Car Repair Cheat Sheet

Regular car repairs are an essential part of responsible car ownership. It's important to understand these essential tasks so you never overlook or misunderstand a critical job. The best approach to car care is to plan ahead for those inevitable jobs that occur at regular intervals while maintaining an emergency fund to handle the unexpected issues that might pop up in between. This quick run-down of common repairs will give you an idea of what to look for at every price point.

Easy and Affordable


Car Repair Cheat Sheet

Image via Flickr by State Farm

Car repairs aren't always a hassle. Many jobs are fast and simple. On the most affordable and easiest end of the spectrum you'll find wiper blade replacement. Check your blades every 6,000 miles, and plan to replace them about every other oil change. This is an easy job that anyone can do. Just make sure you buy the right blades for your vehicle and climate.

Spark plug replacement is another low-cost job. Though it takes a lot of tools and time, this is an affordable fix. It's recommended that you use OEM-compatible plugs. Replacing your spark plugs early will help you maintain peak engine performance. Aim to change your plugs when they're about 80 percent of the way to their maximum interval.

Minor Expenses for Regular Attention

There are several car components that wear out on a predictable basis. You need a new air filter every 10,000 miles to keep your air fresh and breathable inside the car.

A general rule of thumb is to change your oil every 3,000 miles, though some cars can last 7,500 miles, and others might need an oil change every 1,000 miles. If you're leaning toward the longer interval, consider both time and miles. Don't wait longer than six months if you've racked up 5,000 miles or more.

A simple tire change is something every car owner should learn to do. You never know when you might get a flat, so keep a spare in your truck, and make sure you always have enough money for a new tire in your emergency repair fund. You should also plan to change your tires when the tread is less than 4/32" deep or at least every 10 years if you don't use your vehicle enough to wear the tread much.

Regular Investments for Your Vehicle

Moderate vehicle expenses will occur regularly when you need to replace essential parts. Watch out for these mid-priced replacements and make sure you have enough money set aside to tackle them when the time comes.

  • Headlight replacement: This is an easy DIY job, but you'll need to buy the right bulb. Look for damage to the lens and headlight case as you're changing the bulb, and address these issues as needed.
  • Starter replacement: If your starter is dead, so is your car. If you're having trouble starting your car, begin planning for this replacement immediately.
  • Cooling fan: Check the cooling fan any time you're working on the radiator.
  • Brake Pads: Brake pads typically last between 30,000 and 60,000 miles, but you should check the manufacturer specifications for a more accurate number and pencil this in to your regular car repair schedule.
  • Rotors: The older your rotors get, the trickier they are to remove. If you notice the car wobbles as it brakes, you probably need new rotors.
  • Alternator: Replacing the alternator is a complex job that requires an extensive list of tools and parts. Whether you do it yourself or go to a garage, plan to replace the alternator every seven years or between 100,000 and 150,000 miles.
  • Ignition: Locate your car's ignition switch before you attempt this job. A tricky location will increase the complexity of the job.
  • Wheel hub: When you're changing brake pads or rotors, inspect the wheel hub for signs of corrosion or rust. A sealed bearing and wheel hub assembly will usually last 85,000 to 100,000 miles.
  • Radiator: Your radiator should last eight to 10 years. Watch for overheating, which is a classic sign of trouble with this part.

Major Repair Expenses

These expenses will put a bigger dent in your budget, but, fortunately, they occur less frequently.

  • Battery replacement: The average car battery lasts two to five years.
  • Navigation system installation: Though it's not a necessary task, adding a navigation system to your vehicle is a convenient upgrade for frequent travelers.
  • Shock replacement: Many variables impact the life of your shocks, but you might need new ones if you notice squeaking and difficulty turning over bumps.
  • Strut replacement: The struts work with your shocks. Make sure you replace both sides at once.
  • Engine oil pan replacement: Inspect your oil pan with oil changes, and replace it as needed.
  • Fuel pump replacement: Fuel pumps fail infrequently and might last for up to 200,000 miles.
  • Water pump replacement: You can pressure test your water pump to see if you need a replacement.

The Really Big Investments

There are a handful of replacements and repairs that are major investments in the lifespan and performance of your vehicle.

  • Catalytic converter replacement: Proper operation is essential to minimize emissions.
  • Hybrid battery replacement: Replacing a hybrid battery is more expensive and challenging than a standard battery replacement.
  • Turbocharger replacement: This job is best handled by a professional, so plan to pay for labor costs.
  • Steering rack replacement: If you have trouble turning, you might need to invest in this repair.
  • Clutch replacement: This is a complex job that requires a major investment of time, labor, and money.
  • A/C replacement: There are many A/C components that might need repair or replacement over time.
  • Timing belt replacement: Check your timing belt every 75,000 miles, and replace it as needed.
  • Transmission repair: Check the transmission fluid and gearbox oil every 50,000 miles, and hire a professional to make transmission repairs.

Proper car care is an essential investment for every vehicle. Neglecting car repairs might save you money upfront, but it will cost you big in the long run when your vehicle breaks down well before it should have, leaving you to pay for a replacement.