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How to Keep Your Car Running Forever

You can spend a fortune on a new set of wheels, or follow these steps instead

Illustration of hands on car steering wheel
Christoph Niemann

Have you noticed the price tag for a new car lately? The average cost is right around $48,000. That’s just 20 grand less than the U.S. median household income. Even buying a used car can break the bank these days.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, unless it’s starting to resemble the Flintstones car, you probably don’t have to replace the vehicle you’re driving now.

Cars have come a long way from our teenage years, when the rides we inherited from our parents would literally oxidize into a jigsaw crumble of rust before our eyes. Today’s autos, if maintained properly, will keep running for hundreds of thousands of miles. Just follow these simple guidelines.

Filter yourself

Your car is loaded up with filters, meant to keep all the gunk in our ruined world from entering its delicate systems. Air filters. Fuel filters. Oil filters. Even cabin air filters to prevent contaminants from entering your ventilation system. These filters are inexpensive — compared with catastrophic failure — and generally pretty easy to swap out yourself.

“It's the labor that gets expensive,” says Tony Quiroga, editor in chief of Car and Driver magazine. “Even though an air filter probably takes a mechanic five minutes to change, they'll charge you for half an hour of labor.”

Get the junk out of the trunk

It’s easy to throw things into your trunk and just forget about them. But all that extra weight can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on all systems, including your tires, brakes and suspension, says David Bennett, a master automobile technician certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “Get rid of that bowling ball from last week’s league game and all that sand from your household project,” Bennett says. “There's no reason to carry that on board.”

Join a community

Just about every car out there has its own online club or community dedicated to sharing maintenance tips and tricks. Reddit, AutoGuide and Car Talk are full of car enthusiasts with plenty of wisdom to share. Just run a search for “Car Forum” and your car’s make and model, and let the learning begin.

Create your own oil-change schedule

Modern cars have onboard electronic monitors that tell you when to change your oil. “A lot of cars don't even have dipsticks anymore,” says Quiroga, which prevents you from being able to check the levels on your own.

Quiroga warns that some manufacturers “push the intervals out as much as they can,” so they can advertise cheaper and more appealing annual maintenance figures. He advocates changing your oil more frequently than most recommendations — every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, or twice a year.

Use synthetic oil

“If I'm choosing between synthetic and conventional oil, I'm always going to go synthetic,” Quiroga says. It’s more expensive than traditional motor oil, but it’s better engineered and offers superior longer-lasting lubrication for your engine, he says.

Stop idling

Running your car while it is sitting still for extended periods places additional and unnecessary stress on the engine. “If you're stuck in a traffic jam and it looks like you’re going to be sitting there for a while — if the weather’s good — go ahead and put it in park and shut it off, open the windows,” Bennett says.

Buy the more expensive gas

Always opt for premium fuel that meets or exceeds standards for added detergents — cleaners that help prevent carbon deposits from building up in your motor. “Carbon deposits can build up over time, and then they can cause performance issues with the engine itself,” Bennett says. In other words, don’t opt for the cheapest gas you can find at a gas station that isn’t a recognizable brand name. You’ll pay a little bit more for the good stuff, but it’s worth it.

Have a re-TIRE-ment plan

When it comes time to buy new tires, don’t go looking for deals. The tires that came with your car when you drove it off the dealer’s lot were picked for an optimal combination of handling, ride quality, fuel efficiency and noise. Steven Lang, a used car broker, recommends that when it’s time to go tire shopping, look online under your specific make and model — Tire Rack, Discount Tire and Pep Boys all offer this option — instead of bargain hunting. “If you buy cheap parts, you usually get bad results,” Lang says.

Follow Article Topics: Money-&-Career