6 Simple Tips to Keep Your Car Running Longer
If you’ve ever owned a car for several years — or just driven one that’s several years old — you know that it takes some work to keep it running. The good news is, how often your car breaks down and how much those repairs cost you are largely within your control. Here’s a quick rundown on how to keep your car on the road — and more money in your pocket. (See also: 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Shopping for Car Insurance)
Choose the Right Car
Overall, cars are getting more reliable, but there is still a wide range in how much trouble you can expect to have with each one. So, when you’re shopping for a new (or, better yet, previously owned) car, choose one with a reputation for reliability. If you choose a reliable car, you’ll be able to spend your money on keeping it running well, rather than just keeping it running. There are many sources that provide this information, such as Consumer Reports, which ranks most makes and models in terms of short-term and longer-term reliability. If you’re really interested in getting the most out of your car, choose a reliable model to begin with.
Don’t Be Cheap
You may hate handing your hard-earned cash over to your local mechanic for oil changes, tire rotations, and other maintenance, but spending money on the basics is the best way to avoid major repairs. An oil change costs $30 to $40; if you’re an average driver, you’ll need two or more each year (every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on your car). The cost of a new engine — which could be what your car requires if you skip too many oil changes — is $2,000 to $4,000. You decide. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of what happens to an engine that’s gone too many miles without an oil change.
Make a Note of Maintenance Milestones
Car manufacturers provide recommendations on when to complete basic maintenance tasks. You can find this information in your car’s owner’s manual. Most experts recommend getting your car’s transmission fluid flushed every 25,000 miles, while an engine’s timing belt should be replaced within 100,000 miles. These are just a few of several maintenance milestones your car will require. Find out what your car’s manufacturer recommends and stick to it to avoid more costly issues.
Just like stepping lightly in a new pair of shoes can help keep them from showing wear, driving gently can help reduce wear and tear on your car. This means slowing down for big bumps or potholes, taking corners at a reasonable speed, and avoiding putting your foot to the floor before your car has warmed up. Driving hard puts more stress and strain on your car’s components. Over time, these “joy rides” can put your car’s condition into an expensive tail spin.
Know Your Dash
You know all those annoying lights that appear on your dash? Usually, they come on to alert you to things that don’t signal an emergency for your car, such as a burned out tail light, low on fuel, or that you are not wearing your seat belt. As a result, you might assume these “nanny lights” can be ignored for while. But while some check-engine lights can be deferred for a day or two while you wait to see your mechanic, there is one light you absolutely cannot ignore, and that’s the oil pressure indicator. If this light appears on your dash, you must pull over and stop the car immediately. This light means that your car has suddenly lost oil pressure, which will cause friction and heat to build up in your engine. This can weld your engine together permanently in less than a minute. Unless where you’re headed is worth the cost of a new engine, pull over and wait for a tow truck.
Keep It Clean
You may not think that how your car looks has much bearing on how it drives, but this isn’t entirely true. Dirt, grit, and the salt used to melt road ice in the northern states and Canada can cause damage to your car’s paint and undercarriage. This can lead to rust, which can make your car deteriorate faster and, if serious enough, reduce its crash safety. Even in warm, dry climates, dirt can grind down upholstery and leather, wearing out the inside of your car. Just as you’ll need a regular schedule for conducting maintenance on your car, you should also make a habit of cleaning it regularly.
You don’t need to know a lot about cars to keep your car running, but you do need to know a few basics and be informed about what’s recommended for the make and model you own. If you treat your car well, it is likely to return the favor in reliability and longevity. Putting regular maintenance into a car that’s running just fine can be tough for frugal-minded people, but while you may hate handing that cash over to your mechanic, what really pays his bills are the big repairs only he (or she!) can help you avoid.