How to Make Your Car Make Your Automobile Last Longer
and Avoid Costly Repairs

Motorists can easily double or even triple the life spans of their present cars simply by performing proper maintenance, practicing good driving habits and avoiding the kinds of mistakes that send most cars to the junkyard.

Many Common Mistakes

Mistake: Failing to observe the "break-in" period. Drive gently during a new car's first 50 miles, and vary your speed for the first 500 miles of the car's life. Failing to do so results in improper seating of the piston rings, which leads to increased oil consumption throughout the life of the car. Also, change the oil promptly after the first 1,500 miles to eliminate bits of metal and grit found in a new engine.

Mistake: Making sudden starts and stops. Accelerating aggressively only to slam on the brakes at the next traffic light doesn't save time, but it does cause needless wear on your engine, transmission, suspension and brakes, and it wastes gas.

Better: Anticipate traffic patterns to keep your speed as constant as possible.

Mistake: Downshifting needlessly. In the early days of automobiles, brakes were so unreliable that prudent drivers always shifted into a lower gear when descending hills or approaching busy intersections. Today, brakes are very reliable and far less costly to repair than engine and transmission components.

Rule: Use engine braking only when descending a long, steep grade. At all other times, use your brakes.

Mistake: Driving hard with a cold engine. Engine wear occurs most swiftly not during high-speed driving but in the first moments after a car has been started, when the cylinders are starved for oil.

To avoid trouble: Before driving off, let your engine idle with your foot off the accelerator pedal for about one minute. Once you're under way, drive slowly and avoid using your heater and other accessories until the engine reaches its normal temperature, usually after about three minutes.

Special dangers: Accelerating briskly with a cold engine can cause the engine's head gaskets to fail. Premature use of accessories expedites wear of engine bearings.

Mistake: Shifting gears haphazardly. Manual transmissions cost less and are cheaper to maintain than automatics, if you learn proper shifting techniques. Picking too high a gear for a given speed "lugs" your engine. Picking an excessively low gear causes it to "overrev." Both waste fuel and damage your engine bearings.

Better: Shift so your speed remains between 2,000 and 3,000 revolutions per minute (RPM). Use overdrive settings only for speeds greater than 45 miles per hour.

Common problem: With many manual transmissions, shifting from neutral to first gear causes an audible grinding of the transmission's synchronizer rings.

Remedy: Avoid shifting directly from neutral to first gear. Instead, move the shift lever briefly into second, then shift into first gear. And never rest your hand on the shift lever or your foot on the clutch pedal. Use your right foot for both the accelerator and the brake. Use your left foot for the clutch.

Mistake: Driving with dirty and/or worn-out oil. For many motorists, oil maintenance means simply adding the occasional quart of 10W40. In fact, 10W30 offers far more protection against engine wear than 10W40.

By the time you're a quart low, it's time for another oil change. Change conventional motor oil once every three months or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Better: Switch to synthetic oil. It costs a few dollars more but offers superior protection.
To keep oil clean between changes, select the biggest oil filter that will fit. Most cars come equipped with a short filter but will accept either a short or a tall filter. The tall one always provides better filtration.

If you live in a dusty environment, installing a bypass oil-filtration system provides an extra measure of protection without voiding your car's warranty. Cost: About $80 plus labor.

Avoid oil additives. Despite testimonial claims, they neither reduce engine wear nor boost performance.

Mistake: Driving with dirty fuel. Clean fuel is essential for long engine life. Replace your fuel filter every 24,000 miles or two years, whichever comes last.

In either case, stick to the recommended fuel. Using regular gas in a car designed to run on premium causes "knocking," which can quickly destroy the engine. Using premium gas in a car designed to run on regular wastes gas and money and causes drivability problems.

If your car has fuel-injection, never let your tank drop below one-quarter full. Cornering on an almost-empty tank can momentarily disrupt the flow of fuel to the fuel pump, shortening its life.

Mistake: Failing to guard against weather damage. To reduce exposure to sunlight and environmental threats, keep your car garaged or at least covered. If your car must remain outdoors without a cover, put a dashboard-protecting sunscreen in your windshield and park so that the car faces a different direction each day. This helps "spread out" sun-induced damage, such as a cracked or faded interior. Use silicone spray twice a year to preserve weather stripping and rubber surfaces.

Mistake: Ignoring your antifreeze. Antifreeze not only keeps your car working in cold weather but also helps prevent rust and corrosion. For optimal protection, use a 50-50 antifreeze-water mix.

Important: Use distilled water, not tap water. Change the fluid every two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Better: Install the new Dexcool antifreeze, which is good for five years or 150,000 miles.

Mistake: Overtightening the lug nuts on your wheels. Though it sounds trivial, improperly tightened lug nuts or bolts represent a big source of trouble for car owners. Too much lug-nut torque, and your brake rotors will warp and cause your brake pedal to pulsate. Too loose, and your wheels will not be securely attached.

Problem: Many mechanics tighten lug nuts with air wrenches, which are notorious for overtightening.

Mistake: Failing to perform "hidden" maintenance tasks. While owners' manuals usually specify how and when to perform the most crucial maintenance tasks, they often provide incomplete information about other key tasks.

Examples: Manuals typically say nothing about brake fluid, which should be changed once every two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. This is especially true of brake fluid in antilock systems.

Power-steering fluid should be changed every three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Timing belts should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles, and timing chains every 100,000 miles to 150,000. miles.

Without regular use, certain systems quickly fall out of adjustment.

To avoid trouble: Run your air conditioner and your defroster at least once every two weeks. Release and reapply the parking brake daily/weekly. Applying the parking brake keeps a car from rolling away and also keeps the brake itself from "freezing up" or falling out of adjustment. Operate your antilock braking system monthly. Ask your mechanic how to test the ABS safely.

Mistake: Failing to recharge or replace an old or weak battery. Besides increasing the risk of leaving you stranded, a weak battery causes wear on the alternator and the starter. Both need a good power source to operate properly.

To avoid trouble: Replace your battery six months before it is due to expire. Check the date on the battery's sticker. Choose the biggest, most powerful battery that will fit under the hood.

This image is a theme.plist hack