Getting from point A to point B by car costs a certain amount of dough, and thanks to recent record-high gas prices it takes more of your hard-earned money than ever before. But while you can't always control ownership costs such as fuel, repairs and insurance rates, one thing you do have power over is making your car last longer and maintaining its value. Here you have a choice: Either spend money on a new car every few years or keep your current car running great and looking sharp. If you decide to go the latter route, follow these 10 tips to help keep your ride rolling.
Even the most mechanically challenged drivers know to change a car's oil and oil filter on a regular basis — even if they don't always do it. But other fluids and filters also need regular maintenance. For example, changing your air filter helps your car breathe easier and the engine last longer. "If your air filter is clogged, your engine is not performing properly," notes Jack Nerad, editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "It also hurts your fuel economy, and it can harm the engine over the long term."
Keep It Cool
Maintaining your car's cooling system and the proper coolant level is as important as making sure the engine is well lubed and can potentially save you thousands of dollars in repairs. "A cooling system failure can result in your engine literally melting down," warns Nerad. "Because of lack of proper coolant and maintenance of hoses, you can have major problems."
Tires are often the most neglected part of a car, Nerad adds. "Most people don't pay much attention to keeping their tires at the right inflation pressure," he says. "And it's not only bad for the car, the tires and fuel economy, but it's also a safety issue. The simple step of keeping the tires up to proper pressure is valuable all the way around," he adds, "and it essentially costs almost nothing."
If there is a problem with your oil pressure, cooling system or even tire pressure on the latest vehicles, your car's gauges will tell you — if you're paying attention to them. "The vast majority of people don't," remarks Nerad. "That's why manufacturers went to 'idiot lights' to give a clear indication of when there's a problem."
Get Regular Checkups
Find a repair shop and mechanic you trust. "And let that shop service your car all the time," says Dave Jones, owner of Jones Automotive in Green County, Pennsylvania, and co-host of the Web site AskAutoPro.com. "When you get sick you don't go to a different doctor every time. Your doctor knows you from top to bottom, inside and out." A good mechanic will get to know your car and look over it the same way, Jones adds.
Jones also suggests spending time inspecting your car. "Every now and then, take five minutes and walk around the car and look at it," he said. Check to see if the tires are wearing unevenly. Open the hood and check out the hoses. Make sure all the lights are working. "It only takes a couple of minutes to check things like that," he adds.
Get on a Schedule
While your owner's manual will have a maintenance schedule, another advantage of using the same mechanics on a regular basis is they will be able to make sure you stick to the schedule — and take care of things the manual may not include. "If you go to different places each time you have your car serviced, they won't know the last time you had something done," says Aaron Clements, owner of C&C Automotive in Augusta, Georgia, and a 31-year auto-repair veteran. "So you may end up paying for unnecessary repairs. Most shops have electronic records so they know when each service was done. The scheduled maintenance charts in owner's manuals tell only part of the story," he adds. "So it's also a benefit to have a relationship with a service advisor who knows your vehicle and when to perform service in addition to what's in the owner's manual."
The way you drive has an effect on how long your car — and your gas — will last. "You not only save wear and tear by having good driving habits, but also fuel," claims Clements. "Taking off fast and coming to a stop quickly can be bad on a car and affect the engine, the brakes and other things."
Keep It Clean
Nerad also stresses taking care of the exterior of your car by regularly washing and waxing it. And don't forget about the interior. "That's an often overlooked area," he says. "Spend time keeping it clean and clean-smelling without perfuming it, and vacuum the carpet on a regular basis. Get spills out immediately because if you don't they're more difficult to remove."
Keep it Covered
Nerad also suggests storing your car in a garage or under a carport or cover. "Keep your car out of the sun," he says. "And keep it away from bird droppings and tree sap. Also be careful where you park to avoid dings," he adds.
Keeping your car maintained will not only make it last longer but also will make it much more pleasant to drive — which will make you want to take better care of it. "If you have a vehicle that looks good and you enjoy getting in it and driving, you're much more prone to take care of it," observes Clements." And since it won't last forever, taking care of your car will also increase the resale value. "It's very clear on our site that condition is crucial," says Nerad. "In real estate they say it's all about location, location, location, but with car values it's all about condition, condition, condition."
Doug Newcomb has been writing about automotive-related topics since 1988. His work has appeared in Consumers Digest, Road & Track, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and many other publications. His book Car Audio for Dummies is available from Wiley Publishing.
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