5 Surprising Secrets to Make Your Car Last Longer and Save You Money
Driving tips, maintenance suggestions and car buying advice, geared at making your vehicle live long so you can prosper. Going beyond the typical thrifty car advice.
March 13, 2009 at 12:40PM
by By Jim Motavalli
Most of what you think you know about keeping your car alive is probably wrong. For example, most people think their cars will probably explode if they don't warm them up on winter days. That's not only wrong, since modern cars don't need warm-ups, but it wastes gas and is bad for the environment. Unnecessary idling by British drivers, for instance, creates 2,150 tons of carbon dioxide every day--the equivalent of three 747 flights from London to New York.
A little preventive maintenance will go a long way. (Flickr/Sean Dreilinger photo)
People also think that the best bet in a used car is the one with the lowest mileage, and that isn't necessarily true, either. In fact, a car driven every day with 200,000 highway miles on it will probably last longer than the same model, parked in a barn for 10 years, with 25,000 city miles.
You probably already know the 10 maintenance tips that are endlessly recycled. Here's a typical list, or see TDG's list of sensible car tips. You know, replace the air filter, change the oil, take it easy during the break-in period, get the junk out of the trunk, maintain proper tire pressure (a common-sense tip that got Barack Obama in trouble during the campaign).
Now here's a more creative Top Five if you want to own a car that will serve your needs for hundreds of thousands of miles:
1. Consider a diesel.
Environmentalists, especially American ones, hate diesels. But that thinking is somewhat out of date. Diesels offer by far the best internal-combustion fuel economy, and European hybrid diesels like the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion routinely exceed 75 mpg. The EPA requires U.S. refiners to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, the cleanest in the world. That law jump-started a market for the cleaner diesel vehicles on the market today.
2. Drive a big car.
I know, I know, what's green about that? But here's my strategic thinking: Buy a huge used Lincoln Town Car for a song because it has high mileage. Ignore snide reviews by car buffs that chide the car as eluding style "like Dennis Rodman in a Valentino tuxedo" with "door handles lifted from a 1950's Frigidaire." The horrific fuel economy, not to mention the embarrassment of it all, will keep it in the garage as you use your bike or your spouse's Smart car, your bicycle or your legs for everything but long trips. The Town Car's V-8 engine will be so under-stressed on the highway, loafing along at 2,000 rpm, that it will last for 20 years. And since manufacturing represents approximately 10 percent of a car's lifetime emissions, your long-term ownership will eventually pay green dividends.
Until we progress to electric cars, gas stations are a necessary evil. So when you see the big truck pulling out, turn around and go to another station. I know this comes across like an old wife's tale, but I read it in Reader's Digest so it must be true. When the tanks are filled, sediment that was on the bottom of the tank is stirred up and swirled into the gas for the first few customers. Hapless motorists pulling in after the truck are likely to get what's known technically as "bad gas," which can clog your injectors and fuel filters. And in case filling up your own car is a complete mystery, here's a guide that includes such tips as "find out which side of the car the gas tank fill spout is on" and "unscrew the cap of the gas tank."
5. Buy a hybrid.
Yes, I know I told you I don't drive a hybrid. But here's food for thought: Not only do you get excellent fuel economy and, in many cases (as with the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid) incredibly low partial-zero emissions, but they are also some of the most reliable cars on the planet. The conventional wisdom, never a reliable guide, says that hybrids are "too complex," what with two drivetrains (gas and electric) and all. But in reality, as Consumer Reports annual auto issues have made plain since the first hybrids appeared in 1999, they take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. The Prius, for instance, has a virtually unblemished record, but the aforementioned Ford, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and many more are good used car buys too. And despite what you've heard, don't worry about replacing the batteries. Very few hybrids, even those now nine years old, have needed new packs--nickel-metal-hydride has proven very robust--and most carmakers have recycling programs that come into play when the batteries do reach the end of their long lives.
I'm sure most readers have evolved their own top car maintenance tips, and there are many more where these came from: Shift your automatic to neutral at red lights to save the engine. Make sure the oxygen sensor is functioning, because a malfunctioning one can really hurt fuel economy. Avoid "jackrabbit" starts and frequent braking. Park in the shade if you can so your interior doesn't get too hot. And even in winter, wash that baby once in a while. It will help get rid of the road salt that causes corrosion.