How To Set Up a Car Maintenance Plan & Budget

by Staff Writer

Seriously, does anyone ever read these thing?

Not long ago, Mr. Murphy paid me a visit in the form of a vehicle problem. Our 2002 GMC Envoy needed some service to the tune of $1,600.

I wrote a post about it to ask PF bloggers how to handle the hit to the emergency fund. I learned that many budget minded people either have a really good (cheap) mechanic or they fix it on their own.

Seeing as my primary job involves managing maintenance crews and that I have a degree in engineering, I figure I’d better start doing it myself.


Doing it yourself requires a few essential items. Basic tools will get you by without having to invest in a mechanics tool set. Here’s a quick list of some items that may be required to perform the work yourself, you most likely already own many of these.

  • 3/8 inch and 1/2 inch socket set in both metric and standard verisons with ratchets
  • 10 inch socket extension
  • Ball peen hammer and some type of soft face mallet hammer
  • Standard and Phillips screw drivers in various sizes
  • Channel lock pliers and Vise-Grip pliers
  • Scraper/putty knife and razor knife
  • Standard and metric Allen wrench sets
  • Wire brush and metal files
  • Car jack and jack stands

Yes there are other specialty tools that will make the job easier. These can be purchased on an as required basis to keep costs down. Once you have the tool, you’ll have it for most of your life so the ROI will be great. You can also ask friends and family to borrow tools as well.

Another MUST resource to have is a repair manual. I asked for one for Christmas a few years back . . . no kidding. They can be purchased from Amazon for under $20.

The repair manual will help you set up a yearly maintenance schedule and give you all the tools and part numbers required to complete the job. The best part is the step by step instructions (with pictures) on how to perform the work.


In order to plan out a vehicle maintenance program and budget you need to know a few things. Gather all the receipts from previous vehicle services performed, your owner’s manual, and write down the mileage of the vehicle. You need to know (or guess as best as you can) the mileage at which point certain services were completed. If you have any of those oil change window stickers, record the mileage from that as well.


Now comes the fun part. I made a quick spreadsheet using the information from my owner’s manual and the Haynes Repair manual.

It includes break downs of tasks for each mile stone. I’ve also include an estimated cost per milestone based on my vehicle. You can use the spreadsheet and plug in your numbers, or make your own. The point of the exercise is to establish a dollar amount and time frame the money needs to be avaliable.

These numbers will allow you to allocate the correct amount of money in your budget, and know when you need to service your vehicle.


Prices will vary between vehicles. A V8 engine will usually require more oil than a 4-cylinder, an inline 5 or 6 cylinder usually requires more than a V8.

Oil and oil filters can be purchased as kits at most auto part stores, but with the low prices offered by professional oil-change mechanics, it’s hard to want to do it yourself.

I like to buy oil by the case because it’s usually a few dollars cheaper. Air filters and fuel filters are usually cheap as well.

One good thing about having a maintenance plan is that you have time to shop around for the cheapest prices. Using the internet will save you even more. Having a few weeks to shop makes the shipping cost if any, very low.

The larger purchases can follow the same rules. If you know you need tires, you have plenty of time to shop and get a great price.

The Budget:

Once the schedule is set up and prices are attached to the milestones, a budget can quickly be created. Add up all the prices and divide by 12. The resulting number is what you should put aside each month to cover the preventive maintanance car expenses.

I use a separate ING savings account to hold the money, labeled Car Maintenance. Using the spreadsheet with my prices entered, I get $21 per month in normal maintence and $42 per month for Tires. Yep, I need tires this year so I’ve included that amount at the milestone they need to be changed.

I like to error on the side of caution so I’m going to fund this part of my budget a little quicker. Instead of fund $63 per month for 12 months, I will fund $125 per month for 6 months. That way if I need to get the tires sooner I will have the cash avaliable.

Other options:

Yes, it can be a lot of work to perform yourself. You could always have a mechanic at a car service shop do the work for you. Your prices will be more and you need to account for that in the spreadsheet.

The budgeting works the same. If I was to have my oil changed, the cost would be $35.00 (based on the Speedy Oil Change shop down the street, my SUV takes 7 quarts). I would have to increase my 6000 mile oil change by $15 to set my budget correctly.

$15 extra might be well worth the money for you. It’s a completely personal choice, just like every budget and personal finance system. I tend to look at things a little differently now. $15 is 4 or 5 extra pizza deliveries I’d have to make. I view all money spent at the DeliverAwayDebt household in pizza deliveries now. It gives me a sense of my time/money costs.

Good luck if you try to perform the work yourself. You’ll have some problems along the way, but learning and knowing your vehicle can keep the mechanics from holding your emergency fund hostage.

I really only talked about easy preventive vehicle maintenance in this post. If you have the mechnical aptitude and a repair manual, there isn’t much you can’t do yourself. Most vehicle repairs have a YouTube video and other materials avaliable on the web for reference.

If I have any major repairs this year, I will be doing the work myself. Of course I’ll blog about the process and any learning from the endeavors.


Mrs. Money January 5, 2010 at

Good job! I like to do a lot of things myself. It challenges me to learn new things I would never think of doing and I feel a sense of pride when I’m done. Now if I could just figure out how to do baseboards I’ll be all set!
.-= Mrs. Money´s last blog ..How to Make Your Own Shampoo =-.

Jeffrey Kosola January 5, 2010 at

I love do it yourselfers. Would you like a post on baseboards? Cleaning them, painting them, or installing them? I’m going to be starting a Saturday do-it-yourself section soon, all ideas are welcome.

Indian Thoughts January 6, 2010 at

very informative post. Now I’ll also try to do it on my own next time. You motivated me. Thanks alot ๐Ÿ™‚
.-= Indian Thoughts´s last blog ..Value of time =-.

Money Funk January 7, 2010 at

Sweet! Thanks for the spreadsheet. I have all my reciepts for the oil changes in many different places and keep considering taking the time to put them all into one folder.

My car is due for its $400+ 90,000 mile maintaince pretty soon. Costly. So creating a budget for car maintainence would be key for me.

Oh ya, being frugal… I have learned to change the oil, replace the brakes and can put in a new radiator. Might help that I grew up with a car and boat mechanic. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Can’t wait to put that spreadsheet to use. ๐Ÿ˜‰
.-= Money Funk´s last blog ..Decemberโ€™s Net Worth =-.

Jeffrey Kosola January 7, 2010 at

Awesome Money Funk,

I’m glad you can use the spreadsheet. It’s also nice to here that you do most of your maintenance.

I grew up with boats, which made me the boat mechanic since my Dad didn’t want to do it. I learned a ton too.

Frugal Handbook February 2, 2010 at

I never realized pizza delivery drivers made as much as you do. Very interesting, although it would be difficult for someone in a very rural area (like myself) to do. Great blog btw. Keep up the good work.

Jeffrey Kosola February 2, 2010 at

It’s very suprising what a pizza dude can make. That is one of the reasons I started this blog, I want people to know that its a great part time job. Sorry you live in a rural area, not much pizza delivery I’m sure. I’m heading over to check out your site now…

Maxliner-usa June 27, 2013 at

Investing on the tools listed above will definitely saves you a lot of money in the future. There are simple car repair maintenance that you can actually do yourself, it’s just that sometimes, you don’t have the proper tools for it.

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