Key components to keep your car in good running condition if not buying new ones
With job layoffs mounting, people struggling to stay in their homes and just a general worry over what’s going to happen next, buying a brand new vehicle is simply not an option for many.
In turn, local garages and dealerships are seeing an increase in vehicle owners servicing their older, high-mileage vehicles and just coming in when absolutely necessary to fix glaring problems.
It definitely makes more sense from a green perspective to keep your old car running and well-maintained as long as you can—especially if it’s getting such good mileage. There are significant environmental costs to both manufacturing a new automobile and adding your old car to the ever-growing collective junk heap.
Good running condition means that the vehicle has some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition. This vehicle has a clean Title History, the paint; body and/or interior need work performed by a professional. The tires may need to be replaced. There may be some repairable rust damage.
“Yes, we’ve seen quite an increase,” said David Brown, owner and ASE certified master technician of Auburn 76 Auto Center on Grass Valley Highway. “It’s true, people are keeping their cars longer and are not buying new ones.”
As credit is still tight in some cases for potential new-vehicle buyers, and others simply not wanting the responsibility of having one more financial obligation, car maintenance has become key.
“With credit and budgets tight, it’s more important now than ever to keep your car running smoothly,” AAA Northern California spokesperson Jenny Mack said in a release. “These maintenance tips will cost an average of $380 to $850, but they could save you between $5,150 and $9,300 in repairs.”
The AAA auto club recommends four key components to consumers keeping their cars in good running order. They include changing your oil on a regular basis (cost range $30-$50), which can protect a vehicle’s engine from serious damage that can cost $3,500 or more to repair.
Brake inspections (cost range $50-$250) can save you anywhere from $500 to $1,000 in repair bills, and servicing your coolant system (cost range $100-$150) can save anywhere from $350 to $2,400. The fourth AAA advisory is routine belt and hose inspections and maintenance (cost range $200-$400), these can save $800 to $2,400 in repairs.
Along with those tips local technicians recommend keeping a regular maintenance schedule to help your vehicle live an extended life.
“If they maintain their vehicle, it’s going to last longer,” said Brown, who’s seeing more cars with 100,000 miles or more being brought in for maintenance. “It’s nothing (for a vehicle) to go 200,000, 250,000 or 300,000 if you maintain it.”
By following manufacturer recommended service intervals, such as 30,000, 60,000 and 90,000 miles, you can help avoid bigger problems down the road, Brown said. “Ninety-five percent of the time emergency repairs can be stopped by doing regular maintenance,” Brown said.
Maintenance schedules such as air filter, oil and oil filter, transmission fluid (and filter as required), fuel filter (if applicable to your model car), power steering fluid, coolant flush, inspect and replace belts and hoses, rotate tires, and brake fluid change/flush. Here are the examples of maintenance schedules for your convenience.
There are several reasons to wash your engine at least every year or two. A clean engine will run cooler than a dirty one. You'll be more apt to tackle routine belt and hose checks and the like if you know you won't get covered with grime every time you do so. A clean engine will also make it much easier to spot leaks and to service components.
Check condition of windshield wipers, and top off washer level with a good fluid designed for harsh conditions. The right inflation pressure of tires also key for fuel economy, safety issue. Check your exhaust system for integrity. This is especially important in the winter, as you drive in a closed vehicle.
Scheduled maintenance can run from $500 to $1,500 for major mileage milestones, depending on make and model, and some service centers offer lower prices. As technicians extol the need for regular maintenance, some garages haven’t seen people keep up on their vehicles. And in this current economic climate, many are still just coming when they absolutely have to.
“It’s been a decrease really. Because of the economy, there are a lot of people struggling right now,” said John Martin, owner of Strictly Toy-ondas in Auburn, about customers coming in for vehicle service. “I just don’t think they can afford it. We’re doing a lot of repair work — get it back together, make it run.”
Martin did go on to say that he is seeing more people come in for regular maintenance on their vehicles as the year has gone on. For Auburn resident Wendy Shingle, who brought in her 1999 Honda Accord for a smog check at Strictly Toy-ondas on Friday, vehicle maintenance helps her live within her means.
“I don’t want a new (car) loan, I don’t want any other financial obligations,” Shingle said. “I’m commuting to Nevada City, so I’m keeping it in tip-top shape.”
Even though regular maintenance can keep a vehicle going longer, some simply can’t afford the maintenance fees. But some service centers, such as Magnussen’s Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Auburn, are offering deeply discounted services, which has brought in more customers.
Accelerate smoothly from a stop, and conversely, brake smoothly as well. Taking off fast and coming to a stop quickly can be bad on a car and affect the engine, the brakes and other things. Punching the accelerator too hard wastes gas and puts stress on the engine. Braking too hard can cause the life of your brake pads to decrease significantly, frequently by a factor of 2 x or more.
The proper coolant level is as important as making sure the engine is well lubed and can potentially save you thousands of dollars in repairs. “A cooling system failure can result in your engine literally melting down.
If your car seems to be struggling to go up a hill, help it along by downshifting. It doesn't take any time or effort and it really helps reduce the load on your engine. Accelerating when the car is hesitating puts a great deal of stress on the motor, It causes rapid wear and it also reduces the flow of oil, which makes your car work a whole lot harder than it needs to.
“I’m seeing people come in and spending a little bit more, trying to keep their older cars going — definitely,” said Vic Corona, operations manager for parts and service at Magnussen’s.
Services such as Magnussen’s $14.95 oil changes, $19.95 smog plus certificate and 15,000-mile maintenance for $89.95 are all promotions that have been driving in customers in a time when money is tight for many. No matter where drivers go, bottom line, maintaining the vehicle regularly will help it live a longer life.
There are a lot of used cars out there that top 30 mpg, and more than a few that reach into the 40s. Just about any Ford Festiva or Aspire will deliver 33 mpg. The mid-'90s Mazda Proteges are good for 30 mpg or so, as are the Dodge Colts of the early '90s.
Go back a little further and the Honda CRX HF models will give you 39 to 45 mpg in a sporty two-seater that's fun to drive. If you don't mind driving the cheapest of cheap econoboxes, the 1985 Chevrolet Chevette got 36 mpg and the '87 Chevrolet Sprint got 40. USA Today says fuel-misers from the early 1990s are selling like crazy and prices have gone up 30 percent in the past few months. A rust-bucket Geo Metro with 175,000 on the odometer recently sold for three grand on eBay.
You need to know what needs to be replaced on a regular basis to keep your car in top shape. Doing a little research, before you are forced into finding a mechanic, can save you a bundle later on. For the basics, here are several things you can do to keep your car in good running condition.
Also consider the following if you intend to buy used:
- What is the car’s condition? Are the parts original, or have they been replaced? How old are the parts? Has the vehicle been well-maintained?
- How old is the car? If it’s more than six years old, or the mileage seems either too high or too low relative to the age of the car, be very wary.
- How’s the paint job? Does the paint feel smooth and sleek, or does it seem to be hiding dents or rust. Does it feel patchy? Perhaps there was body damage.
- Is the original paperwork, including the owner’s manual, available?