Car repair or vehicle maintenance: what’s the difference?

Auto repair shops dot the landscape, housed in big-box stores, professional-looking multi-bay company garages, and small local mechanic shops ready to perform necessary vehicle maintenance or repairs. But do you still have to worry about your car repairs if you follow your car maintenance tasks on a recommended schedule? What is the difference between vehicle maintenance and auto repair?

What is vehicle maintenance?

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Vehicle maintenance usually occurs on a schedule. Think of it as preventative maintenance that keeps your car running and performing at its best. Ideally, car maintenance tasks take place at a time and place that is convenient for the owner.

Regular vehicle maintenance tasks include routine oil changes, replacing windshield wipers, rotating car tires, and more complicated tasks like replacing worn shock absorbers, aligning steering components vehicles and replacement of engine belts and hoses. Ideally, performing routine preventative maintenance keeps your car running and avoids a trip to the repair shop.

What is the difference between car repair and maintenance?

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On the other hand, auto repairs usually involve the failure of one or more parts of your car. Repairs often happen haphazardly without warning when maintenance services occur on a schedule that (somewhat) matches the car owner’s schedule. For example, taking your vehicle in for preventative tire maintenance on a hot Saturday afternoon of your choice is maintenance.

But a tire blowout when you’re late for a job that rips a brake line in half requires a tow truck to be dispatched to move the vehicle to a repair shop, and an unexpected repair bill is a repair.

Sometimes, as with maintenance, a repair offers the possibility of a convenient schedule. For example, a tire that loses a few pounds of air every week during routine checks needs to be repaired, but getting the tire to a shop without delay can prevent emergency services.

Can you service your vehicle yourself?

Oil change | Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

According to iDriveSafely, there are some maintenance services you can do yourself with just a few tools and some that are best left in professional hands unless you are capable of doing so.

  • Check your tires every month: Use a pressure gauge to check tire inflation and adjust as needed. Also use this time to examine your tires, including sidewalls and tread.
  • Inspect your vehicle’s fluids: Your car uses various fluids to run efficiently. Fluids such as windshield washer fluid, engine oil, transmission fluid, engine coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid require proper levels and replacement according to the manufacturer’s schedule .
  • Examine the belts and hoses of your engine: Your engine’s belts and hoses deteriorate over time. While checking your tires, pop the hood, check the fluids, and look at the belts and hoses. A faulty hose often bulges, cracks, or separates, while a worn engine belt usually shows cracks, frayed edges, and missing parts as it wears.
  • Listen and feel for problems with your car’s brakes: Your brakes should work smoothly and quietly. If you hear squealing, squealing, or feel vibrations in your brake pedal or steering wheel when braking, it’s time to take it to a repair shop.
  • Replace worn wiper blades: Worn wiper blades leave streaks on your windshield when it rains or when you use the washer. They’re easy to replace, but many auto parts stores offer free installation if you’re not in the mood.
  • Clean any corrosion from the battery: One of the most overlooked DIY maintenance tasks is cleaning the battery terminals and attached cables. Often the positive battery terminal has a red cover hiding the corrosion underneath. Lift this cover occasionally to inspect the area for powdery corrosion and clean it if necessary. Use a small wire brush and a solution of baking soda mixed with water to neutralize the corrosion. This will then allow you to clean it. However, be careful not to dirty your clothes or the finish of your vehicle. It will leave a mark.
  • Change your engine oil, oil filter, and air filter by following the car manufacturer’s maintenance schedule: If you’re up for it, changing the engine oil, oil filter, and air filter is simple. There are also many tutorials online. Many people keep track of the mileage their next service is due and head to a store to have it done.

What are the most common auto repairs in the United States?

Typical automotive repairs include replacing oxygen sensors, emission control equipment, ignition coils and thermostats. Repairs to brakes and steering components are also common. Since car repairs usually happen with no time for planning, it’s a good idea to find a mechanic you trust when taking your car in for routine maintenance.

Pay for maintenance or pay for repairs?

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As noted, maintenance often reduces the need for more expensive repairs. However, sometimes there is a fine line between the two tasks. In any case, whether your car’s behavior requires a simple service or repair, taking care of it as soon as possible often avoids bigger problems later on.

RELATED: Can you trust service station mechanics?

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