How To Extend The Life Of Your Car

By DriverSide Staff
DriverSide provides not just information on buying and selling cars, but helps you live with your car every day. In today's economy, we're constantly asked how people can keep their current cars on the road for longer periods of time. While it is expensive to buy a new car every few years, it is also expensive to repair a car that may be on its last legs. We at DriverSide, always being on the side of, you, the driver, have compiled a list of some of our helpful tips to help extend the life of your vehicle and save you money in the long run.

1. Preventative Care and Maintenance

Augie Barone, Service Manager at Pat’s Garage in San Francisco credits regular maintenance as one of the most important ways to add years to your car’s life. “The customers who have the most miles on their car are the ones who are consistent with their service schedule," he says. “They get a hold of issues before they get out of hand. It helps a lot to maintain the car’s longevity. You can’t just wait for the service light to come on."

Keeping your vehicle's fluids new and clean is priority number one when it comes to making sure your car hangs around for a long while. Frequent oil changes can prevent the buildup of harmful deposits that rob fuel economy and power, as well as make internal components work harder. A harder working engine is one with a shorter life span.

Even if your vehicle is brand new, it is a good idea to check the oil every few hundred miles. If the level slowly gets lower between oil changes, you might have an issue with your engine. The same applies for your vehicles’ brake fluid, clutch fluid, if it’s a manual transmission, or your automatic transmission fluid.

While keeping an eye on your vehicle's fluid levels is a good first step toward improving your investment's longevity, sticking to the recommended service intervals in your owner's manual is equally important. Different manufacturers allow for different time periods between required maintenance. While it may look expensive to go about replacing your air filter, changing your oil, rotating your tires every few thousand miles, the preventative care saves you money in the long run. For a general idea, you can check out our guide to car maintenance.

Don’t forget to save all your service receipts. Not only are they good to have for reminders, but having them available for potential buyers will also increase the residual value of your car. 

Besides your fluids, here are a few more parts to check on a semi-regular basis:
Shocks, bushings and alignment: A car that has worn shocks, bushings and poor alignment will not only drive badly but it will also cause the tires, wheel bearings, and other driveline components to wear our faster, not to mention make all kinds of unpleasant creaking, squeaking and clunking noises. A suspension refresh can give a car a second lease on life and restore driving pleasure and safety, while minimizing the need for expensive replacement parts down the line.

Timing belt: Many, if not most, modern cars have interference engines, meaning that if a timing belt comes loose or breaks, valves collide which causes major and expensive cylinder head malfunction. Timing belts typically call for 60k replacement intervals, but people often push that number to 70-90 miles. If your timing belt hasn't been changed in a while, your engine is a ticking time bomb. Get it checked out as the timing belt is one item not to approach casually.

Brakes: Have your brake pads checked regularly and address any excessive screeching immediately. Pads wear out faster than rotors and have a metal strip in them to warn you that they need replacement. When you hear excessive screeching under even light braking, chances are your pads have worn enough to warrant replacement. If you don't replace your pads when it’s needed, you risk damaging your rotors and having to purchase an expensive new set. Better to pay for one part quickly, then two parts too late.

2. Drive With Care

If you have a brand new car, the break-in period generally lasts for the first 1,000 miles. During its nascent hours on the road, try not to rev the engine to redline. Using light acceleration will keep the engine under 3,000 rpm and will help to break in the engine ever so gently. We'd also recommend keeping the speed to under 55mph (check your owner's manual for their initial maximum speed).
Most of the wear and tear on a car occurs during the first few minutes of driving. If you tend to run out for multiple short errands, try consolidating some of them. You’ll prevent long-term damage on the engine this way.

Avoid heavy loads on the drivetrain, so don't tow or weigh down the vehicle with too much weight. Lastly, and this holds true for the life of your vehicle, don't let your car idle for too long. Low idling causes the oil pressure to drop, which means that oil won’t be sent to all parts of the engine. Remember, lack of lubrication is the death knell for any car.

