Top 20 Easy Tips to Make Your Car Last Longer
There’s never a good time for a car problem. Your car is an invaluable part of your daily life — and you want to make sure it remains in great working condition for years and years. No matter how old your car is, it can still run safely and reliably. Here are 20 easy and effective tips to make your car last longer:
- 1. Pay Close Attention to Minor Problems
- 2. Follow the Service Guidelines
- 3. Clean Your Windshield Wipers
- 4. Warm Up the Engine
- 5. Cool the Engine Down
- 6. Keep the Car Clean
- 7. Keep a Close Eye on Your Tire Pressure
- 8. Avoid Harsh Braking Whenever Possible
- 9. Remove Any Junk from the Trunk
- 10. Keep Your Car Covered
- 11. Use Synthetic Oil
- 12. Give Your Car an Occasional Workout
- 13. Consider Comprehensive Car Insurance
- 14. Clean and Treat The Upholstery
- 15. Clean the Battery Contacts
- 16. Diagnose and Replace Faulty Electronics
- 17. Check Beyond Minor Dents and Scrapes
- 18. Clean Or Replace The Spark Plugs
- 19. Check For Leaks
- 20. Top Up The Coolant Fluid
- Final Thoughts
1. Pay Close Attention to Minor Problems
Minor issues with your car are all-too-easy to ignore. But you want to pay attention to any unknown sounds or sensations when driving. Seemingly small, insignificant issues can actually lead to big problems down the road.
For instance, problems with the radiator fan can lead to overheating, which results in a blown head gasket. Repairing the fan is quicker, easier and far less expensive than repairing the aftermath of a blown gasket.
Major car issues typically start small. You’ll hear an unexplained knock or ping. You’ll feel a slight pull when turning the wheel, or slight resistance when applying the brake. Don’t ignore these minor problems. Instead, find out what’s causing them.
2. Follow the Service Guidelines
The owner’s manual for your vehicle will have a detailed list of service guidelines. This guide will tell you what types of service you need at what mileage. For example, it might say to replace the oil every 7,000 miles and the coolant every 100,000. It’ll list the appropriate tire pressure, type of gas to use and much more.
Follow this guide closely. Above all other types of car maintenance info you might find online and off, trust that your car’s service guide knows what’s best. After all, it’s specifically created for the make and model of your car.
Much like with your personal health, regular checkups for your car keep minor issues from turning into big problems. Always have your car regularly serviced. While regular maintenance isn’t free, it’s far cheaper than paying for major repairs later on.
While the manufacturer will encourage you to have your car serviced at the dealership, any reputable auto shop is fine. Just be sure to note the dates and details of every maintenance appointment. Keep all receipts and relevant documentation from the service center, too.
3. Clean Your Windshield Wipers
Windshield wipers are easy to ignore because they’re only used intermittently (no pun intended). But windshield wipers play an important role in keeping you safe when driving through rain and snow. Regular maintenance doesn’t just keep your wipers in good condition, it also extends their life significantly.
Use denatured alcohol (above 91%) and a clean cloth to remove dirt and debris from the rubber portion of your wipers. You can then rub the wipers with fine sandpaper between 1,000 and 2,000 grit.
Regular cleaning increases the surface area of the wipers, which allows them to remove move water and debris away from the windshield. Also helps to reduce streaks.
Wiper manufacturers typically recommend replacing your wipers every year. But with routine maintenance, you can add another six months or even a year of use. When replacing your wipers, you only need to replace the rubber squeegee. The rod only needs replacement if bent, corroded or otherwise severely damaged.
4. Warm Up the Engine
This probably isn’t what you think. Modern cars don’t need to sit idle for a few minutes before being driven. This traditional “warm up” doesn’t help prepare the engine for long periods of driving.
However, there’s a different type of warm-up which helps extend the life of your engine. Start your car and let it run idle for just 30 seconds. Then start driving gently, avoiding excessive engine revving and high speeds for the first few miles.
