Financial planners everywhere received good news yesterday that their message might finally be getting through.
Southfield, Michigan-based automotive research firm Polk announced that Americans are driving older cars longer than ever before. The average age of that car you just passed on the road? 11.1 years for cars and 10.4 years for light trucks. While this is certainly a sign that economic conditions have been horrible, coupled with the recent news that credit card debt is finally declining, there’s a growing feeling that people might be evaluating expensive car purchases more carefully. I hope this trend continues.
So if you want to stretch out your car’s life, how do you keep it reliable?
Change Fluids And Filters Regularly
Nearly everyone knows to change the oil and filter on a regular basis, but don’t forget other fluids and filters.
In college, I was an oil changing fiend, but discovered too late about the little miracle called transmission fluid. I learned the uber-expensive way that this should be changed every time you change the car’s coolant. The transmission work I ended up eating? It cost me every cent and more that I’d been stashing away for a new computer. Ouch.
Air filters are important also. Your car engine needs to breathe to run well. If the air filter is clogged, there’s a better chance of problems down the line. When I change my oil I’ll check the air filter and nearly always replace it. Air filters are cheap, while a new car is expensive. Consider it low-cost engine insurance.
Inflate Your Tires
Missing this simple step can have huge implications: lower gas mileage (costing you money), possible alignment problems (costing you money), wear on other suspension-based parts (guess what….costing you money) and finally, your safety (costing you more dearly than money). Remember that changes in temperature affect your tire pressure. Just because you checked a few months ago doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a quick peek today to make sure your tires are ready to roll. Care for an older care requires frequent checks across the board, because there’s a greater threat that something may break.
Cool The Engine
Think it’s hot outside in the summer? Try sticking your head in the engine compartment. Car motors run at silly-hot temperatures. Using a good coolant and changing it according to directions can add years to your ride’s life. Depending on your vehicle, experts recommend changing coolant every 24,000 – 30,000 miles. While you have the hood open, check your engine hoses. Nothing should be dripping or leaking from any hose. By keeping hoses intact and the engine cool, you’ll avoid the ultimate nightmare: a complete engine meltdown followed by a full-on emotional meltdown.
Keep It Clean
Frequent wash-and-wax of your paint job keep the car sparkling and prevent rust. It also helps hold up the resale value for that day when you’ll finally sell the vehicle. Don’t forget the interior. Catching spills quickly, vacuuming the interior and shampooing carpets can keep your older car looking like new. If gauges fail, have them repaired immediately. For someone caring for an older car, checking engine gauges often is your key to successfully keeping your ride on the road.
Find A Good Mechanic
Similar to visiting a doctor for a yearly physical, you should take your car to a qualified mechanic regularly to check out and avert any potential problems. Remember the key here: the longer your older car runs, the longer you’ll avoid costly car payments. Paying a few dollars to the right mechanic is a small price to pay to keep your vehicle healthy and avoid much more expensive new car costs. By practicing good care for an older car, you’ll help your dollars stretch so you can use them for more important items on your agenda.
That’s our story…now it’s your turn: do you drive an older car? What tricks do you use to keep it running longer?