Saving money through shadetree automobile maintenance

I read the blog The Simple Dollar semi-regularly. It’s written by a frugal, penny-pinching miser who blogs all of his tips to save as much money as possible. And I don’t say that in a bad way. I don’t read it for the advice, as I’m already doing well enough on my own in saving money without having to resort to some of the extreme tips he talks about. No, I read it for the amusement factor. I’m constantly amazed by the depths he’ll go to to save money.

The best example of what I am talking about is his description of manufacturing his own laundry detergent. A couple times a year he makes a huge batch of detergent on his kitchen stove by combining the raw cleansing ingredients with water. He later calculated how much he was saving versus bulk powdered laundry detergent and it came out to a few cents per load in savings. The extreme lengths that he goes to save every last penny are what make reading his blog so much fun.

So, in the spirit of The Simple Dollar, I think I’ll give my own (reasonable!) tip for saving money. While getting my brake pads replaced recently (something I didn’t want to do on my own), the mechanic informed me that my radiator coolant was dirty and that I needed a full coolant back flush. He wasn’t just saying this to make extra money; it really had been a long time since my last one (if ever?). The only problem was, it was “only” $129. I told him I didn’t want him to do it, that I could do it much cheaper on my own. I can and did, and so can you, even if you don’t have any prior experience with automobile maintenance. That’s right, you too can be a shadetree mechanic in the pursuit of saving money.

I went to my local auto parts store and bought everything I needed, including two gallons of antifreeze, a bottle of radiator cleaner fluid, and the kit. I also went to the grocery store and picked up two gallons of distilled water, because it’s a good deal cheaper to buy antifreeze and mix it yourself in a 50/50 ratio with water than buying the 50/50 blend at the auto parts store. Until recently, auto parts stores didn’t even sell the 50/50 blend anyway. Now it’s a nice moneymaker for them. The total cost of all of the necessary parts? $29. I saved $100 simply by doing doing the coolant flush myself. Hopefully you can appreciate that, unlike making your own laundry detergent, this is worth it.

The whole process of flushing the coolant only took about an hour and a half. I emptied the coolant into a tray by unscrewing the drain valve. Then I added water from a garden hose, ran the engine for ten minutes, drained it, refilled it with water and the radiator cleaner fluid, and drove normally for three hours per the instructions (this ended up being about four days’ worth of commuting). Then I emptied that out using the tray, unscrewed a single hose clamp on a coolant pipe entering the top of the engine (all you need is a screwdriver), inserted the T-junction from the cleaner kit into that, fixed it in place using hose clamps, and attached the garden hose. Then I just ran the engine for five minutes with the hose on and the radiator cap off (the actual flushing), unscrewed the hose, removed the T-junction, drained the water, and refilled it with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and distilled water.

Altogether I found the process more fun and less messy than doing an oil change, and you even save far less money on an oil change than a coolant flush. If you’re adventurous and looking for some easy money to save, I would recommend not paying a mechanic to do a coolant flush. I saved $100 at a cost of an hour and a half of my time, and I actually found it interesting because I had never done it before. So there’s a money-saving tip you can bank on.

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