The idea behind warming up your car is a good one. Cold motor oil is less viscous, which can cause damage to your engine. Warming up the oil helps prevent engine damage. However, an idle car will take a long time to warm the oil. Driving the car is the fastest, safest way to warm up the oil.
Of course, there will be times when you’ll have to let your car idle, such as when you’re trying to defrost the windows on a cold day. An idling car isn’t great for the environment. However, you also want to make sure your visibility isn’t impaired by ice.
5. Cool the Engine Down
If you’ve been driving at highway speeds for a few hours or more, you don’t want to just shut off your engine. Instead, you want to gradually slow your speeds for a few miles before arriving at your destination. This gives air a chance to circulate under the hood and cool the engine.
Your engine isn’t going to break if you suddenly stop and park. But taking a few miles to cool down the car will help reduce wear and tear over time. Cooling down is especially important if your car has a turbocharger, even a water-cooled one. Gentle driving to wind down a turbocharger after a long driving session helps extend the life of the charger’s bearings.
6. Keep the Car Clean
Most car care tips naturally focus on the internal workings. But don’t forget about the exterior of the car. Keeping your car clean isn’t just about looks. Washing your car on a regular basis also helps improve performance and increase value.
The top and sides of your car will almost certainly have a galvanized body, which helps protect against rust and corrosion. But many of the components underneath the car are vulnerable to damage from road salt, dirt, grime and other debris. When cleaning your car, use a jet wand to spray into the vehicle’s undercarriage.
You’ll also want to use polish and wax to help protect the sides and top of your car. If you can keep the original paint in great condition, you’ll be helping to maintain a high resale value.
Finally, remove any bird droppings from your car’s surface as soon as possible. The droppings contain chemicals which can erode paint and leave behind a permanent stain.
7. Keep a Close Eye on Your Tire Pressure
Your tires are where the rubber literally meets the road. Any tire problems will have a negative effect on your ability to control the car, which can be a huge safety issue. You’ll want to keep a careful watch on your vehicle’s tire pressure.
Tire pressure is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. You’ll find the appropriate PSI level for your car in the owner’s manual as well as on a placard on the inside of the door frame. Generally, the front wheels will have a different recommended pressure level than the rear tires.
Check your tire pressure at least once a month. Also, check your tires after any sudden cold spell, as the cold air can cause a drop in pressure. Aside from keeping your tires properly inflated, you’ll also want to rotate them according to the guidelines found in your owner’s manual. Rotating your tires helps extends their life by reducing wear.
8. Avoid Harsh Braking Whenever Possible
Don’t be too heavy with your brakes. Drivers who drive fast and brake hard are placing their brake pads under needless stress and strain. Plus, excessively harsh braking also waste gas and puts more pollutants into the atmosphere.
Ideally, you want to slowly and gently apply pressure to the brake pads. While some sudden braking will be necessary from time to time, don’t make it a routine part of your driving style. Slow the car by letting your foot off the accelerator, or downshifting in a manual transmission, before applying the brakes.
9. Remove Any Junk from the Trunk
Do you carry around a lot of stuff in your car? It might be time for a thorough car cleaning. Excessive weight can cause needless stress on the suspension as well as on a variety of mechanical components.
Suspension issues typically announce themselves – literally – with squeaks and clunking noises while you drive. You might also notice an increased stubbornness from the steering wheel. Severe suspension issues are more than just uncomfortable. They interfere with your ability to control the car and can be dangerous.
Every bit of extra weight in your car adds up over time. Non-car items are often the biggest culprit. Modern cars use lightweight metals and carbon fiber to reduce weight, as well as mini spare tires. You shouldn’t have any serious suspension issues as long as you keep your car free from excess weight. At the very least, a light car gets better gas mileage!
