Simple Tips to Extend the Life of Your Car

Small, affordable steps can lead to big savings

Simple Tips to Extend the Life of Your Car

With winter not far away, a lot of folks are prepping their cars for another cold-weather driving season.

While winterizing your vehicle will help it stand up to the cold and snow, there are several easy and affordable steps you should take all year long to help avoid costly repairs and add mileage to your vehicle's life.

Maintenance Starts in Your Glove Compartment

You already own the most important tool to keeping your car running longer and avoiding costly repairs. And it's probably in your glove compartment. Even though every vehicle's owner's manual includes a regular maintenance schedule to follow, only about half of all car owners actually adhere to it.

Stick to the manufacturer's recommendations for all routine maintenance. And getting checkups at regular intervals can help spot problems before they become more costly.

Don't have an owner's manual? Go to a dealer or online and download one. The few minutes you spend getting your owner's manual could save you hundreds of dollars later on.

Pay Attention to What Your Engine is Saying

The hardest working (and most expensive to repair or replace) part of any vehicle is the engine. Here are a few simple tips for keeping your vehicle's power plant humming for years to come:

  • Trust your nose and ears - Don't ignore strange noises and smells coming from your vehicle. Even if money is tight, it's worth it to get these issues checked out. They are often the first signs that something is going wrong.

  • Check and change engine oil - Nothing will ruin an engine faster than neglecting the oil. Check it frequently to make sure it is an appropriate level and have it changed according to regular service intervals listed in your owner's manual.

  • Buy gas only at reputable service stations - Ask whether the gas you buy is filtered at the pump and if the station has a policy about changing the pump filters regularly. If not, go somewhere else. Dirty fuel lowers engine life.

  • Don't fill up if you see the tanker - If you see a truck filling the tanks at your local gas station, come back another day or go to a different station. As the underground tanks are being filled, turbulence can stir up sediment that can clog fuel filters and fuel injectors.

  • Clean your engine - It will pay off to have your engine professionally cleaned. When all the grease and grime is removed, it's easier to spot leaks.

After the engine, the transmission is the second most costly part to replace. In addition to regular fluid and filter changes as prescribed in your maintenance guide, follow these steps to help keep your transmission in tip-top shape.

  • Go easy when you're stuck - Gently rocking in an attempt to free your car from snow, sand or mud is fine. But throwing your car from forward to reverse repeatedly, as well as spinning tires at high speeds, can generate lots of heat and spell trouble for a transmission.

  • Take a load off - Put less strain on your engine and transmission by shifting to neutral at red lights. Otherwise, the engine is still working to push the car even while it's stopped.

  • Maintain your transmission - Change the automatic transmission fluid and filter according to service intervals in your owner's manual.

When you think of preserving the life of your car, it's easy to forget about the little things. But small repairs can add up quickly. Here are just a few ways to avoid being "nickel and dimed" by some common minor fixes.

  • Keep it shiny - Paint does more than keep your car looking great. It is the first line of defense against rust and corrosion. Be sure to maintain your paint job with frequent washing and waxing.

  • Keep an eye on the battery - Check your battery regularly for corrosion around the cable ends. If you see corrosion, scrub it off with a wire-bristled brush and baking soda (remember to always wear safety glasses when working with your battery.) If it has removable caps, make sure the fluid level is up. If it is low, add distilled water. Do not use tap water.

  • Don't mix coolant colors - Not all coolants are the same. If you have green-colored coolant in your radiator, never mix it with pink-colored coolant. Improperly mixed coolants could damage your radiator.

A car is a big investment that you hope will provide you with many years of service. But to get the most out of your vehicle, you have to be willing to put some time, effort and money into maintaining it. While maintenance won't prevent all mechanical problems, it will help you get maximum mileage for your money.