As one of the biggest purchases you'll ever make, it makes sense to take care of your car so it lasts as long as possible. Here's ten things you can do to prolong its life, and save yourself a few dollars along the way.
1) Keep It Serviced
Probably the most obvious one on the list, but also one that's often overlooked. Modern cars can easily exceed their scheduled service intervals without you actually noticing – but the reality is that you're doing your engine no favors by neglecting it.
Always stick to the recommended service intervals, and there's no harm in performing them a few hundred miles early or more frequently if you're planning to keep the car for a long time.
A well maintained car will not only last longer, but it will also be more fuel efficient, have better performance, and hold its resale value better.
2) Don't Ignore Issues
Can you hear a knocking noise over bumps that wasn't there before? Maybe there's a bit of a grinding sensation when you go around left hand turns?
Don't just turn up the stereo and hope it will fix itself - it won't. A neglected wheel bearing that has started to go bad can cause the hub to overheat, which can cause damage to the CV joint and a much larger and more expensive repair.
A radiator fan that's on the blink could cause the car to overheat in traffic, which can blow the head gasket... There are lots of examples of components failing that can have snowballing effects.
If you think something's on the way out don't wait to find out what happens when it fails!
3) Don't Skimp On Oil
Oil is the lifeblood of the engine, and old contaminated oil will shorten its life. Don't use cheap oil, always go with the manufactures recommendations, and never exceed the oil change intervals.
When you change the oil always replace the oil filter. For added benefit, rather than using an engine flush (which can be overly harsh on some engines), consider refilling with a cheaper oil, then changing again after a couple of hundred mile with quality name brand oil.
If that sounds like a load of work, perhaps you should look into buying a vacuum oil extractor – It makes oil changes a quick and painless affair as the oil is extracted through the dipstick tube, rather than messing around underneath the car.
4) Keep It Clean
It may sound a bit dumb, but keeping your car clean will prolong its life. Dirt and grime encourage rust (particularly in the winter months with salt on the roads). While your car may have a galvanized body, few of the components in the under carriage are rust resistant. Bushings, and suspension components will have a shorter life expectancy if they're neglected and left covered in muck – so get out there with the hose and keep it clean, even the parts you can't see!
Keeping the paintwork in tip top condition with regular washes, and occasional polish/wax sessions will also add to the car's resale value. Finally, never leave bird droppings on your paintwork – remove it as soon as you see it. It will eat through the paintwork and leave permanent damage behind.
5) Warm Up
The most damage is caused to an engine when you start it from cold. Cold oil is less viscous, and it is all just sitting in the oil pan when you start the motor. First, it needs to be pumped around the engine to lubricate that parts, but secondly, it has to get warm before it becomes effective.
Getting the engine up to temperature quickly is good for the engine, so contrary to popular opinion, don't start it up and leave it idling. It will take forever to warm up a cold engine when it's not under any load (particularly if it's a diesel).
The best practice it to start the engine, let it idle for just 30-60 seconds to allow the oil to circulate, then drive gently for the first few miles until the engine is up to its normal working temperature. Never rev the motor excessively when cold. Once the temperature needle starts to move, or the heater blows warm, you are free to drive normally.
6) Cool Down
This is most important for cars with a turbocharger. If you've driven 'enthusiastically' at higher revs the turbo will be hot – very hot! So for the last couple of miles of your journey drive 'off-boost' as if you are taking your mom to the store.
This allows everything to circulate and cool down, rather than switching off a scorching hot engine, which can shorten the life of the bearings in the turbo by cooking the oil.
You don't want to just let it sit there idling either, as the lack of airflow will make the engine bay heat up. It's less of an issue on modern cars with water-cooled turbos but it's still smart to always start and end your journey with gentle driving.
7) Gears or Brakes
A wise man once said “brakes are cheaper than a gearbox”. If you're in the habit of slowing your car down by shifting through the gears, consider altering your driving style to rely on the brakes more than engine braking. It's still fine to do so, but just be mindful that it puts extra stress on the gearbox and the clutch.
To keep the transmission in good shape, changing up through the gears is best done smoothly by matching the revs when possible, and not quick shifting like you are running the quarter mile!
8) Regular Check Ups
Preventative maintenance is never a bad thing. Familiarize yourself with your car and the engine bay – remove the plastic engine cover (if there is one) and have a good look at all the hoses and wires.
Look for fluid leaks, and oily residue that could point to a leaking gasket. You don't need to be a mechanic to know when something looks wrong.
Check the car every couple of weeks as a minimum, including tire pressures and fluid levels and bring anything suspicious to the notice of your mechanic.
9) Thorough Workout
While it stands to reason that sensible driving is best for a car's life expectancy, driving gently all the time can actually be a bad thing!
Known by many as the 'Italian Tune Up' a dose of spirited driving can actually be beneficial. On older engines it can help to remove carbon deposits, and on diesel engines it is needed to clean the Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs). Get out on the highway when there isn't a lot of traffic and drive at medium to high rpm for a period of time to blow out the cobwebs, and regenerate the DPFs.
10) Lighten the load
What's in your trunk or cargo area? If you're like most people you'll be carrying more than your fair share of junk around with you. The heavier the car, the more stress there will be on the mechanical and suspension components, not to mention the engine.
While we're not talking about massive gains, it makes sense to ensure you're not carrying about unnecessary extra weight. If nothing else you may get a couple of extra mpg out of the engine!