Silver car driving down road

How to make your car last longer

By Jim Smart,

Used to be 100,000 miles was the longevity target when cars were defined as old at the age of seven. One hundred thousand miles –dump that old clunker.

But not anymore.

It is often said they don’t build them like they used to. They sure don’t – they build them better than they ever did. It is easy to get 200,000 miles out of a vehicle even if you don’t take care of it. Today’s cars and trucks are as rugged and dependable as they’ve ever been thanks to better technology, tougher materials and manufacturing techniques, and advances in lubrication.

If you want to make your car last and get the most of your new-vehicle purchase dollars, plan on keeping that new vehicle for at least 15 years. Drive it to its fullest. Use it up and get your money’s worth.

Follow these simple high mileage car maintenance steps to achieve bang-for-the-buck longevity.

1: High-performance synthetic lubrication

The best form of health insurance you can give your car is clean lubrication on a regular basis. If you have the budget, invest in synthetic engine oil and follow the manufacturer’s recommended viscosity and change intervals for both oil and filter. While it’s true that synthetic oils cost more, they help to significantly lengthen your oil change intervals, which can save you money in the long run and give your engine great protection. If you’re on a limited budget, opt for synthetic blend or conventional engine oil and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.

The beauty of a synthetic engine oil such as Mobil 1™ is the extraordinary way it functions in your engine. It stands up to extreme heat and punishing loads while resisting oil breakdown. And because it maintains its lubricant properties longer, it also improves fuel economy. Synthetic may seem like a lot of expense, but consider what it saves you in maintenance, repair and fuel consumption. If you don’t drive very many miles, your engine doesn’t have much of a chance to warm up and burn off crankcase condensation, and if you live in an extremely dusty environment, oil changes need to occur more frequently.

2: Cooling system flush and fill

Cooling systems should be flushed and replenished with fresh coolant every two years along with a new thermostat. Every four years, all cooling components, such as water pump and hoses, should be replaced, along with a complete flush and fill. Your radiator should be closely inspected for blockage and corrosion.

Clean coolant along with a corrosion inhibitor can virtually eliminate cooling system malfunction issues. Any reputable auto repair shop can reverse flush your cooling system and service it with fresh coolant in about one hour. If your budget allows, investigate the use of a non-aqueous coolant that never has to be replaced.

3: Use manufacturer’s suggested octane rating

Choosing the right automotive fuel isn’t as complex as we try to make it out to be. All you really need to be concerned with is the fuel’s octane rating and percentage of ethanol. If you’re driving a newer vehicle, your only concern is the manufacturer’s recommended octane.

Octane rating isn’t about performance, but instead the fuel’s spark-knock rating. The higher the octane rating, the more stable the fuel. In other words, octane indicates how much compression the fuel/air mixture can take before it ignites. It also indicates how quickly the fuel ignites.

In the old days, tetraethyl lead was used to increase octane levels. Since the 1980s, when lead was removed from automotive fuels, other additives have been employed as octane enhancers, such as benzene and ethanol. Today’s octane ratings range from 86 to 93 depending on where you live. Most motor vehicles operate fine on 86 to 87 octane without spark knock. High-performance vehicles want more octane in the 91 to 93 octane range. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to ascertain the right octane for your car or truck.

Older vehicle exhaust valve

4: Classic cars in a new age

When tetraethyl lead was removed in the 1980s, many feared it would put classic cars out to pasture. Tetraethyl lead, aside from its octane- enhancing qualities, also lubricated exhaust valve seats. When lead went away, older vehicles began eating up exhaust valves and seats.

To achieve longevity in older engines with iron exhaust valve seats, you want stainless steel valves and hardened steel exhaust valve seats, which will stand up to harsh unleaded fuels and allow you to use your classic daily driver for years to come.

5: Tire mileage vs. tire time

In recent years we have started paying closer attention to tire age as well as mileage. We’re always proud when we can squeeze extraordinary mileage out of a set of tires. However, as tires age, they deteriorate from stresses, temperature variances and UV rays. New tires are flexible and tolerant of all kinds of conditions but gradually lose flexibility because lubricants and chemicals that keep them flexible go away over time, making them unsafe and more prone to failure.

You need to know how to tell if you need new tires. Although you may have tires with a lot of tread life left in them, they may not have a lot of life left in them, especially if you have allowed them to become underinflated or you live in a harsh environment such as the desert. Replace tires when they reach the age of five to six years old or when you begin to see dry rot cracking or tread separation.

Chassis lubrication

6: Regular chassis lubrication

Although very few new vehicles call for chassis lubrication these days, there are some that still require lube jobs. And if you own a classic car, you know where all of its grease jerks are. Every time you change engine oil, perform chassis lubrication. This keeps the steering linkage and universal joints operating smoothly. And don’t forget lubricating door checks, latches and locks while you’re at it.

7: Emissions control system

This is easily the most neglected part of an automobile, but surely one of the most important systems. Catalytic converters tend to be life-of-the-vehicle components, yet they should be checked every 100,000 to 200,000 miles for optimum performance. Oxygen sensors should be checked at every tuneup.

8: Transmission service

Automatic transmission service should be performed regularly –follow your manufacturer’s recommendation. I personally suggest replacing the fluid and filter every 20,000 to 30,000 miles. As automatic transmissions operate, friction material from clutches and bands gets into the fluid, causing unnecessary seal wear and ultimately causing transmission failure. Clean fluid is key to long transmission life because it minimizes seal and friction material wear and tear.