10. Keep Your Car Covered
Whenever possible, don’t park your car outdoors uncovered. Excessive exposure to the elements can cause many different issues. Excessive heat can damage your car’s interior. Excessive cold can lower the air pressure in your tires or even crack your windshield. Hail can crack glass, too, along with damaging the rest of the exterior.
The list goes on and on. A dry, secure building is the best place to leave your car unattended. However, a garage or covered spot isn’t always an option. If you do have to park outside, consider a cloth car cover. You can find thick ones which protect against rain and hail.
Sometimes a car cover isn’t always practical. At the very least, you’ll want to place a sunshield in your window. They’re inexpensive, easy to use and help protect your car’s interior from sun bleaching and even component melting. Perfect for when you leave your car outside during the workday.
11. Use Synthetic Oil
Motor oil is either synthetic or made from conventional fossil fuels. Most auto experts recommend synthetic oil over traditional motor oil. Synthetic oil is specifically engineered to provide the most lubrication across the widest range of temperatures.
Additionally, full synthetic oil helps keep your engine clean. It’s well-suited for stop-and-go driving as well as driving in locations with drastic temperature changes. Most newer cars are designed to use synthetic oil (check your owner’s manual to be sure).
While synthetic oil is a bit more expensive, it also lasts longer, which means you use less of it over time than traditional oil. Your owner’s manual will list when you need an oil change. Often the recommended service mileage will be quite a bit more than what’s recommended from your local quick lube place. Go with the recommendation from the car manufacturer.
12. Give Your Car an Occasional Workout
Have you ever heard of a maintenance practice called the Italian Tune-Up? This is a fun way to keep your engine in great shape. You drive your vehicle at moderate to high speeds for at least a half hour. Basically, don’t be afraid to get out somewhere secluded and put your engine through a bit of a workout.
Modern engines have a Diesel Particulate Filter, also known as a DPF. Driving at high rpms helps the DPF regenerate. This is a process where deposits are burned away by the hot temps of the engine. If regeneration doesn’t occur on a regular basis, the DPF can eventually become blocked, which affects performance and fuel efficiency. Not only is the Italian Tune-Up good for your car, but it’s also a lot of fun!
13. Consider Comprehensive Car Insurance
Liability coverage is required in every state. This type of car insurance helps pay for any damages you’re legally responsible for while operating your vehicle. This includes Bodily Injury and Property Damage coverage. This type of insurance is very common because its required in order to hold a driver’s license.
There are other types of auto insurance which are legally required, so they’re not nearly as widely used. Collision coverage helps pay for any damage to your car if you hit another vehicle or a fixed object like a guardrail or lamp post. Comprehensive coverage pays for damage from fire, hail, theft, vandalism and other non-collision incidents.
Extra insurance policies do come with extra costs. But those costs can be worth it if you’re faced with extensive damage. If you regularly park outside, comprehensive coverage can be especially useful as you never know what random damage might occur.
14. Clean and Treat The Upholstery
The longer you use your car, the more worn your upholstery will be. That goes double when you have children, pets, or cargo bouncing around in the back seat. When you clean and treat your car’s upholstery, you’ll ensure that your vehicle can survive the constant strain you put on it.
It isn’t very difficult to clean and treat your car’s upholstery, but the method that you should use will vary depending on the kind of upholstery that your car has. For example, cleaning and preserving a leather upholstery set will take a lot more effort than other types.
On the other hand, your leather upholstery set in your car will also last much longer and stay in much better condition if you take care of it longer. So, if your vehicles have a less expensive style of upholstery, you should remember that you may not be able to stave off wear and tear indefinitely.
The main tools that you’ll need to take care of your car’s upholstery are a vacuum, and either soap and water or a suitable fabric cleaner. Vacuum up all the small particles first, making sure to get deep into every nook and cranny — especially those seatbelt wells.
Then, gently apply soap and warm water or the fabric cleaner. You may want to avoid using spray-on fabric cleaners, as they probably won’t permeate the layers of the fabric. Afterwards, you should mop up the excess cleaner with a paper towel, and you’ll be good to go.
