Every time something goes wrong with your car or requires your attention, you're confronted with a crap-load of options rattled off by a semi-shady mechanic about which parts need replacing and how much to shell out. Should you just choose the path of least resistance and get the best parts you can possibly afford? If you measure your net worth in commas, go for it. For everyone else, there are some parts and services you should definitely go cheap on -- so pay extra attention at the parts counter and stop wasting your money.
Changing your oil too often
Simply put, the mythological 3,000-mile oil change was the domain of your grandfather. Today, the oil is more pure to begin with (especially if you're using synthetic oil, which you should), your oil filter weeds out more contaminants, and tolerances in your engine are such that less of those contaminating particles get into the oil in the first place. So how long can you go without changing your oil? That's a controversy for another article entirely, my friend.
"Restoring" your headlights
Sure, that rough yellowy mess on your headlights ruins their effectiveness, but paying big bucks for a "restoration kit" is total trash when you can DIY instead. Get a few sheets of very fine sandpaper from your local hardware store, soak them in water, and sand your headlights using finer and finer paper until it's perfectly smooth (if it's really bad, start with something like 400 grit, then progress to 800 and 2,000). Then use a polishing compound to make it shine, and you're back to being perfectly clear.
Opting for service contracts
If you've ever bought a new car, you've no doubt been bombarded with endless contracts and "warranties" that will see all of your maintenance taken care of, as well as damage to wheels and tires, etc. Newsflash: if these truly made financial sense for you to buy, they wouldn't be profitable for the dealership, and they would no longer be available. Think about that one...
Buying over-the-counter fuel additives
You absolutely do need additives in your fuel to keep your engine running as cleanly as possible. Too much of a good thing, however, can be detrimental, and frankly, unless you're a chemical engineer specializing in gasoline additives, you probably don't know how much is too much. The higher prices you pay at "brand-name" stations like Shell and Texaco are partly because these extra proprietary detergents are already added to the gas before it goes into your tank. And that you should pay for. But don't ever buy them over the counter, period.
Buying fancy windshield wipers
Rain, dust, cold, and heat: your wipers' biggest enemy is simple exposure to the elements. Over time the rubber will break down, regardless of how fancy and organic and sustainable it is. Just get the basic cheap wipers and change 'em out on the regular.
Buying fancy air filters
For years, standard operating procedure amongst automotive enthusiasts was 1) buy a car, 2) clean it up, 3) put in a permanent, cleanable air filter. The theory was that, even if there wasn't a noticeable gain in HP, it would still be better at filtering out particulate than the paper element that came with the car. Alas, there's pretty much zero evidence to support that.
Buying fancy brake rotors
The simple truth is that brakes are incredibly important, and for that very reason, the rotors on your car are more than capable of getting you stopped. Even if you're preparing your car for intense track duty, you'd be surprised how much abuse -- and heat -- the OEM rotors can take with just a little preparation, like fresh brake fluid and better pads. The bottom line: if you drive your car hard enough to truly "need" to upgrade your rotors, you probably already know enough to call a mechanic out on their bullshit.
Installing paint-protection films
There are two kinds of people who have a clear protective film installed on their car to protect against rock chips and the like: those whose OCD would go haywire if something happened to their baby, and those who simply wish to protect their investment. If you're the former, well, carry on. But if you're the latter, and you don't spend a significant part of each day driving behind a gravel truck, you're going overboard. You're likely spending more money on protection than you'll ever see in rock-chip depreciation.
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