under the hood

Why you should learn about your car

Don’t know a spark plug from a fuel injector? Don’t feel bad — only 72 percent of Americans do.

OK, you can feel bad. Even most women know what a spark plug looks like and does, according to new research from retailer AutoPartsWarehouse.com…

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Granted, the site only surveyed about 700 people on its website, all obviously people shopping online for car parts. It’s not representative of all Americans. But if it shames you into learning something about your vehicle, that’s good news. Because the recession changed the way people think about cars…

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According to new research from AutoMD.com, three quarters of car owners say upgrading to a new vehicle every two or three years is out of style. Now, cars are supposed to last you more than a decade — and if you’re going to have it that long, might as well get to know each other. (By the way, AutoMD.com is owned by the same company behind AutoPartsWarehouse.com, but its survey was much bigger: about 4,400 people.)

Here’s what else the surveys found…

  • The top reasons for buying parts online are easier price comparisons, lower prices, and specific part availability.
  • While the number of people willing to drive a car “until it dies” has dropped since the recession, a third of Americans still plan to, and more than half plan to drive at least 100,000 miles in it.
  • A third of Americans already have more than 150,000 miles on their current vehicle.
  • Only 10 percent plan on changing vehicles sometime soon, and most will buy a used late model.
  • 83 percent of car owners feel they are overcharged on auto repairs and maintenance.

What’s all this tell you? That well-maintained cars last a lot longer than they used to, and that you can save a lot of money by learning how to take care of your car and shopping online.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas…

  1. Learn the basics. All cars have stuff in common, and you can learn it in places like HowStuffWorks.
  2. Ask your car-savvy friend/relative to teach you to do relatively simple things like changing your oil.
  3. Read the manuals. For starters, crack open that neglected owner’s manual in your glove compartment. As you get comfortable under the hood, consider investing in the factory service manual for your vehicle — it’s a lot more specific on technical details and it’s how mechanics learn about your car. They can run anywhere from $25 to $100 for a printed copy, but you may be able to find a digital version free or cheaper.
  4. Find the fans. A bit of research online will probably turn up a community of enthusiasts for your make and model.  ExplorerForum.com, for instance, is full of gearheads that love tinkering with Ford Explorers. A community like that will know your vehicle’s quirks, where to buy parts and manuals, and (if you ask nice) can probably walk you through a problem or modification.
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