8 Ways you are Wasting Money on your Car . . . or are you? – Part 1



Recently a coworker sent me an article she found an article on thrillist.com titled 8 Car Parts and Services You Shouldn’t Spend Money On. The email subject line was “You’ll hate everything about this article. Literally EVERYTHING.” I started to read the article and the ranting began right on cue. She found it quite amusing, so I thought I should take this to the people. While some points made in the article are good, I am still going to play devil’s advocate. I’ll break them down one by one:


1. Changing your oil too often: Simply put, the mythological 3,000-mile oil change was the domain of your grandfather. Today, the oil is more pure to begin with (especially if you’re using synthetic oil, which you should), your oil filter weeds out more contaminants, and tolerances in your engine are such that less of those contaminating particles get into the oil in the first place. So how long can you go without changing your oil? That’s a controversy for another article entirely, my friend.

Yes, changing oil every 3,000 miles may be too much, but for some cars but it depends on what type of driving and how much you do. Of course you want to follow manufacturer’s recommendation, but If you only drive your car in the city with a lot short drives, you should change your oil a little more often or see if the manufacturer recommends a Severe Duty Interval. On the other side of the coin, if you drive a lot on the highway you may need to change it less often. Your owner’s manual should have this information, and most new cars will just tell you when you should change the oil based on your driving habits. Remember, oil is cheap—engines are not. Using a good quality oil is key; just because something meets the minimum standard doesn’t mean you should use it.


2. “Restoring” your headlights: Sure, that rough yellowy mess on your headlights ruins their effectiveness, but paying big bucks for a “restoration kit” is total trash when you can DIY instead. Get a few sheets of very fine sandpaper from your local hardware store, soak them in water, and sand your headlights using finer and finer paper until it’s perfectly smooth (if it’s really bad, start with something like 400 grit, then progress to 800 and 2,000). Then use a polishing compound to make it shine, and you’re back to being perfectly clear.

Having the best vision possible while driving is important for safety. The DIY kits can be good, but you have to do your research. I have used them all and can objectively say that the ones without drill attachments work better than the ones with the attachment. The article mentions using sandpaper but buying all the parts separately will likely cost more, so the kits are a good value. If you don’t want to tackle this project yourself, check with a dealer or independent detailers to see if they offer this service. It’ll cost more, but it’s hard to do better than someone using the right tools and products.


3. Opting for service contracts: If you’ve ever bought a new car, you’ve no doubt been bombarded with endless contracts and “warranties” that will see all of your maintenance taken care of, as well as damage to wheels and tires, etc. Newsflash: if these truly made financial sense for you to buy, they wouldn’t be profitable for the dealership, and they would no longer be available. Think about that one…

I was also skeptical about these a couple of years ago. I saw some commercials with the big sales pitch “to buy a warranty if your car has less than 100,000 miles on it, call 1-800-blahblahblah.” There are a couple of questions you should ask when you’re thinking about an aftermarket warranty: “will it cover everything?” and “what does it cover?” The answer to the first one is easy: no, it won’t. But Is it going to cover some of the big expensive issues you might have? Yes. Without a warranty, an engine control unit can cost over $2500 to replace. With a warranty, you’ll most likely only pay a deductible in the area of $100. Some warranties cover some items beyond the common things you would expect, like gaskets and seals or one that covers wheel repair and replacement even if you hit a pothole. Of course these make money for whoever sells them, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in them. In fact, I know multiple people who have aftermarket warranties that have paid for themselves multiple times over. Of course the seller is banking on you not using it, but so is everyone that offers a mail in rebate, your health insurance provider, your car insurance provider, and your grocery store coupon booklet. I have car insurance that I have never used it in my almost 20 years of driving and I have health insurance, yes, but I haven’t been to a doctor since I was 12 years old (that’s probably not good argument). Almost all companies are in business to make money, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it buying something that someone profits off of.


4. Buying over-the-counter fuel additives: You absolutely do need additives in your fuel to keep your engine running as cleanly as possible. Too much of a good thing, however, can be detrimental, and frankly, unless you’re a chemical engineer specializing in gasoline additives, you probably don’t know how much is too much. The higher prices you pay at “brand-name” stations like Shell and Texaco are partly because these extra proprietary detergents are already added to the gas before it goes into your tank. And that you should pay for. But don’t ever buy them over the counter, period.

I kind of agree with this. There are actually some worth buying, but 95% of them are no better than buying good gas. Most companies that advertise detergents in their gas have already mixed in any beneficial additives. Cars with direct injection really don’t have a need for them, and cleaning the fuel system in older cars will require more than a in tank additive (you need a kit that attaches to your fuel rail and costs more than anything you can buy at a gas station).


Check out part 2 of this blog here.

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