According to AAA, car maintenance costs average almost $800 per year for U.S. drivers. But if your car has a few years on it or is on the bigger side (like a large sedan, SUV or minivan), chances are you are paying more than the average.
Wouldn’t it be great to have some of that money back in your pocket? You probably already know that regular maintenance can help head off major problems with your car — and major repair bills. But you may not know that you can score some of these common services at no cost at all. Particularly with the summer road trip season upon us, it’s a great time to make sure all the odds and ends of your vehicle are working well. So let’s take a look at some common car freebies you can take advantage of.
Free Battery Check
Planning a road trip? According to AAA’s roadside assistance data, battery problems are one of the main causes of emergency breakdowns. Hot summer weather can zap your battery’s energy. That’s why AAA recommends having your battery tested before you hit the road. But the organization also reports that more than two-thirds of U.S. drivers have never proactively tested their car batteries.
That’s a lot of needlessly ruined trips, especially since it’s easy to get a free battery diagnostic check. We found this service (and free battery recharging) offered at chains including O’Reilly Auto Parts, Firestone, AutoZone and Pep Boys.
Local mechanics in your area will probably also be happy to check and charge your battery for free.
Free Tire Services
AAA also recommends that you have your tires inspected before your summer road trip. You don’t want to risk a blowout caused by high temperatures. Get your tire pressure checked for free at chains like Goodyear and Discount Tire (which is known as America’s Tire in most of California).
But what if you run over a nail or other debris and damage a tire? As a blogger who writes travel gear reviews, Kraig Kowalski is on the road a lot and has been in this scenario.
“Pep Boys will actually repair it for free,” he says. Goodyear and Discount Tire will also repair a leaking or flat tire for free. And you can check for similar offers at local auto shops you’re loyal to.
Your tires will last longer — and you’ll get better gas mileage — if you get them rotated regularly. Luckily, this is a service that’s easy to get on the house. A couple of sample deals: Pep Boys offers free rotation with a synthetic oil change or tire purchase. When you buy tires from Sam’s Club, you get free lifetime tire rotation. You can also ask the shop where you bought your tires whether you can come back in for free rotation.
Free Oil Change
According to Kelly Blue Book, getting your oil changed regularly is the most important thing you can do to prolong the life of your car engine. The standard recommendation is to change your oil every 5,000 miles or six months. (But keep in mind that the age of your car and the conditions you drive in affect how often you should change your oil.) Based on average driving amounts, most of us should plan for two or three oil changes per year.
You might want to try changing your oil yourself, but as most of us don’t want to bother with that, you can also look around for an auto shop that offers a free oil change on your birthday. (You may have to sign up for a mailing list or loyalty program to be eligible.) If you’re shopping for a car, try to negotiate with your dealership to get free oil changes for the life of the car. That’s a tip from Gene Caballero, of Nashville, Tenn., who spent several years working in the finance department of a car dealership.
Free Car Wash
Did you know that keeping your vehicle clean is part of proper car maintenance? Dirt, bug splats, bird droppings and tree sap do a number on your paint job. And if you live in an area where the roads get salted, an accumulation of salt damages your undercarriage. Protect your car’s body (and its resale value) with regular carwashes.
Not up for getting out the hose and bucket yourself? Scout out your area for opportunities to get free car washes. Some car dealerships offer free car washes for customers. You may also find offers for a free car wash with an oil change or on your birthday. (Again, remember that some businesses might require you sign up for their loyalty program to take advantage of freebies and perks.)
More Car Freebies
- Some shops will install your new wiper blades for free. This is true for national chains such as Advance Auto Parts and local shops such as Trinity Autosport in Anaheim, Calif. It never hurts to ask whether you can get small jobs like this or replacing the battery in your key fob done for free, especially if you bought the replacement part in the store.
- O’Reilly Auto Parts will loan you specialty tools to work on your car for free. (You do have to pay a refundable deposit.)
- Got a minor ding on your brand new car? Talk to your dealership. They may have a program that will pick up the tab for you during the first 90 days you own the car.
- Is your “check engine” or ABS light on? See if your auto repair shop will check out the problem for free. “These services are a benefit to both us and the customer because the customer gets peace of mind knowing they’re safe, and we are able to usually do their repairs because we are the ones who have caught the issue and helped the customer,” according to Nicole Firebaugh, manager of Preventative Maintenance Repair, LLC in Marion, Ill.
- Sometimes knowledge is the best freebie, which is why some shops (like Rainbow Muffler & Brake in Cleveland) offer free digital e-books with preventative maintenance tips that will help you save money and extend the life of your vehicle
- Finally, remember that one way to increase your chances of getting free services is to become a loyal customer of a car maintenance shop you trust. Jacqui Brownstein of Lancaster, Pa., says the family-run auto shop she frequents fixed her ripped front bumper when she brought her car in for an oil change — and then told her there was no charge. “I insisted, and he said not to worry about it,” she says.
While paying for maintenance and repairs will always be part of owning a car, you can rack up some solid savings over time by comparing different service providers in your area, scouting out special offers and remembering the freebies at national chains when you’re on the road.