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Need a tune-up, but on a Budget..what to do first?

I am on a super tight budget, my job is having furloughs, and I want to keep my baby (my 2000 Honda Civic DX Coupe with 154,000 miles) safe and running good.

Timing belt has already been done, new front brakes and roters.

I am behind a couple of months on my oil change, but topped off the oil recently. I was told the most important things would be oil change and transmission service.

The service guy now says that I should have the brakes flushed, as water can get into the brake fluid and cause rust that they cannot see. :frowning:

With limited funds, and limited car knowledge, what would you do?

This is a tough decision.

You tell us that you are already “a couple of months behind” on your oil change, but you didn’t tell us who far behind you are with transmission service, brake fluid change, new air filter, new fuel filter, and new spark plugs.

Ideally, the transmission fluid and brake fluid were changed and the air and fuel filters were replaced at 30k, 60k, 90k, 120k, and 150k miles. The spark plug interval varies with the make of car, but I would have had this procedure done at 60k and 120k.

If you let us know when these procedures have been done in the past (if ever), we can be more accurate in giving you priorities for maintenance at this point. So, please get those service records out, jot down a few notes, then post back with what you found.

Camarro Girl, Don’t Shortcut The Oil Changes. Get It Changed And Stay On Schedule.

That was good of you to top off the oil and you probably haven’t hurt anything, but prolonged neglect of oil changes can lead to excessive engine wear.

Follow the owner’s manual for scheduled transmission and brake fluid changes and do them as soon after they’re due, as your budget allows. I’d go with the transmission first if I had to choose (transmission repairs are really expensive).

The good news? You should probably be able to put fewer miles on the car during furlough days (until the job picks up again), and stretch service intervals out a bit.


Who is “the service guy?” Where are you taking the car for service? Honda dealer? Independent mechanic? National chain shop (please, no!)?

The first thing you should do is read the maintenance schedule that came with the owner’s manual. The schedule will tell you how often things like oil changes, transmission service, timing belt replacement, brake fluid replacement, etc, should be done.

If you’re past due for an oil change I’d say that’s the # 1 priority, and the oil and filter should be changed ASAP. You can do this yourself if you’re on a tight budget. It’s not difficult. A new filter and a few quarts of oil is less than $20 at your local parts store.

I’m assuming the car has an automatic transmission, in which case the fluid should be replaced periodically, probably every 30K miles, but check the schedule to be sure. Manual transmissions need fluid replacement, too, but not as often.

I’d say, after the oil change, a transmission service is next in importance, but a brake fluid replacement is not far behind. Neither of these services should be very expensive. You can shop around for prices if you want, but be careful:

With Honda vehicles it’s very important to use ONLY Honda transmission fluids, so if you’re going somewhere other than the dealer make sure they use the right fluid.

Brake fluid is brake fluid, so you don’t have to worry about special fluid in the brakes.

Topping off the oil isn’t an oil change. You don’t need to change every 3,000 miles but every 5,000 is a good interval. Transmission fluid and filter change every 30,000 miles if it is an automatic. If has been 3 years or more since the brake fluid exchange that is due.

When was the timing belt changed? At 154K miles you should be on your 2nd timing belt.

Spending for maintenance is much cheaper than spending for repairs. Avoid expensive “flushes” but keeping fresh oil, trans fluid, brake fluid, and coolant in the car will avoid major expenses.

How mechanically inclined are you? While I have never owned a Honda Civic, I suspect a tune up and oil change is fairly easy to do. I change my daughter’s air filter and plugs in less than one hour. An oil change DIY type can be done in half hour or so, with the right tools. $30 in tools: inexpensive socket set and oil drain pan will save you quite a bit of money in the long run. A good mechanically inclined friend can show you the oil change procedures easily the first time. The investment pays for itself over two or three oil changes and one tune up. If you are going to be short money in the near future, consider borrowing needed tools and getting into the DIY mode. You can cut your mechanic bill by half or more.

I would pay for the brake fluid flush and ATF service, with the brake fluid changeout a higher priority. Check the ATF for how red the color is. Cherry red is good, brownish means get it changed sooner, rather than later.

