I like to take road trips. While I don't get to enjoy road trips as often as I might like, I try to visit at least one new place each year—and often this happens during the summer. Before each road trip, I pay extra-special attention to the roadworthiness of my 10-year-old Toyota (since it will be doing the lion's share of the work during "our" road trip, this just seems fair). Here are some tips I've learned over the years to cut down on the costs of prepping a car for extended use…plus some useful cost-saving tips for routine maintenance as well.

1. Look into synthetic oil for your oil changes

Investopedia reports that synthetic oil has been proven to help you get more from your car. Use of synthetic oil can increase fuel efficiency, extend your engine's useful life, and also reduce your vehicle's carbon footprint. Plus, you can often drive up to 5,000 more miles before your next oil change just by switching to synthetic oil!

  • Potential cost savings: $20 – $30 with each oil change.

DIY Oil Change How-To Guide

As long as your vehicle's oil filter is reachable, this DIY guide should work well for most model vehicles. If you are uncertain or have a luxury model vehicle, be sure to check with your dealership before you begin.

What you’ll need: Oil, oil filter, oil pan, oil plug (for certain model vehicles), gloves, protective eyewear, cleaning rags and old paper, a wrench.

  1. Be sure your engine is warm (not cool or hot) before starting—run it for 2-3 minutes to get the oil moving.
  2. Locate the plug underneath the oil pan. This will be under your car somewhere in the upper mid-body. If you have a very low-to-the-ground vehicle, you may need to use a jack to reach it.
  3. Place the oil pan underneath the plug so the oil can drain out neatly and easily.
  4. Put on protective gloves and eyewear, then unscrew the plug and let all the oil drain out.
  5. Now reach in to unscrew the filter (which will still have some oil in it, so be careful not to spill). Turn it counter-clockwise to unscrew it. You may want to use a wrench.
  6. Empty out the filter into the oil pan and then wrap it in paper—you can recycle it along with your used oil.
  7. Take a bit of new oil and moisten the new oil filter's gasket (the circular area at the very top of the filter), then screw it clockwise into place (be sure to read the specific instructions, if any, that come with your particular type of filter).
  8. Wipe the area around the filter clean and then replace the plug (you can use the same plug unless your vehicle model uses a gasket plug, in which case you will use a new plug).
  9. Open your hood and find the cap marked as the oil compartment. Uncap it and place a funnel into the hole. Pour the new oil slowly into the open area, stopping when there is one quart remaining.
  10. Cap the container closed and run your car engine for 60 seconds. Check for leaks, then check the oil stick for levels. Wait 15 minutes, then check the oil stick level again.
  11. Add additional oil as needed, just a bit at a time, until the oil stick reading is "full."
  12. Drive your car around the block, wait 10 more minutes, then check the oil stick one last time to be sure the reading is still "full."
  13. Recycle your used oil and filter—and then you’re done!

Note: For more help, check out this video, “How to Change Your Motor Oil.”

2. Top up fluids yourself rather than paying a mechanic to do it

Unless you just happen to have scheduled repairs coming up, there is no real reason to pay a mechanic to top up your fluids. Not only will you be charged full (and I do mean full) retail value for every drop of those fluids, but you will pay for a mechanic's time to pop open a cap, tip a bottle, pour in some fluid, and pop the cap closed again. By doing this yourself, you can save on the cost of the fluids and the labor.

  • Example: Windshield washing fluid costs $2-$3 in stores. All you need to do is pop the hood, find the cap labeled "washer fluid" (or it may have a picture of a mini windshield washer on it), and pour some in until you see the liquid rise to the top.
  • Potential cost savings: $5-$10 for the cost of "parts" and "labor" for each top-up.

DIY Fluids Top-Up How-To Guide

This guide should work well for most model vehicles, as long as all fluid containers are accessible from under your hood.

What you’ll need: gloves, protective eyewear, rags for cleaning, fluids as needed, distilled water (for battery if you have a cell-type battery).

  1. Let your engine run for 2-3 minutes just to warm it up and get the fluids moving (be careful to check the engine temperature by touch to be sure it is just warm but not hot).
  2. Park your vehicle on an even surface and set the parking brake for safety.
  3. Put on gloves and protective eyewear.
  4. Locate each fluid container—they should be labeled with a descriptive phrase or picture (you are looking for these fluid containers: windshield washing fluid, oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, battery water). If applicable to your battery type, also check the battery cells (six caps on the top of the battery) for water levels.
  5. Each container will have markings for full fluids with a warm and cold engine. Check to see where the fluid is in relation to the line. You can use the oil stick to check the oil level.
  6. Top up fluids as needed.
  7. Finally, check your tire pressure and add air as needed (refer to your owner's manual for proper tire PSI).
  8. You’re done!

Note: For more help, check out this excellent YouTube video, "How to Change the Fluids in Your Vehicle."

Tips to Save on Pricey Summer Auto Maintenance and Repairs, Part I