15. Clean the Battery Contacts
Much like the other parts in your car, your battery’s contact points with the engine’s cables can corrode. Once the battery contacts corrode, your battery is several steps closer to being out of commission.
Corrosion can occur for several reasons. First, there’s always the chance of some fluid getting on the contacts if you’re working on the engine. Whenever the hood of the car is up, your battery contacts are at risk.
If your car has recently been given a jump after having a dead battery, you’ve also exposed your battery to a high risk of getting corroded. Jumper cables are seldom kept in pristine condition and introducing pieces of dirt or anything else onto the battery contacts is bad news.
You shouldn’t clean the battery contacts unless you know what you’re doing, however. It’s relatively easy once you have the right fluids, but if you use the wrong fluids or touch the battery contacts in the wrong way you could get a nasty surprise.
If you do notice that there is something building up on your battery contacts, it’s okay to gently clean them with a simple cloth. Make sure to not touch both contacts at the same time.
Before closing the hood, you should double check to make sure that no fibers from the cloth or hair from your body has made it onto the contacts. Tiny pieces will burn off without causing much harm, but they might lower the durability of your battery contacts ever so slightly.
16. Diagnose and Replace Faulty Electronics
Everyone has had the experience of seeing the “check engine” light pop on. Most of the time, your car’s diagnostic indicators are telling you that there is a sensor which has malfunctioned rather than a critical part.
Nonetheless, you owe it to your car to investigate. If you have a diagnostic scanner, you can attach it to your dash and get a readout of your vehicle’s parts, sensors, and electronics. By taking a quick look at the scanner’s output, you can typically see when a sensor has failed.
Don’t accept that a sensor has failed, however. While sensors aren’t necessarily critical for your vehicle to drive, in many newer cars the sensors are used by the car’s computer system to regulate the vehicle’s power output and other functions.
So, if you leave these little sensors in their broken state, you’ll be weakening your vehicle’s ability to run at its most efficient and under the parameters which incur the least amount of stress on its critical parts.
Most sensors are easy to replace—or at least they would be if you could easily reach the spot where the sensors are located. You may need to check out a schematic of your vehicle’s digital components to know where the sensors are if one of them fails.
On the bright side, most of these faulty electronic parts are very inexpensive to replace. The car shop will charge you an arm and a leg for them, but mostly because of the high cost of labor.
17. Check Beyond Minor Dents and Scrapes
If your car gets tapped by a shopping cart while you’re in the parking lot, you’ll probably be tempted to write it off as an accident without any deeper implications. When you go to the auto body shop to get the dent fixed, it’ll be quick and inexpensive.
But even minor dents can cause damage to the underlying parts or sensors that you may not recognize at first. The problem is that dents and scrapes cause vibration shockwaves to percolate through your vehicle from the point of impact.
Sensitive electronics can often be damaged or destroyed by these shockwaves, but it may not become clear until much later. Likewise, sensitive mechanical components may become slightly warped or distorted by a strong bump.
You may not notice these small changes while you’re driving, but if there is a minor distortion of a mechanical part, it will become amplified with time. Or, it could operate less efficiently, causing strain to the parts which it interlinks with.
So, you should be sure to get your car checked out around the vicinity of wherever it got dented. By looking beneath the surface, you may find opportunities to prevent more extensive internal damage which would take a while to manifest.
The rule of thumb here is that the more substantial of a hit your vehicle received, the more likely there is to be invisible damage underneath the surface. Use your best judgment and remember that it may take some time for damage to become fully visible if it is underneath the fuselage.
18. Clean Or Replace The Spark Plugs
Your spark plugs are constantly exposed to a plethora of forces which can cause them to deteriorate. Whenever your car is running, your spark plugs are working hard to keep the engine running by initiating explosive combustion of compressed fuel.
