A few years ago, the original owner of a 1990 Honda Accord made headlines after his odometer turned over one million miles. His secret, reported Cars.com, was that he fastidiously followed his maintenance schedule. While this Accord represents an extreme example, it's also a powerful testament to the importance of regular maintenance.
Decades ago, when an odometer made it to six digits, the milestone meant the end was near. Owners were faced with the choice of either selling the car or incurring hefty repair bills. Now, it’s more common to find vehicles with 150,000 miles that are still running strong. And getting your vehicle to last this long (or longer) may be simpler than you realize.
"Owning a car for as long as possible is a smart financial move," says Jamie Page Deaton, managing editor of the U.S. News Best Car Rankings. "If you buy a car for $20,000 and drive it 50,000 miles before trading it in, you’ve essentially paid 40 cents for every mile driven. Keep it for 200,000 miles, and you’ve only spent 10 cents per mile. Maintaining a car is always cheaper than buying a new one.”
Keeping your car on the road as long as possible can also save you thousands of dollars. If you want to drive one of the longest-lasting cars in your neighborhood, follow these five tips.
Pay attention to your oil
Your engine's oil is its lifeblood, and we can't overstate how important it is to change your oil on time. The oil's job is to coat and protect your engine's moving parts, which are in a constant state of motion and friction. Oil also extracts any debris, such as metal flakes. By changing your oil regularly, you flush out these gritty bits and keep your engine running at its best.
It's also important to use the proper weight (or viscosity) of engine oil. Common grades include 5W-20 and 10W-30. To find the recommended oil for your vehicle, as well as the best interval for oil changes, consult your owner's manual, local auto store, or dealership service center.
Synthetic oil and synthetic blends – though more expensive up front – last for more miles and protect better than conventional petroleum-based engine oil. This is partly because synthetic oils lubricate more effectively in extreme temperatures and during short trips. Conventional oil also breaks down during its lifespan, turning into a thick sludge that can build up in your engine.
Flush all your fluids regularly
Engine oil is often the first thing that comes to mind when people think about what fluids need to be changed regularly. But there's a much longer list of fluids that you also need to keep an eye on. Under the hood, these include your coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid. Other lubricants that need occasional servicing include the fluid in your rear differential. By checking and replacing these fluids on a regular basis, you remove harmful debris and extend the life of the associated car parts.
Don't wait too long to replace belts and hoses
Your engine's belts and hoses often appear unaffected by wear. However, you can't always see the decomposition that is regularly occurring on these pliable parts. But if you don't replace them on schedule you can wear out your vehicle faster, and you could be left stranded. Worn out radiator hoses, for example, suddenly burst (especially in hot weather). Broken belts can cause even more disastrous results. When a power steering belt breaks, your car abruptly becomes dangerously difficult to steer. A broken water pump belt that is not quickly fixed could cause your car to overheat and lead to serious engine damage. Follow your recommended maintenance schedule closely for these parts, and replace them on time even if they appear to be in working order.
Be a gentle driver
If you are a spirited driver – throwing the throttle wide open when you take off, heating up your brakes each time you decelerate – you are adding extra wear to your car. "Every time you start your car is an opportunity to take care of it,” says Page Deaton. “Maintenance isn’t just something that happens at the mechanic’s. Driving aggressively just ends up costing you money in the long run.”
While you don’t have to live in the right lane to make your car last, you should do your best to drive responsibly. Avoiding hard acceleration and braking not only saves wear and tear, but it also saves gas – and will probably keep you from getting some costly traffic tickets.
Pick your car carefully
Not all cars are built the same. In our ranking of the best compact SUVs, for example, reliability scores range from two circles (below average) to a near-perfect 4.5 circles. Picking a vehicle with an above-average reliability score doesn't guarantee you a worry-free ownership experience, but it does mean you'll likely have fewer trips to the auto shop. When you're getting ready to buy your next vehicle, take a look at the most reliable new cars or compare cars side by side to see how they rate for expected dependability.
Check out car maintenance that will make you money, and learn more about J.D. Power reliability ratings. For more tips to save money on your car and get the best car-shopping advice, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.