According to Edmunds.com, owners are keeping their cars longer than they did a few years ago, a trend that is expected to continue until the economy rebounds. The U.S. Department of Transportation says an average car should last about 13 years and 145,000 miles before its scrapped. As a vehicle’s ages, its performance decreases and oil starts to break down at a faster rate. Over time, seals begin to deteriorate; gaskets become brittle, leaks become more prevalent and oil consumption increases — all leading to a reduction in engine performance. As more of the nation’s cars exceed 75,000 miles and approach the 100,000-mile mark, regular maintenance becomes an increasingly important way to prevent costly car repairs.
As a vehicle ages it is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule. Don’t rely solely on more general recommendations, and certainly not the “dealer’s recommended schedule,” which will cost you more than necessary. Following the manufacturer’s schedule carefully not only means fewer problems as a car ages; it also prevents the manufacturer from ever voiding your warranty based on “neglect.” Also make sure you keep records of all maintenance and repairs for your vehicle. These maintenance schedules work for vehicles getting normal use, but many people put extra stress on their vehicles. Manufacturers will also provide a severe use maintenance schedule. Any of the following qualifies as “severe” use, which may require shortening the normal maintenance cycle:
- Off-road driving.
- Driving through dust storms or in dusty conditions.
- Frequent, short (less than 5 miles) trips or frequent stops and starts.
- Cold climate operation.
Some other tips to help make your vehicle last or keep your high mileage car running even longer are to:
- Regularly check levels of oil, coolant, power-steering and brake fluids, wear, tear, fraying and/or cracking of belts and hoses and tire pressure at the very least once a month. Ideally tire pressure should be checked once every two weeks to maintain fuel economy, safety and efficiency.
- Find a good mechanic. If you don’t do your own maintenance, find a shop staffed by ASE-certified mechanics. A good mechanic/service writer will listen to your questions and explain procedures clearly.
- Pay attention to warning signs. Of course, not every little thump or ping you hear spells disaster. Cars, like people, have their peculiarities, and you are sure to quickly learn what is normal for yours. With a high-mileage vehicle, however, it’s best to check out any symptom — be it a sound, smell or feeling — that seems the slightest bit abnormal.
The folks at Consumer Reports advise you should ditch a car when the cost of a repair exceeds its fair market value. For me, the point for retiring a car is when I can no longer trust it to get me from Point A to Point B. If one repair follows another, maybe it is better to bail, but it takes a lot of repairs to outweigh the cost of car payments.