3. Know Your Vehicle

While it's easy to think of your car as a single entity, the truth is it's made up of thousands of interlaced mechanisms that rely on each other to get you down the road safely. It's impossible to be aware of each component's condition as you drive, but paying attention to changes in your vehicle's tone, driving characteristics or feel can alert you to problems before they get out of hand. That can save you some serious money in repairs and keep you from getting stranded on the side of the road.

Once a month, drive with the radio off and listen for odd noises. If your vehicle doesn't have the same oomph it used to, starts sluggishly, has an odd vibration or is making a strange noises, it may be time for a trip to the mechanic. Do your best to describe what you heard or felt and which part of the vehicle it emanated from. Doing so accurately can save you and your mechanic time trying to run down the problem.

No one likes to spend lots of time at a gas station, but taking a second to keep track of your vehicle's mileage can go a long way to make you aware of how your vehicle is running. A clean, good running vehicle will return better mileage than one suffering from an ailment. Easy to replace bits like oxygen and mass air flow sensors can go bad and impact the number of miles you travel per gallon of gasoline, and replacing them early on can save you plenty of coin at the pump.

Barone also says to “be mindful of your area’s weather and terrain. Here in San Francisco, people don’t realize how much wear and tear the hills put on their vehicles. Consider how the climate affects your car as much as you consider how it affects yourself."

4. Protect Your Car's Interior

A car's interior is where you spend all your time, and when it's looking shabby it affects the way you feel about your car as well as lowers the resale value. The two major culprits of a dingy cabin: the weather and you. Yes, you. All-weather rubber mats should be used in winter to keep mud and grime off the carpets - especially if you have a light-colored interior.

Got kids? Avoid stains on the upholstery by placing a towel and sheet of heavy plastic underneath the baby seat. No one likes scrubbing puréed peas off of beige leather seats.

If your car has leather surfaces, buy some leather moisturizing pads and use them every other month. This will keep your leather clean and free from cracking. In the summer, we recommend using window shades in order to avoid UV damage to the interior.

A clean interior actually means cleaning is involved, so first things first - get it detailed every few months. To maintain the detailing job, vacuum the floors regularly and use a sponge to gently wipe down the gauges, instrument panel and dashboard as these can get scratched and fade over time. A little elbow grease goes a long way to extending the life and value of your car.

5. Protect Your Car's Exterior

Keeping the exterior in good order saves money over time and keeps the resale value high. Face it, no one wants to buy a dumpy looking car. It is amazing what an hour or two with a mobile dent removal and detail service can do to make a car look like new again. For a few hundred bucks, you can literally add thousands of dollars back into a car in trade-in/resale value, not to mention restore one's original love of a car and become inspired to keep it on the road longer. It is a lot harder to justify putting maintenance dollars into a smelly dinged up beater than a pristine example. Furthermore, applying a coat or two of wax at least twice a year will keep your paint looking its best. It only takes a few hours to do, but makes a huge difference.

Invest in proper racks for the roof of your vehicle. Use blankets and towels to protect your roof when tying down luggage, bicycles or other loads to the roof rack as well. When you do have cargo on the roof of your car, make sure it’s tied down properly. Otherwise it may shift during the drive, leaving you with scratches to deal with.

If you have a garage, use it. Garaged cars carry higher resale values and require fewer washes. There's no sense in parking your car on the street where it's exposed to the elements while boxes of junk get to enjoy the mild climate inside your garage. If you don't have access to a garage, look into getting a car cover. These aren't as good as garages but will protect your paint and reduce the amount of time spent at the car wash.

Fix small cracks in the windshield in a timely manner. These will only spread out over time. Bring your car to a windshield repair shop, where they can fix chips and cracks to maintain its structural integrity.

