Dear Car Coach:

My car says to premium gas in it. Can I get away with using mid-grade or even regular unleaded to save some dough?

Using the right type of gasoline for your vehicle is more important that you think. Not only is it critical to use the recommended octane (regular, midgrade or premium gasoline), but also it's also important to make sure your fuel has enough cleaning agents to protect your engine.

Get the right grade

You probably associate octane with the number you see at the pumps (the higher the number the more premium the fuel and the price), but the technical explanation for octane is the measure of the fuel's ability to resist "engine knock." If you use a lower octane rating in an engine designed to use higher-octane fuel, "engine knocking" might occur, causing the car to shudder and lose performance. Most modern electronic engine management systems can sense this knocking and make adjustments to prevent serious engine damage, but downgrading to a lower octane can mean reduced performance and lower fuel economy and even effect your factory warranty.

Since not every car is the same, different vehicles require different octane gasoline. The correct octane level is listed in your owner's manual. Some vehicles may even have the octane requirement noted on the fuel gauge or the fuel filler cap. If your vehicle's engine is designed to run on regular grade unleaded gasoline, that's all it should require. However, using octane above the recommended level will not harm the engine- it will just cost you more.

If you are experiencing engine knocking in an older car that recommends low octane, using a higher-octane grade may help correct the problem (however, it's also recommended to have your car serviced). If you have a performance or luxury vehicle that requires a higher-octane level, I recommend you use the rating specified to get the best engine performance.

The enemy of engine performance and efficiency is engine "gunk," or harmful carbon deposits. The gunky build-up is the result of various chemical processes that occur during engine operation, creating a build-up of residue on intake valves and fuel injectors. This gunk acts like a sponge, absorbing and trapping gasoline, which can result in decreased engine performance. Preventing this engine gunk is easy -- just use the right gasoline.

No matter what octane level is required for your vehicle, using a name brand of gas will keep your engine clean, you'll get better fuel economy, reduced emissions, reduce carbon deposits and get the best engine performance.

Dear Car Coach:

Whenever I cue up at the carwash, there are choices for waxing, undercarriage washing, etc. It's hard to believe that any of this quickie stuff is worth it. Am I right?

A quick car wash is just that, so keep in mind that all car washes are not created equal.

Washing your car once a week is critical to keeping it shiny and protected. It also can protect your investment -- your resale value. When you add up the costs of regular cleanings, you'll still might be ahead when it's time for a new car.

Car washes are great for removing dirt, bugs and grime build-up that occurs during everyday driving. If you use quick car washes a lot, take a close look at your paint. Do you see little scratches and swirls? This is the result of the "quick shortcut" method.

A better choice is to look for a hand wash place, where actual people wash your car. It'll be worth your time and they'll give you a better job for your money. Go ahead, splurge. (And your car might appreciate the gesture and cancel or postpone your next flat tire or dead battery!)

Another choice is coin operated hand wash stations

If you park your car on a side street, leave it under a car port or don't have a driveway or safe place to wash your car, a hand car washing station is a great option. You'll see that theses can be very popular on weekends. Some people prefer this method to cleaning at home, as there is less clean up. All it takes is old sneakers and a jar full of quarters to get great results.

A professional detailing service can do the job best, perhaps while you are at work. They can make a vehicle sparkle and smell like new again.

If you choose to wash your car at home, remember to always use car cleaning products to protect your investment.

Dear Car Coach:

I see these pop-up repair places in my grocery store parking lot that say they can fix small cracks in windshields for pretty cheap. I have a star on my windshield from a runaway stone. Are these guys for real, or should I just live with it until something worse happens and I need a whole new windshield?

You may not realize that the windshield is a safety device that is right in front of our eyes, yet many drivers are unaware that the windshield is the second most important safety device in a vehicle after the seatbelt. The windshield deflects the passenger air bag in a collision and supports the roof in a roll over, providing structural integrity that prevents the roof from caving in.

Do not treat auto glass replacement the same as other routine maintenance.

If there is a chip or a star in the glass, this can be repaired at your home or place of work. If the chip or star is in your sight line you should replace the glass, as the repair becomes a small blurry spot.

If you have glass coverage then it will be done at no cost to you. Make sure to have a cracked windshield replaced with a AGRSS approved installer.

Dear Car Coach:

I was at a quick lube place and they already had the oil out when they realized they didn't have the right filter for my car. I told them to leave the filter in, change the oil, don't charge me for the filter obviously. Here is my question: Should I let the car go for 3k or 4k miles with the old filter and then get the whole shebang changed, or go back with a filter I buy and make them change the oil again for free with my new filter?

Starting with oil changes: Each car is different and it depends on each car. Gone are the days of changing every 3,000 miles however it is important to remember that oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle -- kind of like how we have blood running through our bodies. It keeps hardworking engine parts running clean, smooth and cool. The fact is, most of us do a lot of heavy driving during the summertime when an engine is more likely to overheat. I'm sure you've been asked if you want regular or synthetic oil when you get your oil changed. Upgrading to synthetic oil, which may be required on many cars, is a very smart choice especially for older engines and requesting a synthetic oil filter will save the life of your engine because of the premium materials inside. They are made with 100% synthetic micro glass media for superior particle removal. Changing your oil and using the best filter is the most sensible and economical ways to prolong the life of your engine. Synthetic oil helps to perform better at all temperatures and requires less frequent oil changes, better fuel economy and less emissions. That means more money in your pocket.