How to Make Your Car Last Longer

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

While you can’t keep it on the road forever, here are 10 tips that can extend your car’s life and help maintain its value when you sell or trade it.

This Article Is Credited to MSN Autos

Getting from point A to point B by car costs a certain amount of dough, and thanks to a crumbling U.S. economy it takes more of your hard-earned money than ever before to do so. But while you can’t always control ownership costs such as fuel, repairs and insurance rates, one thing you do have power over is how long your 4-wheeled friend stays on the road before you have to send it to that great junkyard in the sky. To help, here are 10 tips that will keep your ride rolling well into its golden years.

1. Change Vital Filters and Fluids

Checking fluids and the air filter on a regular basis can increase the life of your engine.

Checking fluids and the air filter on a regular basis can increase the life of your engine.

Even the most mechanically challenged drivers know to change a car’s oil and oil filter on a regular basis. But other fluids (antifreeze, brake and transmission, for example) and filters also need regular maintenance. This is essential because over time they, too, lose important properties — such as their ability to remove heat and to lubricate, as well as the ability to prevent rust and freezing.

Changing your air filter helps your car breathe easier and its engine last longer. An engine needs an exact mixture of fuel and air in order to run, and all of the air enters the system through the air filter. Its purpose is to prevent dirt and other foreign particles from entering and possibly damaging the engine. “If your air filter is clogged, your engine is not performing properly,” says Jack Nerad, editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “It also hurts your fuel economy because the engine is working harder to get more air.”

2. Check Your Cooling System

Mechanics recommend a minimum 50-50 mix of coolant to water for most climates. For severe conditions, you can increase the mixture to about 70 percent coolant.

Mechanics recommend a minimum 50-50 mix of coolant to water for most climates. For severe conditions, you can increase the mixture to about 70 percent coolant.

Making sure your car’s cooling system is working properly and coolant levels are correct can potentially

save you thousands of dollars in repairs. “A cooling-system failure can result in your engine literally melting down,” Nerad warns. “Without proper coolant and maintenance of hoses, you can have lethal consequences.”

3. Take Proper Care of Your Tires

Keeping tires at the proper inflation pressure will increase their life, as well as improve fuel efficiency.

Keeping tires at the proper inflation pressure will increase their life, as well as improve fuel efficiency.

Tires are often the most neglected part of a car, and can be the least expensive to maintain. Take tire inflation, for instance. “Most people don’t pay much attention to keeping their tires at the right inflation pressure,” Nerad says. “And it’s not only bad for the car, the tires and fuel economy, but it’s also a safety issue. The simple step of keeping the tires up to proper pressure is valuable all the way around, and it essentially costs almost nothing.” Also, don’t forget to rotate your tires. Tire Rack suggests doing it every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, even if the tires don’t show signs of wear. This will help to ensure that your car stops properly, and is a job that can be done in your own driveway.

4. Pay Attention to the Gauges

Pay attention to your car’s gauges for any indication that something mechanical has gone awry.

Pay attention to your car’s gauges for any indication that something mechanical has gone awry.

If there is a problem with your oil pressure, cooling system or any other major system, your car’s gauges will tell you — if you’re paying attention to them. “The vast majority of people don’t,” Nerad says. “That’s why manufacturers went to ‘idiot lights’ to give a clear indication of when there’s a problem.”

5. Find a Mechanic You Trust

Not all mechanics are created equal; a good one could be the difference between keeping your car on the road as long as you need it and wasting your savings on a lost cause.

Not all mechanics are created equal; a good one could be the difference between keeping your car on the road as long as you need it and wasting your savings on a lost cause.

Find a repair shop and mechanic you trust. “And let that shop service your car all the time,” says Dave Jones, owner of Jones Automotive in Green County, Pa., and co-host of the Web site AskAutoPro.com. “When you get sick, you don’t go to a different doctor every time. Your doctor knows you from top to bottom, inside and out.” A good mechanic will get to know your car, look it over the same way each visit, and thus spot potential issues, Jones adds. Plus, having a good working relationship with your mechanic will enable you to make wise decisions when the time comes — and you won’t have any doubts about the truthfulness of the advice.

