Whether you’re a student that just bought their first car and need to keep it running as long as possible, or someone who just bought a brand new vehicle and want to get your money’s worth, everyone wants to keep their vehicle in tip-top shape. We’re going to list some of the best ways to keep your car going as long as it can.
- Change the oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months.
Changing your vehicle’s oil may go without saying, but you may want to have it changed more often than you currently are; even if you’re using higher-quality oil. Having your oil changed more frequently will keep the engine running as well as it possibly can. On top of that, however, oil changes are when many other (otherwise unnoticed) issues are caught before they turn into a bigger problem. Depending on where you get your oil changed, or if you it yourself, the person who performs the oil change will check your other fluid’s levels and look for any leaks or anything else amiss.
- Rotate your tires every other oil change.
This is another one that probably doesn’t need to be told to anyone who has owned a vehicle before, but is always worth mentioning. Again, this is not only important to keep the wear on your tires even, but is an opportunity to check for any hidden issues that may be bigger problems down the line. By checking your tread during a rotation you can determine if your alignment is straight and if your tires are at the proper PSI. If one tire’s tread is much higher or lower than the other tires, you should get your alignment checked. And if the inside and outside tread is significantly different, you may be over or under-inflating your tires. This is also a good opportunity to measure your tires PSI and check for leaks.
- Use higher-octane fuel
This is one many people may not know about, what kind of fuel you use effects not only your fuel efficiency, but your vehicle performance and the life of your engine. The “octane rating” is the number you see next to the fuel pump, usually on the button to press to select your fuel. Typically, engines are designed and tuned to run using the highest octane available, somewhere around 91-93 octane. The higher the octane level, the more oxygen is contained within the fuel, and so less fuel needs to be burned for combustion. Long story short, most engines simply don’t have to work as hard when using higher octane fuel, extending the engine’s life. Keep in mind, some vehicles are designed and/or tuned, such as FlexFuel engines, to run on lower octane fuels like E85 (which, as you might have guessed, has an octane rating of only 85). In these instances, I would use whatever octane the manufacturer recommends.
- Keep your RPM’s low.
One way to extend the life of your vehicle is to simply take it easy. Try not to get over halfway to the redline (typically 3,000-4,000 RPM) on your tachometer. By keeping the RPM, or rotations per minute, low, you reduce the strain on your vehicles drivetrain. By using less fuel to accelerate, you not only save gas, but you keep your engine cooler and your transmission doesn’t have to work as hard. That means this is reducing strain on two of your vehicle’s most expensive components, the engine and transmission, which cost thousands to replace, or even just to repair. Sure, keeping RPMs low may not be any fun, but still more fun than your car breaking down!
- Wash your car.
Another one you may be doing anyway, and if you aren’t, you really should be. Washing your car is one of the easiest ways to prevent rust from building up and eating away at essential components of your vehicle. Be sure to wash the underside of your car, which many “touchless” car washed neglect, so you may have to go to a self-serve car wash or get a hose. It is especially important to wash the underside of your car if you frequent gravel roads or live in a state where they treat the roads with salt during the winter months. This salt can build up on the underside of your vehicle and eat away at the metal underneath if left alone for too long. On top of all this, your car will also look a lot nicer!
- Use fuel system cleaners.
Fuel system cleaners are vital to adding longevity to your vehicle. Over time, carbon deposits build up in your engine as well as the rest of your fuel system. Over time these deposits can damage your fuel system or even clog it entirely. You don’t have to use them very often, I’ve tried several and will list a couple of my favorites below. Each product will recommend how often it should be used, but using any of them two or three times a year should be plenty.
- Inspect your vehicle.
This is one that seems simple, but can easily save you a lot of money and headache down the road. This is something you I recommend doing in the fall of every year, before harsh weather comes around. This could be as simple as having someone who knows their way around a car (maybe even yourself, in that case) or taking it in to your local mechanic and paying for an inspection. There are many oil and lube service stations that will happily perform this service for you as well, just be sure you trust whomever you take your vehicle to, as they may try and quote you for a repair you don’t actually need.
- Check your spark plugs
Spark plug are an often neglected maintenance item. If your vehicle has over 60,000 miles on it, you will want to go ahead and take at least one spark plug out and inspect it. If it looks black and corroded, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and replace them. A spark plug is what ignites the air and fuel mixture in your engine’s cylinder, and is vital to keeping your engine running at peak performance and preventing misfires. Typically spark plugs are not very expensive, and can be replaced fairly easily without going to a mechanic. If your car is pushing 100,000 miles and the spark plugs have never been changed, or you simply aren’t sure when they were last changed, it is probably a good idea to go ahead and replace them anyway. Always make sure you replace all of your spark plugs at the same time.
- Ignition coils
Another often forgotten about maintenance item is ignition coils. Typically, you’ll want to change these out around 100,000 miles, and are usually very easy to replace in conjunction with your spark plugs. Ignition coils are what send the electricity to your spark plugs, and so without good ignition coils, good spark plugs still won’t function properly, and can still cause misfires.
- Check your fault codes.
Even if your check engine light isn’t on, it’s still a good idea to plug in an OBD II scanner and check for any logged fault codes. Fault codes are what your vehicle’s computer generates when it detects something is amiss. If what the vehicle detected was an anomaly, or doesn’t happen often enough, it will log the fault code without triggering a check engine light. So, your vehicle may know something isn’t as it should be without you ever knowing, unless of course you check the fault codes. It’s a good idea to do this as often as possible, but taking a couple minutes every month to do it should make it so you catch any minor fault codes before they become a bigger problem. For example, if your car detects a single misfire in a single cylinder, the check engine light will flash but will not stay on. So if you don’t notice the light while it flashes, your vehicle may have an infrequent misfire you don’t know about, and a misfire is something that only tends to get worse as time goes on, and can damage certain components of your vehicle.
- Baby it.
Plain and simple, take good care of any vehicle and it will be reliable. That doesn’t mean it will last forever, but it greatly reduces the chance it will catch you by surprise with a costly repair. Be a good steward whether you own a 20 year old Honda or a brand new Mercedez. Take pride in what you drive and don’t be afraid to spend a little money keeping up on its maintenance. It’s just like the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, so a few bucks here and there can save you a fortune down the road.