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Preventative maintenance to coax more miles out of your car

The current state of the economy is changing the traditional American love affair with the automobile. Instead of trading in for the newest model, many people are finding their current car has to last for another year or even more, so they have to pay more attention than normal to preventative maintenance.

Wait til it strands you

Chris Grosso of PartsGeek LLC (Auto Parts Geek) has some advice for those of us who aren't prepared for this task.

"Auto maintenance can be done two different ways," he says. "Either you can wait until something breaks, or you can replace parts before that happens with a regular preventative maintenance schedule. Although it may seem more expensive at first, it's actually a lot cheaper and involves a lot less hassle."

Replacing a part before it breaks may seem wasteful at first thought. But consider that you get to choose when the repair is done, not your luck. It also saves on towing, downtime, and often time lost from work or recreation.

Maintain at your Convenience

The simplest and most valuable car maintenance involves replacing parts that wear over time, such as brake pads, belts, and radiator hoses.

Unfortunately, many of these parts can’t be put on a miles-or-years automotive maintenance schedule, because the amount of wear they’ll accrue depends on a number of factors. Brake pads, for example, may last 40,000 miles if you do a lot of open roads driving. But if you haul trailers, ride your brakes, or spend a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic, that may be shortened to 25,000 miles or even less.

Windshield wiper blades, another wear item, are influenced by your local area’s weather and environment, as well as where you park your car. They last longer if a car is garaged, not so long if they’re sunbaked or subjected to salt from icy winter roads. Wiper blades are relatively inexpensive, and for installation require nothing more than a pair of pliers or a screwdriver, so there’s no reason not to keep a spare pair in the trunk for a rainy day.

If you keep your car for a long time, you may even need to replace the clutch kit. Like brake pads, the length of time and number of miles your car’s clutch will last depends upon a number of factors, such as the amount of uphill and downhill driving you do. But roughly speaking, a performance car’s clutch will usually last between 50,000 to 80,000 miles. A German sedan, such as a BMW or Mercedes, will generally last between 80,000 to 120,000 miles, while a Japanese family car such as a Toyota or Nissan may last as long as 150,000 miles.

On a manual gear shift, slipping clutches can eat up your fuel economy, making your car more expensive to drive. The investment in a clutch kit is well worth the time and effort. A clutch beginning to slip can be so gradual in its rate of failure that you may not even notice it until that fatal day when the car doesn’t move when you put it in gear.

If you do find that you need to replace your clutch kit, make certain you replace the whole thing--the disc, cover, release bearing, and the pilot bearing if your car is equipped with one. Have your mechanic check the flywheel, and resurface or replace it if necessary. Although it may be tempting to skimp, the amount of money you might save isn’t worth the risk involved.

In the past, shopping for auto parts could be a trial. Even if you went to the store with the part to be replaced in your hand, you could be left wondering if you were getting the right one for your vehicle. Another concern was the quality level of the parts you were purchasing. If they didn’t measure up to the manufacturer’s standards, that could mean another repair bill in the not-too-distant future.

But the Internet has changed the way people buy replacement auto parts. "Purchasing parts online for a preventative maintenance program is really simple," says Grosso of PartsGeek. "Online prices are very competitive and knowledgeable Internet shoppers know how to protect themselves and get their merchandise delivered when they want it. On the best auto parts websites, you should have a choice between parts made by your car’s original equipment manufacturer, parts made to their quality standards by another company, and remanufactured or rebuilt parts. These varying quality levels should be clearly stated on the website."

A useful item to help ensure you keep up your automotive maintenance schedule is Vehicle Maintenance Software. Especially when you have multiple vehicles it can be difficult to remember to what needs to be done and when. Simple vehicle tracking software that can be installed on your computer can be downloaded from the Internet from many websites.