5 Tips to Make Your Car Last for the Long Haul

With economy faltering, keeping your current vehicle in shape should be priority No. 1

By NorCalCars guest writer Chris Somerville

Car Maintenance

With major manufacturers continue to announce plummeting sales numbers and millions of Americans struggling to get by, it’s clear that not many people are buying new cars these days.

Take a drive down your local “Auto Row” and it’s more than likely that you’ll see one or more major dealership stripped of vehicles with “FOR LEASE” signs papering the windows.

And while gas prices have dropped from their $4+ per gallon spike in 2008, consumers have curtailed much of their free-wheeling gas usage due to the worsening economy.

With all the uncertainty happening, keeping your current vehicle in tip-top running condition should be top priority. Here are five simple things you can do to help extend the life of your vehicle.

Change Your Oil & Filter

Most manufacturers recommend changing your engine oil every 5,000-7,500 miles of driving, however that is usually based on “ideal driving conditions,” which is not clearly defined in most drivers’ minds.

What most people think of as “normal” driving would actually be considered “severe”, and includes frequent short trips (fewer than 10 miles, especially in cold weather), stop-and-go city traffic driving, driving in dusty conditions, and driving at sustained highway speeds during hot weather. For this type of driving the standard recommendation is to change the oil and filter every 3,000 miles or six months.

Performing oil changes on a regular basis is cheap insurance against engine wear, and will save you money in the long run if you plan on keeping your car for more than three or four years. It’s very uncommon to see a well-maintained engine develop major bearing, ring, cam or valve problems if regular oil changes have been performed.

Check the Tire Pressure

Because there are only four points of contact to the ground with your multi-ton vehicle --the tires-- making sure they are properly cared for will definitely help with safety and fuel economy.

Studies have shown that maintaining proper tire pressure, observing tire and vehicle load limits (not carrying more weight than your tires can safely handle), avoiding road hazards, and inspecting tires for cuts, slashes, and other irregularities are the most important things you can do to avoid tire failure.

By properly maintaining your tires, you will:
  • Improve vehicle handling
  • Help protect you from avoidable breakdowns (tread separations, blowouts and flat tires) and accidents
  • Improve fuel economy
  • Increase the life of your tires

Change the Coolant

Keeping your engine running smoothly depends on lots of things, and controlling the heat generated by an internal combustion engine is no small matter –- especially in extremely hot or extremely cold conditions.

You should flush the cooling system and change engine coolant at least once a year. Fresh coolant will keep the cooling system in good shape and prevent corrosion and deposits from building up inside the engine. And it will keep your car from overheating in the summer or freezing over in the winter months.

Check the Fluids

Cars are friction-making machines and making sure all parts are lubricated, topped off, and running smoothly is a complicated job made easier with planned preventative maintenance.

In addition to checking engine oil and coolant, be sure to check and top off the transmission fluid (automatic and manual), differential fluid, brake, power steering, clutch fluids and battery water level. By regularly checking your fluids, you can easily spot potential leaks early on, saving you major repair costs down the road.

Keep It Clean

Keeping your vehicle clean not only will make you feel good about driving it around town, it will also help prevent build up that can cause paint corrosion and damage. And be sure to give the underside a good wash down as well, as road solvent, grit and grime can build up on suspension and body parts leading to future damage.

A clean vehicle also holds its value better, as the exterior is the first thing a person sees when they are looking to buy a used vehicle.

By following these few simple maintenance tips you can add years to your vehicle’s life and be able to predict potential upcoming problems by having a better overall picture of its “health”. And by keeping your vehicle in top running condition and looking good, it could turn out to be one of those “classics” that’s still running strong decades down the road.

Chris Somerville is a freelance automotive writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his Web site, Somerville Custom Publishing, for more information.