15 Common Vehicle Maintenance Mistakes That Kill Your Car’s Value

These simple maintenance errors could cost you thousands when selling your vehicle.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Mechanic looking at an engine

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When was the last time you went to a mechanic to have your car properly maintained?

If you're looking to cut car costs, you could actually be making a costly mistake if it's been a while. Keeping your car maintained helps it to hold its value, which could help you boost your bank account when you trade it in or sell it.  

In particular, don’t skip the following auto maintenance tasks, or it might cost you in both the short and long term.

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Defrosting the windshield with hot water

Helena/Adobe car is parked near a wooden fence during a blizzard

Some people dump hot water on an icy windshield, hoping for a fast melt. But this could lead to a crack in the windshield. The rapid temperature change is not good for the glass.

Don’t be surprised if it costs more than $1,000 to fix that windshield, says Kelley Blue Book.

Choosing cheap oil for your car

funfunphoto/Adobe mechanic pouring oil into engine

Using inferior oil can prevent the working components in the engine from getting proper lubrication, which can lead to failure.

So, follow what the owner’s manual recommends for your car, especially if it calls for a specific viscosity to protect the engine.

The wrong oil could lead to a costly engine replacement. As we mentioned earlier, you might be out thousands of dollars.

Not filling up on gas regularly

DusanJelicic/Adobe mother fills the car with fuel at the gas station

Refilling your gas tank isn’t much fun, even if you’re earning rewards on all those fill-ups. But letting your tank run down to empty too often can cost you.

Fuel helps to lubricate and cool the fuel pump. If too little fuel is in the tank, components in the fuel pump can wear more quickly. That can result in the need for a fuel pump replacement that could cost around $1,000, says Kelley Blue Book.

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Putting off brake maintenance

pdsci/Adobe Closeup of a mechanic's hand replacing a disk brake pad in a close-up shot inside a car garage.

Brake pads typically last about 50,000 miles, although some need to be changed sooner. If you hear squealing or it takes more pressure on the brake pedal to get your car to stop, bring it into the shop.

If you let brake pads wear too far, it could damage the rotors. According to Advance Auto Parts, that might cost you $300 in repairs per axle.

Missing oil changes

Photo Sesaon/Adobe refueling and pouring oil

Soon after learning to drive, you probably heard about the importance of regularly getting the oil changed.

Still, many of us fail to keep on top of this task. Maybe we’re busy, and sitting at the shop for an hour or so isn’t high on our to-do list.

That is a big mistake, however. Changing your oil according to manufacturer recommendations — often between 5,000 and 7,000 miles — ensures the engine’s components don’t wear down too soon.

According to J.D. Power, replacing an engine can cost you $4,000 for a four-cylinder engine and $10,000 for a high-performance engine. Changing your oil is a relatively cheap way to avoid this major expense.

Driving on poorly inflated tires

powerbeephoto/Adobe using pressure gauge tool to check air pressure in tyre

Failing to maintain proper tire pressure impacts the tires themselves and could lead to alignment problems.

Prices vary, but a set of four tires can run you $600 or more, according to Discount Tire. Using the air at a nearby gas station to keep your tires properly inflated is much cheaper and worth the time.

Letting your car overheat

Patcharanan/Adobe Frustrated Asian man waits for assistance with broken car engine on street.

When cars overheat, it can lead to damage to the head gasket. If it happens often enough, you might blow the head gasket.

According to J.D. Power, that can mean a repair cost averaging $1,000 to $3,000. It’s better to pay attention to the warning indicator and temperature gauge and take action sooner.

Not keeping the car washed

Anton.Matushchak/Adobe dirty rear window of the car

A car wash is an investment in making your vehicle look good, but it can also help to protect the vehicle’s paint quality and overall value.

A buildup of salt, mud, debris, and chemicals from roadways can damage the paint significantly, creating a dull, less-than-new look. When it comes time to sell, your car will look worn and much older than it should.

According to J.D. Power, you could paint it, but that can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $10,000 or more.

Driving through flooded roadways

Jillian Cain/Adobe floods from tropical storm

A flooded roadway is any street where you can't see the pavement. Driving through water in a car could mean damage to the cylinders.

Hydrolock — a condition in which water gets into the cylinders and damages the function of the pistons — is a costly problem. In some cases, the fix might require replacement of the engine.

At the very least, you might have to pay a few hundred dollars to get rid of the water.

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Letting the interior get too dirty

highwaystarz/Adobe cleaner using vacuum on car seats

Keep the interior upholstery of your vehicle clean. Sand, dirt, and grease can cause significant damage if they build up.

Dirty shoes are particularly problematic because that material gets ground into the carpet in your car. If you can’t get it clean, this interior damage can rob your vehicle of resale value.

Storing your car without running it

peshkova/Adobe modern garage interior with car

Failing to start and run your car now and then can put your vehicle’s health at risk.

To function well, cars need to run. When they don’t, tires fail, batteries go bad, and the engine might struggle to fire up.

It’s hard to put a dollar value on what that could mean, but the longer your car sits, the more the risk of damage grows. Some experts say you should aim to start your vehicle at least one time a week and take it out for a drive every month or so.

Ignoring fluid leaks

navintar/Adobe engine coolant tank of a serviced car

If you see signs that your car is losing fluid, check it immediately.

Don’t ignore these signs. For example, if your transmission leaks fluid, it could damage the transmission itself. According to J.D. Power, if the entire transmission needs to be replaced, it can cost you between $2,500 and $5,000.

Skipping wheel alignments

WS Films/Adobe car on stand with sensors

Having your wheels properly aligned can lengthen the life of your tires. If you ignore this important piece of maintenance, the tires might wear unevenly.

That could mean you will need to replace two or even all four tires. Have the wheels aligned, especially if you notice the car pulling to one side.

Forgetting to rotate your tires

Aleksandr/Adobe off-road car splattered with mud

Another way you risk uneven tire wear is to fail to rotate your tires. Tires wear differently depending on where they are located on the car, so it’s best to move them around often.

Fortunately, there's a simple fix: Pay to have your tires rotated every oil change.

Using an inferior repair technician

seanlockephotography/Adobe A mechanic explains his work to a customer.

Even if you do everything on this list right, using an inferior, untrained, or uncertified technician for the repair might not pay off.

Cutting corners in this way puts your vehicle at risk. Make sure you bring your car to someone who knows what they are doing. If you don't, there’s no telling how much it could cost you.

Bottom line

Svitlana/Adobe female mechanic in uniform

Keeping your car maintained helps it retain its value, which in turn can help you keep more money in your wallet

Set up a calendar to remind yourself when it's time for oil changes, tire rotations, alignments, and other services.

Preserving the value of your car in this way should get you a larger return when you trade in or sell the car later.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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