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Autos | Car maintenance

Fix it? Or is it time to buy a new car?

Buying a car is a big decision — but how do you know when you've made your last repair and when it is time to replace your ride? Angie's List, a provider of consumer reviews and ratings (angieslist.com), talked to some of its highly rated auto service companies and offers the following helpful hints for drivers. Angie's List

Before buying, consider

Affordability: When two consecutive years of repairs exceed the annual cost of a replacement vehicle — including payment, increased insurance cost, maintenance and service — it's time to go car shopping.

Safety: Your car's chassis structure, sometimes called the frame, is designed to help absorb impact during an accident and damage to it could compromise safety for everyone in the car. That chassis can rust from exposure to water, salt and smog. When rust to the vehicle body or chassis becomes extreme or it becomes unsafe structurally, it is time to replace the vehicle. Also, if you have an older car without safety features like air bags, you might want to consider an upgrade. Think about how you feel about your car, too. Do you still trust it to be safe? Or, do you feel like there's always something wrong with it?

Avoiding costly repairs

The most expensive areas of your car to repair are generally the engine and transmission. Keeping your car in top running condition is vital and will save you money in the long run.

Oil changes: Oil is the engine's blood, and is critical to a car's long life. Your vehicle's oil should be changed, depending on your driving habits, typically every 3,000 to 7,000 miles or around 3 to 6 months. You should check your oil about every 1,000 miles.

Tire maintenance: Properly maintained tires improve the steering, stopping and traction of your vehicle.

• Tire pressure should be set to the manufacturer's specification. Over- or under-inflated tires wear out faster, affect fuel consumption and are a safety hazard.

• Rotate and balance your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles and get an alignment check every year to make sure there are not suspension problems.

Fluids: Transmission fluid, brake fluid and coolant can break down over time and lose their effectiveness. All fluids should be checked and topped off every oil change. Have your transmission fluid flushed out every 50,000 miles, depending on your driving habits.

Brake check: Brake inspection should be part of your vehicle's ongoing maintenance to ensure safety and reliability. You should have your brakes inspected at least once a year; more often if you experience grinding or shaking when you brake. Regardless of care, brakes will likely need to be replaced every 20,000 to 30,000 miles.

Scheduled maintenance: Failure to follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule could lead to breakdowns, poor fuel economy and higher costs in the long run. Having a certified professional inspect your car according to these schedules is an opportunity to catch problems before they escalate into larger repairs.

Build a relationship with a shop or mechanic: Bouncing from shop to shop may save a few dollars on particular jobs, but in the end the only one who will have any responsibility for the condition of the car will be you. A good mechanic who is familiar with your needs, your expectations and your car will help you get the most from your car.

Fix it? Or is it time to buy a new car? 12/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 3:30am]
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