Cars are expensive not just to buy, but also to fuel, repair and maintain (and rising gas prices aren't helping). With labor costs typically in the hundreds of dollars, even for simple repairs, preventative measures can go a long way in cutting your automotive costs. There are many simple maintenance tasks you can do yourself, and lots of tips to help you get the best value for your dollar when it comes to automotive needs. Read on for five simple ways you can help prevent trips to the mechanic, and how you can make sure you're getting your money's worth when you do take your car in for repairs.

Check your fluids

Maintaining appropriate levels of various fluids like brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc., is a simple way you can keep your car running better, longer, and can save you not only in simple labor costs, but can help prevent larger, more costly repairs down the road. Also, keep an eye out for stains under your car, as this can be a sign of an important fluid leak. Spotting this early on can save you big on repairs later.

Observe warning signs

Car problems rarely happen overnight there are often several signs of trouble before something breaks down, requiring costly repairs. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for telltale warning signs, like squeaking breaks, leaking fluids, or drifting wheels, which can indicate a bigger problem under the hood. By identifying these warning signs early on, you stand a better chance of avoiding an outrageous repair bill after all, repairing a transmission fluid leak will cost you significantly less than replacing a transmission.

Drive carefully

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Practicing responsible driving techniques is a great way to protect yourself and your automotive investment. Use your turn signals, observe speed limits, don't tailgate, and be careful not to overburden your car with excessive weight.

Get a second opinion

Car repair is expensive, and mechanics all too often take advantage of consumers trust and ignorance. If you take your car into the mechanic and feel that their diagnosis is overpriced, excessive, or isn't sufficiently explained to you, don't just take their word for it. Getting a second opinion is a completely reasonable thing to do just like you would with your health care provider. If costly car repairs are in fact necessary, ask about ways to prolong the process. If you need several things done, for example, they may be able to space the work out over several months to allow you more financial leeway.

Keep your receipts

One of the biggest problems with car repair is when people are conned into having unnecessary work done. One way to help prevent this is to keep track of all past maintenance and repair, and compare any new suggested work against the list. If you're brake pads were replaced last year, odds are you probably don't need new ones just yet. Likewise, if a problem is identified that you paid to have worked on previously, you may be able to get a discount on subsequent work. Regardless, it's important to keep track of your car's history, just like you would your own medical record.