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Take care of your car

According to AAA, it will cost drivers in an urban area $6,758 to $11,239 to own and operate their vehicles in 2011, which is just over a 3 percent increase from last year. Because April is National Car Care Month, we tapped automotive experts for tips on what to know — and how to save — when you're behind the wheel.

Do's and don'ts

When was the last time you picked up the owner's manual for your vehicle? If your answer is "Never," you might be racking up unnecessary costs.

At the very least, follow the maintenance schedule, says Jim Sassorossi, head of sales for Mopar service and parts. "It's a lot better to spend those small amounts than to have to replace an engine . . . because you tried to stretch the time between oil changes."

Lauren Fix, spokeswoman for the Car Care Council, says reading the owner's manual can empower you to say no to unnecessary services. "Don't do something just because someone says you should," Fix says. "It's like saying, 'Do you want fries with that?' "

Save between tune-ups

• Use the best fully synthetic oil you can afford and a name-brand filter.

• Check your tire pressure. You'll get slightly better gas mileage, better handling and longer tire life.

• Tighten your gas cap. Really, gas evaporates.

• A flashing engine light means emissions woes. Visit a service center or buy a scan tool (they cost as little as $25 on Amazon.com) to decipher diagnostic codes.

Where to go

It's a common belief that a dealership will charge a lot more for service than a chain store or an independent auto shop, but Sassorossi disagrees.

"Over the years . . . dealers have had to reinvent themselves as retail service centers," he says.

In a highly unscientific experiment, we priced wiper blades for a Honda Civic at a Pep Boys, a Jiffy Lube and a dealership and were quoted prices (including installation) of $19, $23 and $24, respectively.

Wherever you go, make sure the service center is certified with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Finally, don't forget the power of a second opinion. "Call a service center, say you're due for a tune-up and ask what they charge," Fix says. "If you think the price is too high, call a few other local places and get quotes."

I'm in the shop. Now what?

Once you're in the shop, request a complete vehicle inspection. "Even if all you need is an oil change, you should still get your tires checked to see if they're wearing unevenly," Sassorossi says.

If you suspect something is wrong with your vehicle, take careful notes before you meet with a technician. Says Fix: "Use all your senses — hearing, smell, sight, feeling — and say, 'When this happens, I hear this, smell this, feel this.' That helps cut down on the diagnosis time, which saves you money because technicians charge you by the hour." Inquire about costs up front. "Often service centers will offer a free diagnostic test," Sassorossi says.

By scheduling a tune-up, you've already tackled the biggest hurdle most motorists face: regular maintenance.

Hit the road

Now that you've been inspired to do the right thing, here are some deals to help save you money:

• Visit www.jiffylube.com for a coupon for $5 off a Signature Service oil change.

• Midas offers coupons for brake pads or service such as an oil change/tire rotation combo. Visit midaslocator.com to find coupons in your area.

• Pep Boys offers a variety of coupons at www.pepboys.com.

Take care of your car 04/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 5:30am]
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