74 Maintenance Tips That Will Extend the Life of Your Car
We’ve compiled our best expert advice, surprising tricks, and car care tips to prolong the life of your automobile.
Be patient during the break-in period
You’ve bought your dream car and now you want to make it last as long as possible in top condition. Here are some things to remember as you pull it out of the dealer’s lot:
- During the break-in period, typically the first 1,000 miles (1,600 km), keep your speed under 55 mph (88 kpm) or to the speed recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
- Avoid heavy loads on the drive train, such as towing trailers, and loading the roof rack or trunk with heavy construction materials.
- Do not allow your new car to idle for long periods—this is good advice for the life of your car, but especially during break-in. The oil pressure generated by doing so may not be sending oil to every part of your engine.
- Use only light to medium acceleration, keeping the engine rpms below 3,000 for the first few hours of driving.
Also be aware of these ways that you’re wasting money on your car.
Drive with care every day
Being car considerate shouldn’t stop after the break-in. Drive with care every day and your car will reward you with longer intervals without repair.
- Do not race your car’s engine during start-up. This is a quick way to add years of wear to your engine, especially if it’s cold outside.
- Accelerate slowly when you begin your drive. The most wear to the engine and drive train occurs in the first 10 to 20 minutes of operation.
- Warming the engine by letting it idle in the driveway is not a smart idea. The engine doesn’t operate at its peak temperature, resulting in incomplete fuel combustion, soot deposits on cylinder walls, oil contamination, and ultimately damaged components.
- Put less strain on your engine and automatic transmission by shifting to neutral at red lights. Otherwise, the engine is still working to push the car even while it’s stopped.
- Avoid driving at high speeds and accelerating quickly, especially when it’s very hot or very cold outside. Such driving behavior will result in more frequent repairs.
- Extend the life of your tires with careful driving. Observe posted speed limits. Avoid fast starts, stops, and turns. Avoid potholes and objects on the road. Don’t run over curbs or hit the tire against the curb when parking. And, of course, don’t burn rubber.
- When turning your steering wheel, don’t hold it in an extreme right or left position for more than a few seconds. Doing so can damage the power-steering pump.
- Consolidate your short driving trips. Most of the wear and tear—as well as the pollution your car generates—takes place in the first few minutes of driving. Doing several errands at once, during low traffic hours if possible, will keep your engine happier longer.
Keep these items in your car to be insanely more productive.
Buy gas at reputable service stations
Ask whether the gas you buy is filtered at the pump and if the station has a policy about changing the pump filters regularly. If you get a song and dance, find another gas station. Some stations don’t have pump filters, making you more vulnerable to dirty gasoline. Other stations may not mix alcohol and fuel properly—or worse, water down their product. Find a station you trust and stick to it.
This is why you should always be opening your car door with your right hand. It could save a life.
Don’t fill up if you see the tanker
If you happen to see a gasoline tanker filling the tanks at your local gas station, come back another day or go to a different station. As the station’s underground tanks are being filled, the turbulence can stir up sediment. Sediment in your gas can clog fuel filters and fuel injectors, causing poor performance and possibly necessitating repairs.
Go easy when you’re stuck
When stuck in mud or snow, don’t make the problem worse by damaging an expensive component. Gently rocking in an attempt to free the car is fine. But if it looks as though you’re really stuck, don’t keep at it. Throwing your car from forward to reverse repeatedly, as well as spinning tires at high speeds, can generate lots of heat and spell trouble for transmissions, clutches, and differentials. It may be cheaper in the long run to call the tow truck rather than risk big repair bills down the road. It’s a good idea to carry a traction aid in the trunk, such as sand, gravel, or cat litter.
Beware, your car won’t survive winter without these fixes.
Lighten up your keychain
Does your car key share a chain with a dozen or more other keys? That’s a pretty heavy load hanging off the car key when it’s in the ignition. The weight, combined with bouncing while you drive, can wear out the tumblers inside the ignition and eventually lead to ignition switch failure.To add years of service to your ignition switch, purchase a lightweight keychain that allows you to separate your ignition key from the others. Drive with only the ignition key in your ignition. If your ignition key “sticks” when you try to turn on the car, it’s a warning that your ignition switch is about to fail. Replace it before you get stranded.
Choose a good car insurer
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, disaster inevitably strikes—typically in the form of an accident. Make sure that your car will be repaired to the best possible standard by finding an insurer that will pay for parts from the original manufacturer and guarantee the repairs it authorizes. Also, know these car-buying tips your car dealer won’t tell you.
Keep an auto log
Keep a pad and pencil in the glove compartment and use them to record your gas fill-ups and mileage. If you notice that your gas mileage worsens, mention it to your serviceman. It may be an early warning sign that something is wrong with your car. Locked out? Use this trick to unlock your car in 30 seconds without your keys.
Preserve your car during long-term storage
If you are not going to use your car for more than a month, store it properly to prevent unnecessary damage and repairs upon your return.
- Fill the gas tank to help prevent condensation from accumulating in the gas tank. Add a fuel stabilizer and drive the car around a bit to distribute the additive to engine parts.
- Wash and wax the car thoroughly to protect the finish.
- Place a vapor barrier on your garage floor. A 4-mil polyethylene drop cloth will do.
- Disengage the parking brake to help avoid brake corrosion.
- Put the car on jack stands to take the weight of the vehicle off the wheels and tires.
- Disconnect and remove the battery to keep it from draining. Place the battery on a trickletype charger. Or periodically drain the battery, using a small light bulb, and then recharge it with a low-volt charger.
- Plug the tailpipe with a rag to prevent moist air from infiltrating into it.
