10 Tips To Keeping Your Car Running (Almost) Forever
Owning a car doesn’t have to be a short-term relationship – you can save a trunk-load of money by keeping your car, rather than replacing it on a whim. And you don’t have to be a mechanical genius to keep that odometer spinning well into the six digits, but car care does require a determined mindset. Just follow VroomGirls’ ten easy tips.
By Aaron Gold
Tip #1: Start with a good car
Almost any car will last for decades if you take care of it, but some cars are more prone to trouble than others. Japanese cars are legendary for their reliability, but don’t dismiss American cars, which have improved somewhat these last few years and are usually cheapest to repair. European cars can be troublesome as they age and tend to be the most expensive to fix.
If you’re going for the long haul, consider buying a gently-used car with 20,000 or 30,000 miles — you’ll save money on depreciation.
Tip #2: Stick to the maintenance schedule
Follow the maintenance schedule in your car’s owner’s manual religiously. Do exactly what it says to do, exactly when it says to do it, and resist the urge to do more — your oil-change shop or dealership may recommend extra services, but if it isn’t in The Book, you don’t need to do it. Be aware that some cars may need expensive car care at higher mileages. Stay the course — remember, you’re setting your car up for the years ahead!
Tip #3: Find a trustworthy mechanic
Dealerships have the proper tools and training, but they are expensive and some are downright shady or shoddy. As your car nears the end of its warranty, start looking for a good mechanic. Ask friends and family for recommendations. When you find a mechanic, tell her (or him) that you plan to keep your car forever and that you’re looking for a long-term business relationship. Hopefully, this will make them realize that asking you to make unnecessarily repairs will drive you away.
Tip #4: Keep a repair fund
Cars do break, and there’s nothing like a $1,500 repair bill to scare you into the new-car showroom. Remember that your old car would have to generate at least $5,000 worth of repair bills every year for five years running to cost as much as a new car. In almost all cases, fixing your old car is less expensive than buying a new one.
Once your car is paid off, start putting a couple hundred bucks per month into an interest-bearing account as your repair fund. Keep it around $2,000, and you should have plenty of reserve to cover unexpected repairs.
Tip #5: Drive carefully
Just like your mama said…But actually, you don’t need to baby your car; occasional foot-to-the-floor acceleration can be good for it. But don’t drive aggressively all of the time — it’s hard on your car (as well as your nerves). Avoid accidents at all costs; besides the potential for injury, extensive accident damage can make it difficult to repair the car to like-new condition. Once a car is in a major accident, it will never ride as well as it once did.
Tip #6: Keep your car clean
Your car’s paint not only keeps the car looking good, it also protects the metal underneath. Washing your car regularly, cleaning up tree sap and bird poo as soon as possible, and having the car waxed every four months will keep it looking new for decades.
After you wash your car, open the hood, the trunk and the doors and give everything a thorough wipe-down (use a dry towel). Water can permeate these areas. Also, wipe dust from under the hood. A clean engine reminds your mechanic that you care about your car and are paying close attention.
Tip #7: Be aware
Always be on the lookout for strange noises, unusual smells, vibrations, or anything that just doesn’t feel right. Don’t let a mechanic or dealership tell you “that’s normal” — if you’ve been driving your car for years, you know what’s normal. It’s a good idea to let a friend drive your car every year or so; some problems, like worn steering or a worn brake feel, creep up so gradually that you might not notice them. If your car feels fine to you but your friend thinks it drives like a death trap, it’s time to see the mechanic.
Tip #8: If something breaks, fix it right away
Part of keeping your car forever is wanting to keep it forever. Little things like torn upholstery, broken trim pieces, or electrical glitches can gradually turn the car you love into an old heap you hate. Don’t let those minor annoyances add up — fix everything as soon as it breaks, so as to keep your old car feeling new and cheerful.
Tip #9: Learn about your car
Consider taking a class in basic car care or auto repair. You don’t need to become a grease monkey to keep your car forever, but if you know how your car works, you’ll have an easier time identifying trouble and you’re less likely to get ripped off by an unscrupulous mechanic. Women, especially, are at risk for being ripped off by mechanics. Knowledge is power!
Tip #10: Know when to let go
Most cars can and will run for decades, but there are certain circumstances when it’s time to let go. If your car is involved in a severe accident that bends the frame or body structure, it might be difficult to repair the car to like-new condition — you may face ongoing issues with tire wear, steering alignment, or future crashworthiness. Have a serious discussion with your body shop about your car’s long-term prospects. And if you live where it snows, have your mechanic check for rust in structural areas whenever the car is up on the lift. If the rust gets bad enough to erode the car’s structural integrity, it won’t protect you in an accident.
Bonus tip: Brag!
If you enjoy people’s reaction when you tell them your car has 150,000 miles on it, wait until you see their faces at 200,000 miles. If they rib you about your ancient wheels, rib them about their car payments and high insurance rates. Keeping your car forever saves you thousands of dollars every year. Whenever possible, gloat — you and your car have earned it!
Here’s something for which your car can aspire: A 1966 Volvo P1800 owned by Irv Gordon, a retired school teacher from Long Island. Irv’s Volvo has done 2,930,000 miles and still has its original engine. Irv attributes his Volvo’s longevity to regular maintenance and to never letting anyone else drive his car. (Your author, and Jay Leno are among the people he has politely turned down.)