Spark plugs are constructed from high-durability materials which can tolerate the constant wear and tear inflicted by these explosions as well as the electrical impulse which triggers them. Nonetheless, you may not always use the ideal form of fuel for your engine.
When your spark plugs are exposed to fuel which isn’t optimal, they may corrode more rapidly than they would otherwise. Especially when it comes to biofuels or fuels which don’t combust as effectively, your spark plugs will pick up the slack without you ever noticing.
It’s unlikely that the additional effort exerted by your spark plugs will cause them to fail in the short term, but it is also easy to replace them. Furthermore, spark plugs are very inexpensive to replace, but they’re a hassle to clean.
If you decide to clean your spark plugs, there are several special chemicals which you can use. These chemicals are typically hazardous, but the procedure will be as simple as letting the plugs soak in them overnight.
So, if you want to preserve your car’s livelihood, regularly replacing your spark plugs is an easy and fast way of guaranteeing your engine’s health during periods of sub-optimal fuel supply.
The only thing you need to be concerned about is making sure that the spark plugs you purchase are compatible with your vehicle’s engine.
19. Check For Leaks
When your car has a leak of some kind, it’ll be obvious if you check the asphalt after you’re parked for a few hours. But, if you never check for leaks, you may never realize that your vehicle is deprived of the coolant or oil that it needs to operate at peak efficiency.
In extreme situations, your radiator may even explode while you’re driving if coolant is leaking. This can be extremely surprising and cause an accident while you’re on the road, and it will shut down your plans for the day most of the time because you’ll need a tow.
It’s unclear why cars leak spontaneously, but it is probably caused the heat, pressure, and mechanical wear and tear emanating from the engine and regular driving. Fixing a leak is rarely easy, however.
For most leaks, you’ll need to take your car to the shop and get a professional to replace the line that’s leaking or potentially to make a weld if the leak is minor.
You probably should not attempt to mess around with any patch kits or welding of your own because the durability of your repairs will probably be lower than that of a professional’s.
The good news is that fixing leaks is often inexpensive for professionals. So, don’t procrastinate — the longer you let a leak sap your vehicle’s stores of fluids, the higher chance there is of a serious problem developing which can damage other parts or prevent your car from starting.
20. Top Up The Coolant Fluid
Topping up your engine’s coolant fluid is one of the easiest things you can do to make your car last longer. Coolant fluid is inexpensive to purchase, and if you’re not inclined to mechanical or automotive work, you’ll still be able to replace your coolant fluid without much hassle.
For most vehicles, you can replace the coolant fluid by unscrewing the cap of the semi-transparent coolant reservoir under your hood and pouring in some now coolant — preferably the same type of coolant that your car uses most effectively.
Your coolant fluid doesn’t need to be topped up too frequently, as only a small volume is consumed during regular use. If you need to top up the coolant fluid too frequently, it’s safe to assume that your car has a leak somewhere.
Thus, topping up the coolant fluid can keep you in the loop about potential issues with your vehicle so that you can address them early rather than having to deal with the consequences of a completely broken and unsalvageable part.
When you top up your coolant fluid, you should take care not to get any of the fluid onto your skin. Furthermore, you should try to avoid letting excess coolant runoff into grassy areas, as it can poison the soil.
Finally, be sure to keep your pets and children away from the coolant fluid as well as any runoff. If you think this will be an issue, you can purchase a non-toxic coolant.
The 10 tips above (along with a few bonus ones) are simple but yield big benefits. One common theme to long-term car health is to never ignore the little things. Identify and repair small issues before they become major concerns. Pay attention to any unusual sounds or changes in performance. They’re often a valuable diagnostic aid.
If you have a new car, the 20 tips above will keep it in great working order for hundreds of thousands of miles. Plus, the tips are also very useful for keeping older cars safe and reliable. Keeping your car well-maintained is actually easier than you may think, and you can enjoy the benefits every time you’re behind the wheel!