The secret to keeping your aging car young?
Create and use a car care checklist.
Driving a car longer can be a smart move financially, especially if it’s paid off. R.L. Polk reports that the average age of a passenger vehicle in the U.S. has increased to about 11 years. That’s up from nine years back in 2000.1
Create a checklist
Caring for an aging car doesn’t have to be complicated. Consult your owner’s manual for a schedule of routine and recommended services and use that to create a car maintenance checklist for yourself. Between major services, keep up with the routine tasks listed below. Be sure to park your car on a level surface and engage the emergency brake before opening the hood.
With the engine off, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Reinsert and remove again, this time check the oil level markings on the stick. If the oil level is low, add the proper weight oil specified in your owner’s manual. If you notice bits of metal in the oil or the oil is very dark, it’s probably time for a complete oil change. Be sure to replace the filter every other oil change.2
Tip: If your older car burns oil, consider checking the level every time you fill up. It’s a simple step that can help avert big problems and engine damage.
Alternatively, if you have a newer car you may have an electronic oil-level gauge in place of a traditional dipstick. In this case, your car will notify you when it’s time to add or change the oil with an automated alert on the dashboard.3
Remove the radiator cap after your car has cooled down. You should see fluid near the top. If not, top off the fluid with the type of coolant specified in your owner’s manual. Be sure to inspect the overflow container, too. A lot of fluid in the container can be a signal that something might be wrong. It’s probably a good idea to let a service technician check it out.
Perform this check monthly with your engine turned off, but still warm. Locate the transmission fluid dipstick (consult your owner’s manual). Remove the stick and wipe clean. Then reinsert and remove it again to check the fluid level. If your car doesn’t have a dipstick, make sure your mechanic checks the transmission fluid as part of regular service.
TIRE PRESSURE AND TREAD
Driving on underinflated or overinflated tires can affect your mileage and handling. So, it’s a good idea to keep a tire gauge in your glove box and check the pressure in your tires monthly.
Check tread depth by inserting a penny into the tread. If the depth is below Lincoln’s head, consider replacing them. 4
Regular rotations and alignments ensure tires wear evenly (and will last longer). Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for how often to do that.
Check hoses frequently for splits, holes and to make sure they haven’t become too dry. If you spot a problem (or a problem in the making), replace the damaged hose with a new one right away.
Drained or dead batteries are the cause of many roadside woes. Visually inspect your car’s battery on a regular basis for signs of corrosion or leaks.5
It’s a good idea to carry jumper cables in your car as well. You may also want to invest in an inexpensive portable jump starter.
Baby the engine
One of the best things you can do for an older car is to handle it gently.6 Let the engine warm up before driving. Avoid jackrabbit starts and sudden accelerations. Some experts suggest letting the engine run at least 30 seconds before driving off. Give it a bit more time if it has been parked for more than 24 hours. This lets the oil warm up and begin to circulate so the engine is properly lubricated when it starts working hard. In short, be kind to your aging car. You’ll be rewarded by faithful performance and reduced repair costs down the road.
1 How to Care for An Aging Car (PopularMechanics.com)
2 Top Five Ways to Make Your Car Run Forever (Edmunds.com)
3 Why the Dipstick Is Dying (Jalopnik.com)
4 How to Know When to Replace Car Tires (YourMechanic.com)
5 The Preventative Maintenance You Need to Do on Your Car (Lifehacker.com)
6 High Mileage Vehicle Maintenance Checklist (TheBalance.com)
Make Your Car Last 200,000 Miles (ConsumerReports.org)
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