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Car Maintenance Made Easy

Go by the book. You know that owner's manual in the glove box, buried under a fistful of fast-food ketchup packets? Look inside at the maintenance schedule and update your calendar's upcoming tasks list so you remember when you need to bring your car to the service center, says Eric Brock, a retired car technician who now fields auto-related questions on JustAnswer.com.

"Recommended maintenance schedules don't exist just to rip you off," he says. "They were created by the engineers who designed your vehicle and can save you tons of money. The number one reason for engine and transmission failure is customer neglect."

Lubricate as indicated. Changing your oil on schedule is critically important, says Melody Schuette, marketing director for Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC Certified Service. With today's synthetic oils, cars can now go 5,000 or even 10,000 miles between changes (no matter how much your father-in-law insists on "three months or 3,000 miles").

Most cars built in the last 10 years have sensors that alert you when the oil needs changing, as well as when to swap out air or fuel filters and top up brake, transmission, and radiator fluids. Heed the signals and you should be fine.

Keep up the pressure. Properly inflated tires prolong your car's life and save you money at the pump, says Lauren Fix, author of Lauren Fix's Guide to Loving Your Car (St. Martin's Griffin) and the Car Coach website (laurenfix.com).

"Check tire pressure at least once a month," she says. "It can add 2 to 3 miles per gallon to your wheels' MPG. If everybody did this monthly, it would save 2 billion gallons of gas a year."

Amy Marentic, a planning manager for Ford Motor Company, recommends ignoring pressure guidelines printed on the tires. Because optimal tire pressure varies depending on the weight of the vehicle, it's better to go by the owner's manual. Check tires when they're cold, and don't overinflate.