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Extending the Life of Your Used Car

by Traci Benoit
March 19, 2009

Extending the life of your can help not only you and your car, but also your budget. Continuing to drive your used car instead of buying a new car and having to make payments can keep that money if your pocket. The money you will spend on maintenance and up-keep of the used car is still far less than what you would pay for purchasing a new car. Although, it's a trade-off. New cars comes with warranties that provide worry-free ownership. It's up to you to weigh the benefits of buying used vs. new. If you decide to buy used or hold onto your current car, here are some maintenance tips to stretch your used car maintenance dollars to their furthest.

Many people start searching for a new vehicle once the manufacturer's warranty expires, but this is unnecessary. A used car can be reliable well beyond the years of what the manufacturer's warranty covers, even if you opt for the extended warranty. As long as your used car is well maintained and taken care of it can be reliable for many years.

A maintenance program should begin upon buying a brand new car for the longest life, but even if you buy a used car, starting a maintenance program right away can save you money and keep your car on the road longer.

Begin with the basics by having the oil changed every 3000 to 5000 miles, depending on the specifications in your owner's manual. Some manufacturer's recommend driving more miles between oil changes, but, it never hurts your vehicle to change the oil a little earlier than recommended. The oil filter should also be changed and a brand new filter at each oil change. Changing the oil is one of the easiest maintenance tasks that you can perform yourself. If you are not comfortable with the process, any automotive repair shop or dealership can change the oil in your car. If you change the oil in your car yourself, you will save a little money, but you will have to properly dispose of the used oil yourself (usually by taking it to a local used oil drop-off location). One of the advantages of having a mechanic change your oil is that they can look at other areas of your car for a quick inspection to see if there are any other major problems going on under the hood.

All fluids should be checked at every oil change and flushed out and changed every two years or as your owner's manual recommends. This includes the cooling system, which is vital to the longevity of your used car. The air filter can also be changed on this schedule.

Another used car maintenance basic is making sure the tires are in good shape and have good tread life left. The old trick with a Lincoln penny still holds true:

  1. Grip a penny by pinching Lincoln's body between your fingers.
  2. Put his head into a groove of the lowest area of tire tread.
  3. If you can see any part of Lincoln's head above the tread, you need new tires.

This ensures that your tires will still be safe while driving in bad weather. Tires should also be rotated every 6000 miles for maximum longevity and kept properly inflated for even wear and improved fuel mileage.

Shocks should be replaced every 50,000 miles. This may not seem like something that would affect anything but ride quality for yourself, but bad shocks can cause wear on other parts of the suspension.

Brakes are one of the most important areas to maintain, but are often overlooked or forgotten when it comes to vehicle inspection. Brake fluid should be checked with each oil change and brake lines should be checked for leaks. Brake pads should be checked and changed according to wear. If you hear a metal-on-metal noise when stepping on the brakes, take your vehicle for a brake inspection immediately. Most vehicles have wear indicators on the brake pads that will alert attentive owners that the pads need replacing.

Some parts under the hood should be changed and replaced before they fail. For instance, if your car has over 100,000 miles on it there are parts that need to be replaced even if they are still working. The water pump should be replaced each time you change the timing belt, which should be changed every 80,000 miles for maximum vehicle longevity. These two parts are easier to change at the same time as you have to remove the timing belt to get to the water pump. The fuel filter should be changed annually for a car with high mileage on it even if it is supposed to be a 'lifetime' filter. Your alternator should be changed every five or six years if you don't want to wait for it to go out (and leave you stranded).

While most used car owners wait for these systems to fail before replacing them, a little prevention can save you thousands of dollars down the road. Many engines utilize an "interference" design and if the timing belt breaks while the vehicle is running, the valves can collide with the cylinders and destroy the entire engine. 

Lastly, washing your car with automotive soap is also important. Using dish liquid or any other soap can actually damage the paint. Also, waxing your car protects it from acidic substances such as bird droppings, road tar and other paint-ruining contaminants. Lastly, keep your car parked inside a garage or under a carport when not driving it. If this type of parking is not available, get a waterproof car cover. Keeping the elements off of your car will help keep the outside looking good.


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