Eighteen years ago next month, my husband and I bought a new Chevy Silverado. For 14 of those years, it was our only vehicle. Our goal from day one was to make it last longer — maybe even twice as long.
We still have it. As I write, it's closing in on 250,000 miles — and still running great on its original front brakes.
This truck has turned out to be really cheap transportation. And the longer we drive it, the cheaper it gets, considering its per-mile cost.
Most cars and trucks are built to last far longer than we can imagine. And when all is said and done, the difference between a clunker and a cream puff is mainly how the owner takes care of it.
According to current auto insurance statistics, the average car's useful life is 10 years or 100,000 miles. Practice the following and it's reasonable to believe you could double your car's useful life and spend less time visiting your mechanic, all the while putting off buying a replacement car.
1. Practice preventive maintenance.
Research by major car manufacturers reveals that neglect of routine service and maintenance is the No. 1 reason for major car repairs. Routine maintenance doesn't cost; it saves money, aggravation, frustration and lives. Pay attention. Anticipate maintenance so you don't have to pay for repairs.
2. Estimate! Estimate! Estimate!
When you have a major repair to do, get at least three estimates before you proceed, if possible. Don't just judge by the lowest price. Judge by competence, ability, experience, equipment and after-service care.
3. Stick with a great mechanic.
When you find a good mechanic you trust, stick with him or her even if the prices are a bit higher. All things being equal, you'll save time, money and aggravation in the long run. Plus, your mechanic will get to know your car more intimately.
4. Keep it clean.
It's true. A clean car lasts longer because you routinely wash away contaminants, which cause corrosion.
5. Heed the owners manual.
It's your bible for making your car last longer. Read it. Know what to expect and how to head off trouble. And keep it in the vehicle.
6. Keep it under cover.
Statistically, we know that a garaged car lasts longest. A car in a carport is the next best thing. And a car with a cover is close behind. If you can't garage, carport or cover your car, park under trees or any covering to protect it from the sun.
7. Take it easy.
Avoid jack rabbit starts and stops. Stop and accelerate gradually. This will save gas and conserve wear and tear on your brake linings, transmission and suspension.
In extremely slow or stop-and-go traffic, don't ride the brake pedal. This wears out your brake linings prematurely and wastes fuel. It's best to shift into a lower gear.
8. Keep it full-ish.
Avoid running your car with the tank low on gas. Keeping the tank low increases the chance that dirt, water and moisture will settle into your fuel system.
One government study pointed to three top causes of car breakdowns on the road: tire trouble, cooling system problems and running out of gas.
9. Mind the oil.
Regular oil changes according to the manufacturer's guidelines are the most important thing, dollar for dollar, you can do to protect your engine and make it last longer.
10. Lighten up.
The more a car weighs, the harder the engine, transmission, brakes and suspension have to work. While cars are designed to carry extra weight, over the long run, any unnecessary strain will take miles off their life. Don't use the trunk as a mobile garage. Keep it as light as possible.
Follow these suggestions and you can look forward to doubling your car's useful life!
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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