The July 1, 2009 edition of Bottom Line Personal, one of my favorite publications, included an excellent column on car maintenance tips. Columnist Eric Peters, author of Automotive Atrocities! The Cars We Love to Hate, shares his tips for maintaining cars and extending their useful life. As the owner of a 19 year-old vehicle, I appreciated the tips, and wondered if my vehicle would be in better shape had I read this several years ago when I first started driving it.
Five Maintenance Tips For Getting To 300,000 Miles
1. Keep your battery charged. This is especially important if you don’t drive your car that often. If you plan to let a vehicle sit for more than a couple weeks, you should invest in a “trickle charger,” or battery tender, which plugs into a regular household outlet and keeps your battery fully charged, automatically. I have a battery tender for my lawn tractor battery for winter months, and it guarantees a strong start in the spring.
2. Keep at least half a tank of gas in the car. Plenty of reasons not to let your car run on fumes, but one I had never considered before reading this article is that an empty gas tank is more prone to rust. The rust can leach into your fuel and clog filters and fuel lines downstream. Rust could also eventually eat through your gas tank leaving a hole. At today’s gas prices, who can afford for that to happen!
3. Don’t forget the tires. When you fill up your gas tank, or every couple weeks, whichever happens more frequently, be sure to check your tire pressure. If you drive an older vehicle like me you’ll need to pick up a tire gauge. Look at the label inside the door, or in your owner’s manual, to find the correct tire pressure for your specific model. Low tire pressure causes things like uneven wear on your tires and decreased gas mileage.
4. Change the oil. There is some debate in the frugal car owner world on whether or not you should change your oil as often as prescribed by car manufacturers (and those express oil-changing facilities). I’m no expert, but I think you should stay pretty close to the suggested schedule, only deviating a month or two, or a couple hundred miles. Peters agrees with me. Besides, a $30 oil change is much cheaper than a new engine, and if you are ultra frugal, you can even change your own oil!
5. Be kind to your clutch, and your brakes. If you drive a car with a manual transmission you know at some point you will likely have to replace the clutch. But you can extend the life of your clutch, and your brakes, by not riding either one for long periods of time, and by using your accelerator (or not using your accelerator) to coast a bit as traffic ebbs and flows.
Automobiles are becoming more and more expensive these days. In fact, next to buying a home, it is probably the largest single purchase most people will make in a lifetime. Use the steps above to increase the chances your vehicle will last well beyond your car loan, guaranteeing you many years of debt-free driving.