Park in the shade
Of course, a garage is always the ideal place to park your car. But if one isn’t available, minimize interior damage from UV sunlight and heat by always trying to park your car in the shade. If no shade is available or if you find parking under a tree results in bird droppings, use a car shade to minimize the sun’s impact. As a bonus, you’ll have a cooler car to step into on hot sunny days. Car shades come in two basic types: those that you unfold and place on the front windshield and rear window, or pleated types that attach to the windshield posts (with adhesive), window frames (with Velcro), or the windows themselves (with suction cups). Make sure you never ever leave these items in your car.
Clean the inside, too
Vacuum and sponge your interior every time you wash your car. Dirt particles are abrasive, and spilled liquids, such as soda, can be corrosive. Vacuum your interior thoroughly with a powerful vacuum (small cordless models are generally too weak). Use the appropriate wand heads when vacuuming. The bare metal wand can mar and scratch surfaces. Sponge vinyl surfaces clean with a solution of mild detergent and water.
Clean dash gauges carefully
Use a soft damp cloth to lightly wipe dust from the clear plastic lenses on your dashboard. Too much pressure will scratch them. Too many scratches can make it difficult to read your gauges under certain lighting conditions.
Let floor mats take winter’s beating
Use floor mats to protect the carpeting. The best type for controlling salt, slush, and mud in winter are rubber wafflestyle mats. They stay in place, don’t allow the water to seep through, and are easy to wash clean. Carpet-style mats are helpful, too. Shake, vacuum, or wash as needed; replace them as they wear through.
Blast mats with the hose
When washing your car, drag out the rubber or carpet floor mats and blast them with the hose. This will dislodge dirt particles that, if allowed to build up, will grind holes in your mats. Let the mats dry thoroughly in the sun before reinstalling them.
For stubborn carpet or mat stains
After vacuuming floor mats or interior carpeting, apply foam rug cleaner to resistant stains as directed by the maker. Work the foam into a few square feet at a time, using a wet sponge or brush. Vacuum when dry.
Preserve door and window seals
Wipe a rubber protectant (such as Armor-All) or silicone on door and window weatherstripping to keep it in good condition. Don’t use an oilbased product, such as WD-40, because the oil will damage the rubber. Regular cleaning and treatment of your car’s weatherstripping will also lessen the likelihood of your door sticking to its rubber seal in cold weather, a common cause of damage to the rubber. By the way, this is why there are those black dots on car windows.
Fix bad weatherstripping immediately
If your weatherstripping is letting rainwater leak into the interior of your car, take a look at it and decide if you can repair it or if it needs to be replaced. Small leaks can be handled with brush-on seam sealers. Resecure loose sections, not otherwise damaged, with trim adhesive. Torn sections may be repaired with special caulking available at auto parts stores. You may also be able to extend the life of worn-but-intact sections by inserting foam rods, available at automotive stores, into the hollow section of the weatherstripping. If you decide to replace entire sections of gasket, don’t simply buy generic stuff such as you’d use around the house. Buy a product that matches your car’s original weatherstripping—it’s available in a wide variety of profiles from dealerships and automotive mail-order catalogs.
Keep leather from drying out and cracking
Leather cars seats are durable and don’t require a lot of maintenance. After a few years, however, the seats can become soiled. Use a leather cleaner to remove dirt and stains. Then apply a leather protectant formulated for pigmented or top-coated grain leather (the leather used for most leather car upholstery). Protectants will resist stains and make the upholstery easier to clean in the future. Choose a protectant that includes conditioners to keep your leather supple.
Use upholstery cleaners on soiled seats
The same upholstery cleaners you use at home can be used on your car’s upholstery. Use them sparingly, however, to avoid saturating the fabric. Use a clean cloth to wipe away the foam. On velour seats, brush the fibers gently to avoid matting them and to preserve the original texture of the fabric.
Renew fabric upholstery
Spraying fabric car seats and carpets with a fabric protectant, such as Scotchgard, will make them resist dirt and stains, and make them easier to clean. Thoroughly clean the fabrics before using one of these products and then test the product on an inconspicuous place to be sure the treatment will not discolor the fabric.
Place a towel under baby seats
All manner of food bits and liquids can accumulate under a baby seat, where they can permanently stain the upholstery. Place a sheet of heavy plastic and an absorbent towel under the seat to prevent damage, and re-secure the seat according to the manufacturer’s directions. All parents should be following these car seat tips to keep their child safe.
Protect car paint from the sun
Paint does more than make your vehicle look great. It’s also the first line of defense against rusted body panels. Of course, the best way to protect the paint is to park the car in a garage. If that is not possible, park in the shade or purchase a car cover. The sun’s ultraviolet rays break down paint and cause it to fade. Some car covers protect your car from more than sun, moisture, bird droppings, and dust—they also have a thin layer of cushioning that will guard against light impact, such as from a tipped bicycle or small falling tree branch. By the way, this is how your car’s paint color affects your risk of a crash.
Touch up nicks sooner rather than later
Touch-up paint won’t adhere well to rust. So be sure to keep some matching touch-up paint on hand so you can touch up any minor nicks, often found around door edges, before rust has a chance to form.
Tape saves light covers
A cracked taillight or turn-signal cover, if left alone, may allow your light compartment to fill with water and cause some real damage. A good short-term fix is to tape over the crack. Use the red or orange tape that’s made for this purpose. You can purchase it at many automotive parts stores.
Avoid light fixture problems
When changing a bad bulb, clean dirty or corroded sockets with fine steel wool or a small wire brush. Wipe the socket clean of debris before installing the new light bulb.