a straight answer at auto body shops just looking to make some extra cash.

I sought advice from local experts and mechanics on how to take care of your car and know what to do when something goes wrong.

Oil Changes
When it’s time to get that oil change and they offer you the different kinds of oil, they are more than likely to suggest the more expensive synthetic oil. While it does last longer and is a bit more effective, once you go synthetic you can never go back! This makes it more expensive in the long run for something your car may not need. A good alternative is a synthetic blend which combines the best of both worlds. If you do go synthetic, it’s not uncommon for the blends to last up to 30 - 50 percent longer until you need your next change. Also, your oil filter does always need to be replaced so when you see this one on your bill, it’s legit.

Air Filter
You know the part where they hold up what looks like dirty accordions and ask if you want new ones? You may get a solid side-eye while they hold up a fairly dirty filter, but it may not always need to be replaced. Many times you can hit it with a small vacuum and that’ll do the trick. If you can see light through it, it’s fine and the best corner to cut if you’re looking to save money. The in-cabin air filter is the one that controls the quality of air inside the vehicle. While they may try to stress the importance of this, it's not a particularly high priority. Also, summer is coming soon so it's nothing a little rolled down window couldn't fix!

Ask Questions
During a routine oil change, it’s a good idea to ask things like “how do my brake pads look?” and “are there any areas you see that may need maintenance down the road?” It’s a great way to get a report on how your car is doing in general so you’re not surprised when something does come up. Not sure what to ask?

Hit these key points and you should be good:

  • Have them explain specifically what repairs you need and why.
  • Have your mechanic quantify it; for example, "what percentage of my brake pad is left?"
  • How long until you’d need another replacement part or filter?
  • Usually if they can answer these questions, it’s a good bet they’re telling you the truth.

Dealership or Local Mechanic
This is a question that comes up a lot, especially if your car is still under warranty. It’s very important to be aware of what exactly is covered under your car’s warranty and when it runs out because if you go the dealership for repairs and that warranty is expired, it could end up being significantly more expensive than if you had taken it to your local garage.

Service Light
Make sure they reset the service light! This is the lesson I have personally learned most recently. After my last oil change couple weeks ago, I forgot to have them reset my service light so I have a constant flashing wrench and a negative sign where my oil percentage reads on my dashboard. So before you drive away, do a quick check to make sure everything is reading normally.