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posted: 12/30/2012 4:44 AM

Car maintenance is also smart finances

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There has been a lot of talk about the fiscal cliff lately. Even if legislators are able to come to some sort of agreement in Washington -- one thing of which we can be sure is 2013 will be a more expensive year for most of us.

My guess is, if you're like me, you will be looking for areas to keep costs down. One place you can do this is by taking good care of the car you own.

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I have talked about the advantages of good maintenance before but in these challenging economic times it is worth bringing up again.

It used to be when our clients had a major repair come up, the quick response was, "I will just go get a new car." Now the more common response is "Make the repair" and keep the current car going.

There are many reasons for this. The most common is the client does not want to go further into debt for a new car and good used cars have gotten very expensive. If you don't have cash the interest on a used car loan cranks the payments up.

Unlike the government, most Americans have worked very hard over the last few years to get debt cleaned up and get some savings going. One way to reverse that very quickly is to buy a $30,000 vehicle.

As I have said before, buying a new car is very emotional. It really touches that "feel-good button" we all have, while spending money to repair the current car is all logical and has minimal feel-good value -- unless you are very disciplined! A quick Internet search turned up many websites that all say about the same thing that it makes the most financial sense to repair your current car.

One way to help keep away from the major repair scenario is good maintenance. Whether you drive a later model Honda or a Chevy, you can drive it for 200,000 miles and beyond without a major component failure with good maintenance. I have many clients who have done just that.

So how do you do it? It starts with proper oil change intervals and, at a minimum, following the manufacturer's maintenance schedule for all the other fluids. These fluids protect the major components of your vehicle from premature failure.

Next, don't let repairs pile up!

Many times, scheduled maintenance (by miles or time) is put off and the results prove to be catastrophic -- a timing service due at 90,000 miles is delayed and the belt breaks, potentially ruining an engine; a transmission starts to slip when a fluid flush every 35,000 miles can prevent this event; bald tires may cause an accident; a weak battery strands you in a snowstorm. You start to get the picture how neglect may set off a chain reaction causing larger repairs or forcing a larger financial decision you are unprepared to handle.

As the saying goes, "The cheapest car you can find is usually the one you already own." You know your vehicle's history, know the repairs that have been done (or should be done) and you can budget accordingly.

Since the average age of vehicles on the road today approaches 10 years, owning a vehicle 10 to 15 years is not uncommon and saves you a ton of money. Why purchase someone else's headaches because they didn't keep up the repairs?

If you fix or maintain items before they fail you won't wake up one day and find you are driving a car on which nothing works. You won't be faced with a large bill to get it all fixed. Not to mention leaving something in a broken state could cause other parts to fail when they otherwise would have survived to live another day.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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