Updated on 09.08.14

The One Hour Project: Basic Car Maintenance

Trent Hamm

A few very simple auto maintenance tasks that anyone can do can end up saving a lot of money over time by improving the gas mileage of your automobile. You should be able to run through this checklist in about an hour and improve the efficiency of your car by quite a bit. I also know very well that most people aren’t interested in automotive stuff, so I’m sticking with just very simple tasks that anyone can do. These tips, all together, can improve the gas mileage of your car up to 10%, which can save hundreds of dollars over a year for just an hour’s worth of effort.

Car Maintenance Tips to Help You Save

Air up your tires

According to CarCare.org, underinflated tires can reduce gas mileage by 0.4% for every 1 PSI below the recommended maximum on all four tires. Most tires can be as much as 10 PSI underinflated without it being obvious by visual inspection, meaning that a full airing up can save 4% in gas mileage, raising a 12 MPG to 12.5 MPG or 25 MPG to 26 MPG. Over a year of driving 10,000 miles in a 20 MPG car, inflating your tires can save $60 (assuming $3 a gallon for gas) in just that year. I wrote a detailed explanation of how to air up your tires a while back if you want more detail on the process, but it’s quite easy and is usually free.

Clean your car’s air filter

Most cars that receive routine maintenance get their air filter changed every 15,000 miles, but even after just 5,000 miles, an air filter can get dirty enough to reduce your gas mileage by 7%. In the car described above, this is a cost of at least $100 a year from reduced gas mileage. The process for cleaning the filter is really easy and is explained step-by-step in your car’s manual – mostly, it’s a matter of popping the hood, unscrewing a single wingnut, lifting a lid, picking up a filter, running a vacuum cleaner over the filter and in the place where it was resting, then putting everything back where it was. Simple as can be and well worth doing yourself every once in a while.

Remove weight

Unless you’re in the middle of a northern winter, excess weight in your car only serves to reduce gas mileage – the more extra weight you have, the less efficient your car is.. Check your trunk, your backseat, and other places for items of excess weight. A friend of mine once drove a year and a half with three cinder blocks in her trunk – I won’t even speculate as to how much fuel was wasted hauling around that extra weight. A thorough inspection of your vehicle, including under the seats, and a removal of any heavy and unneeded items is well worthwhile.

That’s it. Do these three things and you can easily save 10% on your car’s fuel costs. If you commute like I do, you know how quickly that money can add up.

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  1. FrugalTrader says:

    Trent, if you’re interested, I have an article explaining some additional ways improve your gas mileage.

  2. FIRE Finance says:

    Nice tips. A couple of simple ways to save fuel are:
    1. Park your car in the shade or inside a garage during the day time else fuel evaporates.
    2. Fill gas during the cooler hours of the day or evening so that you get more gas for your money. If you fill it during the day, the heat makes gas expand and you get less gallons for your dollars.
    FIRE Finance

  3. MoneyNing says:

    Great tip about the weight! That’s probably one of the most overlooked aspect of people wasting gas!

  4. Bones says:

    This is sooooo true. Especially with used cars and other vehicles. I own a little scooter, bought from a friend of mine for a very little price. It is THE perfect means of trasportation where I live, but it has undergone a lot of mantenance since I got it. After the last trip to the machine shop, and after the advice of the people which work there, I made a list of things to check every two weeks:

    Motor (basically if it starts or not)
    Oil level
    Air Pressure in Wheels

    I hope these little tweaks will make it work for a long time!

  5. Kenny says:

    Yes, people like to think they can run the car forever without looking at any basic maintenance. It’s easy to check the oil and air pressure, two important things that help extend the life of your vehicle.

    Surprisingly, keeping the inside clean also helps.

    If the inside is clean, you feel better about your car and want to maintain it.

    Good maintenance + sensible driving = long-lasting vehicle.

  6. Brad says:

    With winter coming up, be sure to put a thick coat of wax on the lower portion of the doors/fenders…and don’t wipe it off, as it will help protect the paint.

  7. Brad says:

    oh, I also use spray silicone on the weatherstripping, esp. the front doors and trunk, keeps them from sticking and eventually peeling, breaking apart. I think you can also use vaseline for a longer lasting effect.

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