74 Tips To Extend the Life of Your Car

The ultimate auto care guide.

from Long Life For Your Stuff

Tires, Wheels, and Brakes
37. Keep the caps on

You step out into driveway ready to start your morning commute only to discover a flat tire. How in the heck did that happen overnight? If the tire valve is missing its cap, the culprit might be a leaky valve. Those little caps keep out dirt and moisture that can cause leaks, so be sure to keep caps on all your tire valves. Another tip: When you replace tires, remind the tire shop that you expect new valves with the tires.

38. Maintain proper inflation

Under-inflated tires are a tire salesman’s best friend. They create excessive heat and stress that can lead to tire failure. If you want to get every last mile out of your tires, get yourself a tire pressure gauge and use it at least once a month (more in hot weather) to keep your tires inflated to the recommendation in the vehicle’s owner’s manual. Check tires when they are cold (driven for less than one mile) for an accurate reading.

39. Beware the wet thumb

If you top off your tires at a service station, check to see if there’s moisture coming from the air pump. Simply depress the pin inside the inflator valve with your thumbnail. If your thumb gets wet, advise the station manager that his tanks need to be drained and go to a different station. Moisture, trapped inside a tire, can cause pressure variations and corrode rims.

40. Check for uneven wear

Check tires for uneven wear. If you’ve maintained tire inflation properly, uneven wear may indicate the need for a wheel realignment. It can also mean improperly operating brakes or shocks, a bent wheel, internal tire damage, or worn bushings.

41. Check tread for safety

Most states require tires to be replaced when they have worn down to 1/16-inch (1.5 mm) of remaining tire depth. Tires sold in North America are required to have “wear bars” molded into them to make it easy to see when tire replacement is legally required. However, if you’ll be driving in the rain, you should change your tires when there is 1/8-inch (3 mm) of tread left. Otherwise, water may not escape from under your tires fast enough and you risk hydroplaning — a dangerous situation in which your car loses traction and literally floats on the water. Stick an American quarter between the treads in several places. If part of Washington’s head is always covered, you have enough tread to drive in the rain. If you drive in snow, you’ll need at least 3/16-inch (5 mm) of tread to get adequate traction. Stick an American penny between the treads. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered, you’re ready for winter driving.

42. Rotate your tires

Rotating your tires helps to distribute tire wear evenly and ensures that you’ll get the maximum road life out of them. The first rotation is especially important.Your owner’s manual should specify both rotation period and pattern. If not, rotate your tires every 6,000 to 7,500 miles (9,700 to 12,000 km) — your tire dealer should know the correct pattern of tire rotation.

43. When temperatures affect tire inflation
When outside temperatures drop or soar, tires tend to lose pressure. A drop of 10 degrees F (6 degrees C), in fact, will decrease a tire’s air pressure by 1 or 2 pounds.Tires can lose even more air in hot weather. Under-inflated tires can result in accelerated wear and poor driving performance. If you live in a place where temperatures vary a lot, check your tire pressure often and add air as needed.

44. Buy used tires
If you own a car that you plan to drive only for another year, the last thing you want to do is to buy a new set of tires. If it’s time to replace those tires though, it’s really time. Rather than hesitate, buy a set of used tires. Call local tire dealers to see what’s available. You’ll be surprised by how much wear is left in tires that are turned in by image-conscious car owners. Have your tire size handy.

45. Use wheel cleaner
Your car’s wheels are down there on the road, taking the brunt of road dirt. Add in the dust that wears off your brake pads and you’ve got a formula for stains that are tough to remove when you wash your vehicle. Car-washing liquid won’t do the job.You need a wheel cleaner specifically formulated to remove such stains. Be sure to buy the correct formulation. Some cleaners are designed for metal wheels, and others for painted or clear-coated wheels.The metal wheel cleaners come in various formulations as well, depending upon whether your metal wheel has a satin, aluminum, or chrome finish. Protect metal wheels with wheel polish, painted wheels with a coat of wax.

46. Lube your lug nuts
Lug nuts, if not lubricated occasionally, can seize or “freeze” to the studs due to corrosion. Repairing them can be expensive. Having to call a tow truck for a flat you can’t remove is even more expensive.The next time you change or rotate your tires, pick up some anti-seize lubricant at your local auto supply store. Clean the stud threads with a wire brush and wipe them with the lubricant. It’s formulated to prevent the lug nuts (spark plugs, too) from seizing and won’t allow them to loosen as you drive, the way other lubricants might. If a lug nut does freeze to a stud, try spraying the nut and stud with WD-40 or Liquid Wrench. Allow it to penetrate for 10 or 20 minutes. Use a heat gun to apply heat.Then use a ratchet wrench to remove the lug.

47. Hang on to your hubcaps
Clang, clang, clang! There goes your hubcap,rolling off to destination unknown. Hubcaps, wheel covers, and center caps can pop off your car’s wheels as you’re driving if they were not reinstalled correctly, have loosened over time, or if they were damaged by being jammed against a curb while parking. Here are some things you can do to keep these expensive parts on the car:

  • If your older metal hubcap has loosened, remove it and pry the metal clips outward slightly. This should fix the problem.
  • Newer plastic-type hubcaps and some wheel covers are usually held in place by a retaining wire ring that snaps into tabs on the wheel. When installing such a cap or cover, take care that you do not bend or break the tabs.
  • One way to make sure your expensive hubcaps aren’t damaged by a repair shop is to remove them yourself before taking your car in for a repair that requires wheel removal, such as a brake job or new tires. When reinstalling hubcaps, rest the hubcap in place and then tap it gently with a rubber mallet. Don’t hit the hubcap hard, or you might break the clips underneath. If you prefer to have your repair person remove the covers, check to make sure they were reinstalled properly.They should look even and flush.

48. Have wheel alignment checked
Have your car’s wheel alignment checked every 30,000 miles (48,000 km), or as recommended in your owner’s manual. Also have it checked after buying new tires and when you replace a rack-and-pinion steering unit or other steering parts. Improper tire alignment will shorten the life of your tires as well as cause poor handling. If your steering is stiffer than normal or the vehicle pulls to one side, you probably have an alignment problem.

49. Top off your brake fluid

Check brake fluid monthly.Wipe dirt from the master cylinder lid before you open it. If you need fluid, add the type recommended by your car’s maker. Never substitute other fluids, such as transmission or power-steering fluid. And don’t use brake fluid from a previously opened container. Once exposed to air, brake fluid absorbs moisture and contaminates easily.

50. Care for anti-lock brakes
An anti-lock brake system is sensitive to moisture, which can ruin the expensive ABS pump and rot the brake lines from the inside. Since brake fluid attracts moisture, it should be “bled” or purged at least every three years, or as specified in your owner’s manual.