6. Get Regular Checkups

It's important to follow the scheduled maintenance for your car to keep it in top shape.

It's important to follow the scheduled maintenance for your car to keep it in top shape.

While your owner’s manual will have a maintenance schedule, another advantage of using the same mechanics on a regular basis is that they will be able to make sure you stick to that schedule — and take care of things the manual may not include. “If you go to different places each time you have your car serviced, they won’t know the last time you had something done,” says Aaron Clements, owner of C&C Automotive in Augusta, Ga., and a 31-year auto-repair veteran. “So you may end up paying for unnecessary repairs. Most shops have electronic records, so they know when each service was performed. The scheduled maintenance charts in owners manuals tell only part of the story. So it’s also a benefit to have a relationship with a service adviser who knows your vehicle and when to perform service in addition to what’s in the owner’s manual.”

And don’t put off the small things. A small problem can quickly balloon into a major catastrophe. For instance, a worn hose can be a simple replacement. Put off dealing with it until the hose bursts and you could have a nightmare on your hands, with associated financial implications.

7. Drive Smarter

Jackrabbit starts and hard stops are not only tough on your tires and brakes, they can have debilitating effects on suspension and other major systems.

Jackrabbit starts and hard stops are not only tough on your tires and brakes, they can have debilitating effects on suspension and other major systems.

The way you drive has an effect on how long your car — and your gas — will last. “You not only save wear and tear by having good driving habits, but also fuel,” Clements says. So drive gently. Accelerate slowly. Anticipate braking so you can avoid panic stops. Give your car time to warm up in cold weather so the oil is freely circulating through the system and fully lubricating internal components. All of these things will lessen the wear and tear on your car and possibly enhance fuel efficiency.

Also, make fewer short trips. Jaunts of less than 10 minutes can be particularly hard on a car because the engine never has a chance to heat up properly, which allows condensation to build up inside the engine and exhaust. When mixed with metal and oxygen, water will cause rust, which is bad for cars. Condensation inside the engine will also dilute the oil that lubricates it. Again, this is bad for the car.

8. Lose Some Weight

Driving around with a lot of extra junk in the trunk is like carrying a lot of extra weight around your waist — the stress can wear your car down and keep it from operating at tip-top efficiency.

Driving around with a lot of extra junk in the trunk is like carrying a lot of extra weight around your waist — the stress can wear your car down and keep it from operating at tip-top efficiency.

Extra pounds place extra demand on your vehicle’s powerplant, and can create suspension and braking issues. So don’t drive around with a lot of nonessential stuff in your car. Also, remove anything that causes additional aerodynamic drag, such as a bug shield, roof rack or cargo carrier. These have the same effect as adding weight; that is, they increase the demand on your engine, causing premature wear and tear and reducing your car’s fuel efficiency.

9. Keep It Clean

Regularly washing your car will help extend its life as well as support its resale value.

Regularly washing your car will help extend its life as well as support its resale value.

Kelly Blue Book’s Nerad also stresses taking care of the exterior of your car by regularly washing and waxing it. And don’t forget about the interior. “That’s an often overlooked area,” he says. “Spend time keeping it clean and clean-smelling without perfuming it, and vacuum the carpet on a regular basis. Get spills out immediately, because if you don’t they’re more difficult to remove.”

10. Keep It Under Cover

Sitting in the direct sun can cause many dash and interior materials to wear prematurely, as well as a car’s finish to fade. A cover will help; it will also keep your car cooler.

Sitting in the direct sun can cause many dash and interior materials to wear prematurely, as well as a car’s finish to fade. A cover will help; it will also keep your car cooler.

Nerad also suggests storing your car in a garage or under a carport or cover. “Keep your car out of the sun,” he says. “And keep it away from bird droppings and tree sap. Also be careful where you park to avoid dings,” he adds.