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Ways to make your car last forever

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

Okay, you really can't make your car last forever.  But more and more people are moving away from the cycle of buying or leasing new vehicles every 2-3 years, instead electing to save money by keeping their current vehicles in the best-running shape possible for the longest period of time. The number of 10+-year-old cars on the road is higher now than at any point in history.

If you're one of that growing group, we've got some suggestions on things you may not have thought of to keep your car running longer. We've banged the drum before on the importance of regular oil changes, so there's no need to rehash that here. Here are some other easy things you can do.

make your car last foreverCut down on short trips

Short trips can suck the life out of your vehicle. What’s a ‘short trip’ in this context? One that’s less than 10 minutes driving. Why does this matter? On a short trip, your engine doesn’t reach its full operating temperature. And this is bad because of the effect of water vapor on your engine and its oil. 

Water is produced as a normal byproduct of combustion. When your car sits overnight, water condenses and sits in your engine and in the oil. It’s always been this way. On a “regular trip”, your engine reaches full ambient temperature and it turns the water back into vapor and expels it from the engine. On a short trip, there’s not enough time to do this.  The water sits where it doesn’t belong and causes both rust and oil dilution.  Oil with excess water doesn’t lubricate the engine properly and shortens engine life.

If you do have to make frequent short trips (i.e. if you work 7 minutes away from the house), the best thing you can do to compensate is to change your oil more frequently. This is the time when you can change it closer to 3,000 miles instead of the 5,000 – 7,000 miles we normally recommend.

Get rid of the extra weight

We’ve talked about this before when discussing ways to improve gas mileage.  The weight of the car is directly related to gas mileage because it takes more gas to propel a heavy object than a light object.  If your trunk is filled with lots of unnecessary extra weight (i.e. concrete blocks, lead boxes full of gold, the equipment for all the teams in your bowling league), it places unnecessary stress on all of the critical systems in your car – suspension, brakes, even the exhaust.

Pare all this weight down, and your car will last longer and you’ll get better gas mileage as a bonus.

Wash your salty car

Those of you who live up north know well the necessity of putting road salt down during the winter. And you appreciate it. You want to stay on the road, not go sliding off of it. Salt, of course, really does a number on things like your car’s undercarriage. So it’s important to take the time to wash the undercarriage often when there’s salt on the road. If your aim is to keep your car around for as long as possible, you don’t want to leave salty stuff on your car that’s eating away at it.

Your mechanic is your friend if he (or she) knows what you want

This goes hand in hand with the great advice to find a mechanic that you trust.  Cars are complicated and chances are when you take your ride into the shop, it’s because something’s going on that you don’t really know how to fix. Or even what’s causing it.  There’s nothing worse than the nagging feeling that what you’re about to agree to is going to cost you a whole lot more than it should. Good, honest mechanics are worth their weight in gold (which runs over $1,000 an ounce right now).

Beyond just seeing your mechanic when there’s a serious problem, you should really think of treating your car maintenance as a partnership between you and your automotive repair professional. Sure, you may change your own oil and do other things. But you’re not going to be able to do everything that’s recommended for your car to keep it in great shape.

The key here is to actually talk with your mechanic and make sure they know your long-term plans for your car.  If your mechanic knows that you’re the kind of owner who wants to keep your car around for 200,000 or 300,000 miles, they’ll see things differently and be able to spot problems and make recommendations in that context. And your car will be better off for it.  

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This post was published on September 9, 2014 and was updated on August 2, 2022.

Topics: Cars and Light Trucks, Car Care