9: Replace serpentine belt

In this age of maintenance-free everything, there are some components that require periodic service. Accessory drive belts of all kinds require replacement. Old school V-belts should be replaced every 30,000 miles or when they look dry rotted and worn. Late-model serpentine belts are good for 75,000 miles.

Mechanic rotates and inflates tire to make car last longer

10: Tire rotation and inflation

Tire maintenance and care should include regular rotations (tires rotated from front to back on the same side, never crisscross), proper inflation, and routine front-end alignment. If you stay on top of these tasks, you will get maximum tire life and avoid tire age safety issues.

11: Brake maintenance

Consistent brake maintenance should include new pads and shoes as wear mandates. And when you replace pads and shoes, replace rotors and drums. Although it is common practice to turn drums and rotors on a brake lathe during a brake overhaul, cutting rotors and drums tends to weaken the material. And if there is warping, no amount of machining will remove the irregularity permanently. You will get pedal gyration shortly into the new brake job.

Your brake hydraulic system should be completely flushed every two years. Because mineral-based brake hydraulic fluid is hydroscopic in nature, it tends to absorb moisture. Moisture in brake fluid boils, causing a sponging pedal and poor brake performance. Fresh brake fluid every two years, along with a cooling system flush, keeps your brakes safe and reliable.

Wheel bearing maintenance for car longevity

12: Wheel bearing maintenance

Although a lot of today’s new cars and trucks have sealed axle bearings and hubs, there are still a lot of vehicles on the road that call for wheel bearing maintenance. Wheel bearings should be cleaned and inspected any time you perform brake maintenance. Scored rollers and races call for bearing replacement. Always replace axle seals when you perform wheel bearing service. Bearings should be generously packed with high temperature wheel bearing grease. Never grease the axle spindle.

13: Change your fuel filter

When was the last time you replaced your fuel filter? If you’re like most of us, you cannot remember and that’s because fuel filters are largely out of sight these days on new cars and in some cases have been eliminated altogether. Fuel filters should be replaced every 25,000 miles to ensure your engine gets clean fuel. On closed fuel injection systems, loosen the fuel filler cap to depressurize the fuel system.

Car battery for vehicle longevity

14: Regular battery care

Lead acid storage batteries are virtually maintenance-free these days. They are sealed and require very little attention, though some still need to be topped off with distilled water occasionally. Battery terminals should be cleaned and tightened periodically along with a good charging system check. Overcharging can kill a battery more quickly than undercharging. Leaving a battery in service too long can also do significant damage to your engine compartment if the battery has lived beyond its prime and is venting electrolyte, which is sulfuric acid.

When performing cooling system and brake flushing every two years, have a reputable repair shop check your vehicle’s charging system. Where possible, the specific gravity of each battery cell should be checked. The alternator and voltage regulator should be in good service able condition along with the drive belt and wiring.

15: Sensor/control maintenance and replacement

Talk about something none of us ever thinks about. We perceive electronic engine control (fuel injection and ignition) as maintenance-free and it largely is. However, it can malfunction and do engine damage without you even knowing until it is too late. Electronic engine control systems consist of the following sensors:

  • Mass Air Flow
  • Intake Charge Temperature
  • Throttle Position
  • Coolant Temperature
  • EGR Position
  • Oxygen
  • Manifold Air Pressure
  • Fuel Pressure Regulator
  • Idle Air Control
  • Fuel Pump Relay
  • Fuel Pump Impact Switch

When you perform a tuneup, which is basically nothing more than spark plugs and ignitions coils/harness, check all sensors and inspect the wiring harness. Never ignore a Check Engine light. Ascertain the malfunction and correct immediately.

16: Ignition system

Automotive ignition systems work very hard and they are certainly forgiving of neglect. To keep your ignition consistent and reliable, replace the spark plugs, ignition wires and coils at the same time. I recommend using only platinum tip spark plugs and ignition components; consult your manufacturer’s recommendations.

Mechanic works on car air conditioning and climate control

17: Air conditioning and climate control

Because auto air conditioning woes tend to be expensive and time consuming, car owners tend to ignore them until cabin temperature becomes unbearable. Your car’s climate control system requires annual maintenance and care. Every spring, have your air conditioning inspected, checked for leaks and serviced with refrigerant as needed. The compressor and all connections should be checked for traces of refrigeration oil, which indicates refrigerant leakage. Leaks must be fixed. The loss of refrigerant and oil can lead to compressor failure and expensive repair. Annual maintenance in the springtime is good preventive maintenance.

18: Drive axle service

Differentials need love too, calling for regular fluid changes every 25,000 to 30,000 miles. Keep in mind your drive axle, be it front-or rear-drive, operates at very high temperatures and under some of the toughest conditions imaginable. Clean fluid breathes longevity into an axle package, saving you money and logging more miles.

19: Take care of cosmetics

With all this attention being paid to keeping the mechanicals up, you don’t want to forget cosmetics –exterior finish, interior, trim work and a host of other important elements. When you allow your vehicle’s appearance to slide, it allows you to become careless about everything else because there’s no longer pride in what you’re driving.

Stay on top of vehicle upkeep –such as washing, waxing and keeping the interior up. And when trim items and interior parts deteriorate from use, replace them to give it a fresh look. When you’re driving a vehicle you feel proud of, you’re more inclined to take care of all maintenance items and reach that half-million-mile mark.