Hilltop Kia's Favorite Car Tips

Cars are complicated machines best inspected and repaired by trained professionals. But that doesn't mean you can't perform basic inspections on your own! Follow this simple advice to keep your car running for years on end.

1. Brake Pads

It seems like common sense: Don't neglect your car's brakes. Still, when it's time to replace your car's brake pads, it's easy to look the other way. For one thing, brake pads tend to wear gradually, so you might not notice changes in your braking performance right away. Secondly, a car with worn brake pads will still stop -- just not as well. So what's the harm in saving some money and holding off?

It turns out the harm in not replacing your brake pads is about $400. When your brake pads are worn, they can cause damage to brake rotors. As the rotors rub against the worn pads, they become warped, which makes it tougher to stop the car (if you feel your car shudder as you brake, you probably have warped rotors). Fixing the rotors requires that they be turned or smoothed out -- something that requires a mechanic and can run over $100 per rotor. If the rotors need to be replaced, you'll end up spending four times what it would have cost to replace the brake pads.

2. Oil Change

An oil change should cost you around $40 at most quick oil change stations. And that same station will probably tell you to come back in three months or 3,000 miles. But do you have to? It depends. That old rule of thumb still applies to some cars, but others can go much longer between oil changes. To find out how long your car can go between changes, read your owner's manual.

After you've found out the oil change interval for your car, follow it. Oil is like your engine's blood. But unlike your blood, all sorts of impurities build up in unless your oil is changed regularly -- not to mention that all engines lose some oil. Too much buildup and not enough oil lead to your engine seizing up. Sure, you can save $40 by putting off an oil change, but you could end up spending $4,000 on a new engine.

3. Air Filter

Changing an air filter is cheap. It's even easy enough for most people to do themselves. Not changing your car's air filter, on the other hand, is expensive. According to the EPA, a dirty air filter can reduce fuel economy by up to 10 percent simply because your engine won't breathe as efficiently. By not changing a dirty air filter, you'll save about $15. But, if your car is supposed to get 25 miles per gallon, and gas is $2.50 a gallon, those savings have evaporated by the time you've driven about 150 miles.

Even worse, if the air filter isn't clean and that means enough air isn't getting to the engine, you could foul your spark plugs and might have to replace them. Depending on your engine, that can cost anywhere from $100 to $300. Now, spending $15 for a new air filter doesn't sound so bad, does it?

4. Transmission Fluid Leak

One of the most common problems associated with your transmission is a fluid leak. You'll likely first notice it when you see drops of red fluid on the pavement where you usually park your car. Ignore it for long enough, and you'll definitely notice it when the leak leads to your transmission shifting roughly, or the gears slipping.

Transmission fluid is what cools and lubricates your transmission. If it's leaking, you need to fix it, and fast. Resealing a transmission is a relatively easy job and should usually only cost a few hundred dollars. Ignoring the leak can lead to the transmission seizing up and a subsequent transmission replacement --which costs several thousand dollars.

5. Burned Out Lights

Here's one car repair on our list that is really easy to ignore. After all, a burned-out tail light won't eventually lead to engine failure or toyour transmission falling out. While that's all true, you should still fork over your hard-earned $5 for new tail light bulb if yours is burned out.

Believe it or not, failure to keep your rear lights working can be an expensive proposition. First, if a police officer sees you with broken tail or brake lights, you're going to get a ticket. In some states, the fine for a broken tail light is $150, which makes paying for a new bulb seem like chump change. Second, broken lights increase your risk of being on the receiving end of a rear-end collision. And while the other driver's insurance should cover any damage (assuming they have insurance), you still have to deal with the headache of getting your car fixed.

6. Clogged Fuel Filter

An important part of maintaining your car is keeping impurities out of the engine. While the air filter does part of the job by keeping airborne impurities out, the fuel filter keeps impurities from the fuel out of the engine. Like the air filter, if it gets clogged and you don't fix it, you're looking at some major problems.

On older cars, a fuel filter is relatively easy to replace because it's easy for mechanics or car owners themselves to get to. On newer cars, it's a more complex job. More complexity means more money, which makes this repair tempting to skip -- despite the fact that it can lead to the car stalling or refusing to start altogether. Don't skip it. At its most expensive, replacing a fuel filter will be a few hundred bucks. Let it go too long, and not only are you looking at dealing with a car that will barely run, you could also have dirt in your fuel injectors -- causing them to need replacing. Replacing just one fuel injector can cost over $500. But if they all need replacing, you're looking at least $1,000 in repair bills.

By Jamie Page Deaton | Jun 18, 2009 10:27 a.m