Cars have come a long way over time, and newer models can be expected to give hundreds of thousands of miles of service under the right conditions. As the owner, you get to decide whether you go to the trouble to create those conditions. A few owners have managed to coax many hundreds of thousands – even millions – of miles from their favorite daily driver.
How do they do it? It turns out that the secret to making a car last pretty close to forever is not so secret after all. It’s mostly a matter of relatively simple techniques, diligently applied over the long term. Read on to find out what they are.
Know your maintenance schedule. We all know about regular oil changes, but lots of other things require regular maintenance as well. Transmissions, cooling systems, and driveline components like differentials and transfer cases, are just a few of the things for which manufacturers have established recommended service intervals. Your owner’s manual or a repair manual should list them. Follow them to the letter and you’ll be amazed at how long some things will last.
Find a skilled and trustworthy mechanic. There isn’t a car out there that will always be trouble-free, even with impeccable maintenance, so it’s important that when problems arise, you know who to turn to. Find a shop you feel comfortable with, and develop a relationship with them before problems occur, and you’ll be in a much better place when they do come along.
Be aware of your driving style. Habits such as taking speed bumps and turns too quickly, and lead-footed acceleration and braking are not conducive to long vehicle life. Driving deliberately but gently is far more kind to your car’s components, which will repay that kindness with a long service life and fewer repairs. Your brakes, engine, transmission, suspension, not to mention your fuel economy – all of it is very sensitive to driving style, so tread lightly on those pedals.
Get up close and personal. Spend some time under the hood, and get to know your car a little. Check the fluid levels, the belts and hoses, the battery terminals… get an idea of the layout and function of all those mechanical parts. Being more interested and in tune with your car might not have a clear financial benefit at first (other than what you save by doing upkeep yourself), but it really is an essential part of building a long-term relationship with your car.
Exterior care. Of course, there’s more to your car than just the mechanical bits. Maintaining your car’s finish will serve the practical purpose of protecting your car from rust, as well as preserving its aesthetic character. Information about exterior care techniques is widely available, and it’s up to you how much effort you put into this part of your car. Thoroughly detailing your car may or may not be how you want to spend every weekend, but basic regular care is essential to preserving the paint job as long as possible.
Basic safety precautions. You might not usually think about this one, maybe because it’s so obvious. Even so, it bears repeating that if you tailgate, pass dangerously, or are otherwise a menace on the road, then your car is less likely to come through it unscathed. An accident can end a car’s life just as effectively as mechanical neglect. Of course, you can’t prevent all accidents, but careful and courteous driving is an essential ingredient to a long automotive life expectancy.
Be proactive – fix a problem before being forced to. If your car starts making a sound or a warning light, you can either pay attention to it or you can turn up the radio and continue blissfully on your way. This second option might be easier, but the longer you wait, the more you’ll regret waiting. Before a breakdown or similar situation arises, do yourself and the car a favor, and get that funny noise diagnosed. If it’s nothing, you get peace of mind. If it’s serious, then you’ve saved money and hassle by catching it early.
Take on small repairs yourself. You might ask, how will this help your car last longer? A fair question. First, we’re talking small repairs here, not major work that’s risky for the inexperienced. The idea here is to give you the confidence to fix small problems that can crop up as automotive components age, instead of giving up on the car (effectively ending its life) once these little problems accumulate. If you become accustomed to some small-time wrenching on your car, you’ll take it in stride when it starts pulling high-mileage shenanigans. You won’t despair when one of your turn signals doesn’t work in rainy weather, for example, because you’ll say to yourself, I’ll bet I can fix that. And chances are, you can.
Take it easy at startup. A cold engine is at its most vulnerable. Its lubrication is reduced, since it hasn’t had oil flowing over the moving parts, and in general, engines just run better when they’ve reached a normal operating temperature. With that said, there is no need to let a modern engine “warm up” in the morning before driving, the way you would have done in the ‘70s or ‘80s. Even so, you’ll want to drive relatively gently for the first 30 seconds or so, until the engine warms up a little. Little by little, doing so will add miles to your car’s life.
Keep the inside clean. Many times an old car will run just fine, but the interior will be showing its age and then some. No matter the mechanical condition of your car, the interior should be a place that you can enjoy being in for the long term, and that’s fully functional. A proliferation of fast food wrappers, receipts, dirt and leaves, and all the rest, aren’t doing you any favors, and we all know that the longer you leave something dirty, the harder it is to ever clean it again.
Start with a car you like. It might sound trivial at first, but how you start out can make all the difference. Choosing a car that you wouldn’t mind sticking with for years is important. If it’s everything you need and provides some level of enjoyment and satisfaction, you should be good to go. If it doesn’t fit around you and your lifestyle, then you probably won’t want to go the distance, and put in the effort that that requires.
No long-term storage. As easy as it can be to forget things in the trunk or backseat, the extra weight does nothing good for the overall life of your car. Not only will it drag down your fuel economy in the short term, but, much like driving aggressively, carrying extra weight will gradually shorten the useful life of nearly every major system of your car. So whether it’s that full set of golf clubs or one of those strollers that can carry two kids at once, take it out of the car when it’s not being used. The extra bit of exercise won’t hurt, and your car will breathe a silent sigh of relief.
By using these steps, you can expect to keep your car operating and looking great practically forever (or at least a really long time!).