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National Car Care Month kicked off with a rumble the other day. The designation helps remind drivers to adopt a car care plan and take preemptive measures to maintain their vehicle. Doing so is worth the effort -- and money-saving, to boot. Although new car sales are rising, the Wall Street Journal notes this is due, in part, to the senior status of the American fleet: The average car is 11 years old and a full 20 percent of the cars on the road are 16 years and counting. And as any driver knows, older cars need more care.

If you've never even popped the hood you may not know how to start conceiving a car care plan. It's easy to ignore warning signs unless the check-engine light comes on or you feel a wobble. It's also easy to be proactive. The prescribed car care plan found in the owner's manual indicates what services need to be performed on a regular basis. The Be Car Care Aware website lets drivers set up service reminders based on the make and model of the vehicle so that potential problems are nipped before they become major. The site also provides car care tips and suggests questions to ask the mechanic.

Repair Pal, an auto repair and maintenance aggregator, suggests another reason drivers may be reluctant to follow a regular car care plan. A survey of drivers conducted by the site found that two-thirds feel as though they get ripped off when taking their vehicle into a shop. To help alleviate this perception, the site is building a database of trustworthy auto repair shops complete with customer interviews, vetted mechanics, and warranties for all repairs.

One of the biggest roadblocks to a good car care plan is the cost. But cars are an investment worth maintaining, both for longevity and for resale value. For the most part, trips to a local independent auto shop will save you a buck or two, although the complexity of the computers inside some modern cars leaves you no choice but to visit the pricier dealer service shops.

If you have just a shred of a metallic thumb, try some of the basic maintenance tasks on your own. The online car community readily shares car care tips and can help walk you through the process. Many car models claim entire forums devoted to them, with detailed descriptions of tasks such as changing air filters and headlights or brake pads and rotors. A member of 9th Civic, a forum for owners of 9th generation Honda Civics, provides an easy-to-follow, picture-filled guide for changing the oil on a 2012 Civic Si. Similar walkthroughs with pictures are available for all sorts of maintenance chores on many popular cars.

Bonus Car Care Tips.

  • Some shops may try to upsell you with unnecessary service items. Bring in a copy of the owner's manual and ask for a quote for the necessary maintenance only. If you need to fix a specific problem, Repair Pal has a price estimator that will help you approximate the repair cost before you speak to a mechanic.
  • If you need a special tool for a DIY checkup, the local auto parts store is the place to shop. Some vendors rent out the expensive tools.
  • For a humorous and informative take on car repairs, tune in to Car Talk with Click and Clack.
  • We're all for regular maintenance but cars have improved over time and some old rules may no longer apply. For example, the rule of thumb used to be an oil change every 3,000 miles. But Ford recommends an oil change every 7,500 miles for Fords built after 2008. Switching to this new schedule will save you hundreds of dollars over the life of your vehicle.
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