1. Drive gently.
While this may be the hardest thing to do for your car, it’s something that will pay huge dividends over the life of the vehicle. Adjusting your driving style to minimize wear and tear on your ride can not only give you a few more years of happy motoring, but it can also save you cash in repairs and replacement parts. It might take some of the fun out of driving, but accelerating gently from stop lights and stop signs, avoiding abrupt braking and completing smooth, non-aggressive turns all play a part in keeping your car in one piece and save you gas too.

2. Keep up with fluid changes.
Checking on your vehicle’s fluids is paramount to its longevity. While some fluids like brake fluid, clutch fluid and coolant may not require attention as often as oil or transmission fluid, they’re just as important. Mark one day on your calendar each month to make sure all of your fluids are topped off. It’s quick, easy and can save you some serious repair dollars down the line. Of course, remember to change those fluids when your service manual requires it, too.

3. Know what weather does to your car.
Do what you can to protect your car from all types of weather. While a garage is the ideal storage solution for your investment, other options exist to protect your vehicle from the sun’s UV rays, drastic temperature changes, water and salt. Look into inexpensive options like car covers. Small steps like those can go a long way to preserve the appearance and head off rust before it can get started, saving you repair costs and keeping the resale value of your car high.

4. Clean the interior.
Excess dirt and grime can act like sand paper, creating unnecessary abrasion that can wear down upholstery and carpeting. Purchase a good set of floor mats if your vehicle didn’t come with them and vacuum your car on a regular basis. Keeping things tidy inside can keep you aware of problem spots inside, too, allowing you to get them repaired before they grow worse.

5. Maintain the paint job.
Your vehicle’s paint job primary job is to protect the car’s sheet metal from corrosion. Touch up any and all nicks before rust can get started and always make sure to wax your vehicle with a high quality product at least twice a year. Doing so will protect the vehicles clear coat and save the paint from fading over time. Also, be sure to use a recommended car wash solution. Paying extra for the good stuff now will come back to you in the form of resale value later.

6. Flush the engine and top it up with mileage-appropriate fluids.
As your vehicle ages, carbon deposits and grime form inside of the engine no matter how well you maintain it. Using a product like Sea Foam engine restorer or BG44K as recommended on the packaging can keep build up in check, improve fuel economy and restore lost power. Also, be sure use the appropriate fluids for your vehicle’s age and use high-mileage oil as your car grows older.

7. Check on your tires and wheels.
If your tires have worn unevenly or your wheels are unbalanced, vibration can cause excess stress on suspension components. Excess stress means extra trips to the mechanic and a hefty bill. Taking the time to keep your wheels clean can alert you to bent or damaged wheels and uneven tread, once again helping you to correct the problem before things get out of hand.

8. Schedule checkups twice a year with a mechanic you trust.
Regardless of how well you think you know your vehicle, a well-trained, trustworthy mechanic can spot things ahead of time that you might miss. Taking the time to schedule a check up with a good mechanic twice a year may seem obsessive, but preventative maintenance at the hands of a qualified professional is cheap insurance. Also, keep all the documentation; being able to provide a potential buyer with all of your service records is a major buying incentive.

9. Address minor problems early.
It’s easy to hear a strange noise in your vehicle and hope that it will go away. Unfortunately, there aren’t any cars out there that can heal themselves, at least not yet. Don’t put off minor maintenance or easy repair work. Doing so can lead to larger problems and larger repair bills in the end. Bite the bullet, fix what’s wrong and your car will last a lot longer.

10. Be aware of new sounds and vibrations.
No matter how embarrassing it may be to stand in front of a perfect stranger and make funny noises, it is worth it. Effectively relaying what you’ve experienced in your vehicle to your mechanic is an essential tool to keeping it on the road. The more your service center knows about the problem, the more likely they are to fix it right the first time and for less labor costs. Be sure to tell the technician as much as you can about the problem, including details like speed, what direction you are turning, the temperature outside and the time of day. It may sound strange, but all of those details can help your mechanic assess the situation and set it right without expensive exploratory work.


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