In addition to all the other good advice here, if I were on a tight budget I’d do the brake fluid myself. Get a quart bottle of the appropriate brake fluid, a syringe (they sell them at auto parts stores), and a sealable container to put the old fluid into. Get as much of the old fluid out of the reservoir as possible, fill it up, drive it for a week, and repeat. While not quite as good as a flush it will replace the vast majority of brake fluid in your system and save you some big bucks. You can dispose of the old fluid at the local landfill’s ‘hazardous liquids’ disposal facility.

Thank you, everybody! :slight_smile:

I was due for a major service (transimission service, plugs, brake fluid, etc.) in March or May of this year. My previous major service was in May or March of 2007.

I am overdue for my oil change about 2000 miles.

I had my timing belt replaced at 103,000 miles.

I am not very mechanically inclined, though I think I could drain the brake fluid with the syringe like was mentioned in a post (thank you!). I do not have a parking garage, so I would have to do things on the street or in a parking lot.

Things like Oil Changes, some Transmission changes (not sure of the civic) and even brake bleeding are easy for a shade-tree mechanic. Ask around at work and offer some home cooked food (or a case of beer) for a lesson and/or the work.

Be Careful Not To Drip Brake Fluid On Any Painted Surfaces. That’ll Leave A Mark, Permanently!


A service called something like: “A Major Tune-up” or, “A 150,000 Mile Service”, “etc.”, are just rip-offs…especially, from a dealer. They espouse the “power flushes, etc.” In these contexts, these are wallet power flushes.

I don’t know Honda Civics, but on many cars, you can remove the drain plug on the automatic transmission, and let the old fluid drain out into an oil pan. Make sure you have a place to dispose of it first. In some places Autozone accepts used engine oil and transmission fluid, ask first.

Then, add back the same amount AFTER PUTTING THE DRAIN PLUG BACK. Learn how to check the level, and look at the fluid. It should be a clean reddish color, not dark and burned.

Do it again in a few months. The mechanics charge a fortune for the way they do it.

Do be aware there are different opinions on this, and most people believe only their way is correct. Yeah, it is nice to take down the pan and clean it all out, but it is also nice to have a new car, heh, heh. Several years ago, a guy bought a new Jaguar, I think it was, and asked Tom and Ray about his idea of doing a drain and refill every time he changed oil, and they did not think it was a bad idea, so this is not just my crazy idea.

My 2002 Toyota Sienna has 156,000 miles on it, I paid them one time, and since then drain and re-fill OFTEN, the fluid looks perfect. When I pull the plug, I get roughly three quarts, and add back three quarts. I have been unable to find out how many quarts an empty transmission holds. I have got numbers from 5 quarts to 10 or 15, so it seems no one knows for sure on my car.

Be very careful about siphoning brake fluid out of a master cylinder, if you get air in there, you will have bad brakes, and they will need bleeding, which some folks do easily, and I always have trouble with. Those bleeders often are frozen in place.

If you have a lot of patience, take out a very small amount, and add a small amount, over and over, never letting it get down vary far. A lot of fuss, but sounds like you have more time than money. Here in Mexico, it is amazing what folks do with time vs. money.

My favorite story was some years ago, on a forum. A man had an American car, one of the big ones from yesteryear, and it blew a rod. A local shade tree mechanic took a rod from a different make of car, and with a file worked a very long time, like a day or two, and it worked good enough to make it back to the border, where he had the right one installed. He paid the mechanic a nominal amount, but also gave him his set of socket wrenches. Compared to that, suck and add a bunch of times becomes trivial, doesn’t it?

Just change the engine oil on time and forget the rest. If the transmission is manual don’t even worry or bother. If automatic I would think about changing (not flushing) it.

Letting your oil go a few months will lead to an early death of the vehicle more than tune up items.

I will add buy an air filter yourself and change it. If you cannot a helpful auto parts person typically will show you how in the parking lot.

I agree with everything you’ve said…EXCEPT the timing belt. The timing belt interval for this car is every 90k miles…So that would put it out to 180k for his next belt change.

new spark plugs
air filter
fuel filter
change motor oil
change automatic transmission fluid with Honda fluid

The fuel filter is in the engine compartment and is easy to change.
The automatic transmission fluid is easy to change. Remove the square drain plug with the 3/8" square drive of a ratchet handle. A refill will be about 5 quarts of Honda A/T fluid ($5 per quart). DON’T skimp on the A/T fluid because it’s fairly expensive…so is a replacement A/T.
Honda A/T fluid is light amber (not pinkish/red).