9 Ways To Get Your Car to 200,000 Miles (or more)

The average age of cars on the road today is higher than ever: nearly 11 years old, according to research firm R.L. Polk. That’s partially a function of a slow economy, but also, Polk says, because vehicles are “more durable and more reliable than their predecessors.”

And with the average car adding more than 10,000 miles to the odometer each year, it’s practically a given that you’ll hit the once-notable milestone of 100,000 miles. In fact, you might even triple that without needing a big-dollar repair, such as a new engine or transmission.

But reaching those loftier targets requires some input from you, the owner. Squeezing maximum life out of your ride at minimum cost means being attentive to your car in a variety of ways. We’ve outlined nine here. Take a look.

1. Regular maintenance is crucial

There’s no getting around this one: A car that’s not regularly serviced won’t last as long as one that is. It not even make it to 100,000 miles.

Regular maintenance is “the key to the automotive fountain of youth,” says Tom Torbjornsen, author of “How to Make Your Car Last Forever.”

What is regular maintenance? It’s what it says right there in the maintenance schedule of your owner’s manual, says Torbjornsen. Follow the “severe duty” schedule of more frequent servicing if your manufacturer specifies one.

2. Use your senses: Sight

If your routine is to plop into the driver’s seat in a darkened garage at one end of your trip and slam the door behind you in a darkened garage at the other end, it’s time to shake things up a little. “Do a ‘preflight’ at least once a week,” says Tony Molla, vice-president of communications for the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (and a certified technician with years of experience). “Walk around your car. Have your kid step on the brake and see if the lights come on. By spotting a problem now, when it’s small, you might save yourself more than just a ticket.”

3. Use your senses: Sound (and touch)

Though your sight is the most important sense when driving your car, hearing may actually be the most important one to keeping it running. A car that sounds like it’s falling apart probably will soon.

What you’re listening for is anything out of the ordinary. “Any bump, squeak, knocking, ticking? Don’t turn up the radio … turn it off! At what speed does it happen? That’s a really important piece of information you can give to your mechanic,” explains Fix. “If you can guide a technician [with that information], you will save them hours of trying to track something down.”


4. Use your senses: Smell

No, really, your nose can help you head off problems that could endanger your run for 200,000+ miles. When you’re checking the oil, counsels Fix, give it a sniff. If it smells burnt, that could be a sign that your engine is running too lean (not using enough fuel). Fixing this condition could save you from a costly engine rebuild.

Smell can also come into play if your car has a dipstick to check the level of the automatic transmission fluid (not as common as it used to be). If that fluid smells burnt and nasty, it’s also a bad sign. (We’ll discuss stinky transmission fluid more later.)

5. Say no to short trips

If there’s one single thing you can do as a driver to get your car to last longer on its original parts, it’s to drive it less … specifically, on trips where the engine doesn’t have a chance to reach operating temperature.

Here’s what happens: Water is a byproduct of engine combustion, and some of it gets into your car’s oil and exhaust system every time the engine runs. Also, when your car is first started, more fuel is mixed in to get it running.

6. Use synthetic oil

Few issues get motorheads more riled up than the question of which oil to use and how often to change it. But few will take the stand that synthetic oil isn’t better than the petroleum-based stuff.

Synthetic oil is more expensive, no doubt … up to four times as much as regular. But think of it as insurance against the cost of an engine rebuild. Note that more manufacturers are specifying synthetic oil, particularly in performance models. And if your engine is turbocharged or supercharged, definitely go with synthetic to handle the higher thermal stress. All the experts we spoke to are big fans of synthetic products, not just engine oil but also other fluids in your car, such as the transmission fluid.


7. Change the transmission fluid

If changing the transmission fluid and filter is specified in your car’s maintenance schedule, well, then, take care of it.

But what if no replacement is specified? Increasingly, car manufacturers are either just indicating that the fluid should be checked at intervals or assuring you that the fluid is “lifetime.” To which we say, how long is a lifetime? If you’re looking for a long lifetime, plan on replacing the transmission fluid at least by 100,000 miles (and there’s no harm in doing it earlier).

8. Keep your car clean

Just as you keep the fluids in your car’s critical systems fresh and clean, you should keep your car’s exterior clean. Washing road salts and other environmental nasties off your paint and undercarriage at regular intervals will forestall corrosion and faded paint. If your car is going to run a long time, it ought to be nice enough to look at.

But getting up close and personal is also about looking for small problems that could lead to costlier repairs. “Wash your own car,” insists Molla. “Get down on your hands and knees. You’re going to notice things like cracked lenses, where water is going to get in and cause your expensive headlight assembly to fail.”

9. Be prepared to replace bearings and bushings

It’s a given that you’ll be replacing what are known as “wear parts”: tires, brake pads, timing and accessory belts, and shock absorbers. But as you head for the land of six-figure mileage, there are some other parts you should be looking to replace before they fail. Tackle these fixes proactively to avoid larger repair bills that might lead you to give up on a car before its time.


By David Muhlbaum of Kiplinger


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