Prolonging Your Car's Life
There are a number of things that can and should be done by every auto owner to prolong the life of his/her vehicle. Preventative maintenance will increase the likelihood of catching a small problem early and will decrease the likelihood of being stranded with an inoperable vehicle. Likewise, the owner who engages in preventative maintenance will be more likely to be aware of the subtle hints that vehicles often give that parts are starting to wear.
Preventive Care and Maintenance
Check the fluids in a vehicle on a regular basis. Generally speaking, all fluids should be clear and brightly colored. Dark, dirty looking, opaque fluids are old and need to be replaced. This is true of oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid, coolant and even windshield wiper fluid.
Systems with old fluid should be flushed, usually on a two year schedule, by professionals. Fluids can be checked using a dipstick or often through the transparent reservoirs that contain the fluid under the hood.
Air filters are the last chance to get everything out of the air that is used in the engine before it passes into the small, sensitive passageways and sensors of the intake system. It is important that air filters be changed regularly to prevent dust and road grime from getting into these passageways.
Likewise, oil filters keep engine-lubricating oil clean. If the engine oil is contaminated and engine lubrication suffers, engine life will be reduced and catastrophic failure could result. Filters must be maintained by being checked and replaced at the recommended interval.
Protect the Engine
Aside from fluids and filters, checking belts, hoses and general conditions is important. Any time the hood is open, take an opportunity to inspect the belts and hoses that are visible. Belts can be checked by looking for signs of cracking where the belt bends around a pulley, looking for worn or burned spots, and feeling for moderate tension of the belt.
Hoses should be gently squeezed. A soft hose is a hose that should be replaced. Spark plugs should be replaced as recommended by the manufacturer as should the timing belt. A failure of the timing belt means, at best, an un-drivable vehicle and at worst, a ruined engine.
A check engine light should never be ignored. Check engine lights can be related to transmission, ignition, or emissions systems and may indicate that the vehicle should be immediately pulled over.
Check the Tires
Tires should have their pressure checked each month and maintained to the recommended level in order to prolong life and improve traction. Tires should also be rotated regularly so as to avoid uneven wear. During rotation, tire alignment should be checked.
Mis-aligned tires will wear irregularly and require replacement earlier. Tire wear may be checked by inserting a penny on edge, with Lincoln upside down but facing out, in the tread. If the top of Lincoln's head is visible, the tire is worn out.
Air Conditioning and Heater
Unknown to many drivers, the pump that pressurizes the air conditioning system is only lubricated when it is run. The air conditioner should therefore be periodically run, even in winter, to keep the pump well lubricated. Likewise the heater should be briefly turned on in the summer months to cycle its systems.
Monitor the Brakes
Brakes should be continuously monitored aurally and visually inspected every few months. Any grinding, squeaking, or scratching sound during braking should be investigated as it is usually a sign of brakes in need of replacement.
Aside from these specific tips, there are some best-practices that should be observed. Become familiar with a vehicle's manual and comply with the manufacturer's recommendations. Be aware of the feel of the vehicle and investigate any changes in sound, feel, smell, etc. Keep the car clean, inside and out, so that changes will be visible.
Use covering, both interior and exterior, to avoid sun damage. Be sensitive to seasonal changes and check systems (coolant, air conditioning, tires) accordingly. Make early, small fixes to paint, glass, and interior surfaces before the problem grows. Keep the gas tank full and consider disconnecting or removing the battery if the vehicle is going to sit for long periods of time of time.
In addition to good ownership habits, a vehicle's lifespan can be increased by good driver habits. When an engine is new, it may require break-in procedures as described by the manufacturer. These may include special procedures or reduced intervals for fluid changes. Additionally, any vehicle should be allowed to warm up after start and before placed under driving demand. Short trips should be avoided where a cold car is started, driven for a few minutes and then shut down.
For short trips, consider other means or allow the vehicle to come to full operating temp before shutdown. Smooth driver technique should be standard such that gentle acceleration, slow deceleration and smooth cornering is practiced and shifts are made to keep RPM in the desirable range with minimized engine braking. Finally, the parking brake should be used regularly so as to maintain its adjustment in relation to the regular braking systems.
With these simple techniques of ownership and driving, a vehicle owner can realize increased safety and reliability over the lifespan of the vehicle. Vehicle life can also be maximized through observation of good maintenance practices and proactive repair of minor problems.