When you drive your car regularly, some wear and tear is to be expected. But you can take important steps to reduce excessive wear — and in the process, save money on car maintenance and ensure that your car runs for as long as possible.
Bonus: The resale value of a well-maintained car always is greater than that of an identical car that did not receive proper care.
KEEP YOUR CAR BATTERY FULLY CHARGED
Most people don’t pay attention to a car battery unless it stops working, but keeping your battery at full charge extends its useful life. Repeated charging and discharging can weaken the battery’s ability to hold a charge over time.
Your car battery also becomes depleted when you don’t use the vehicle for more than a few weeks. Even though the car is not running and all accessories are shut off, if the battery is connected, there is a gradual draw of current.
What to do: To avoid depleting your battery, don’t use the radio, headlights, interior lights and any other accessory when the engine is off.
If your car is not used regularly, consider buying an automatic “trickle charger.” This device is connected by cables to the car battery in the car and plugged into a household electrical outlet to provide a charge. I prefer the automatic models, which cannot overcharge your battery because they automatically turn off when the battery reaches full capacity. Trickle chargers are available at auto-parts stores for about $40.
FILL YOUR GAS TANK
A full or nearly full tank reduces the odds that you will need expensive fuel system service in the years ahead. Most gas tanks are made of metal, and a partially empty fuel tank is prone to rust. Rust particles flake off and can clog fuel filters, fuel lines and fuel injectors, leading to costly repairs. In addition, rust can eat through the tank, creating holes. That might take 10 to 15 years, but modern cars often last that long and longer. Replacing a gas tank (and fuel lines) is an expensive job.
What to do: Keep your gas tank as full as possible at all times. Never let it get lower than half a tank.
Bonus: You won’t ever have to make an emergency almost-empty stop at a gas station that charges more than the average price for gas.
WATCH YOUR TIRES
Today’s tires are much more reliable than tires in the past — so much so that people tend to not think about their tires or check their air pressure. Result: Underinflated tires are more common today. Tires that are underinflated create more friction than those that have the right amount of pressure. This hurts gas mileage and can cause tires to wear out faster.
With today’s high-quality tires, air leakage typically is very slow and might not be noticeable to the eye until the pressure has dropped to dangerously low levels.
What to do: Check your tire pressure. Almost all new cars now have built-in electronic tire-pressure monitors. For older cars, it’s wise to check your pressure the old-fashioned way, with a handheld gauge, at least every two weeks. It is best to do it when the tires are “cold” (not warm from driving). Add air whenever tire pressure falls below the carmaker’s recommended minimum level. This is listed in the owner’s manual or on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door jamb.
Oil’s main job is to capture contaminants that would otherwise contribute to the wear and tear of the car’s engine.
What to do: Keep the engine well-serviced by always changing the oil at the prescribed time. Don’t go longer than one month or 200 to 300 miles past the mileage/date interval.
PROTECT YOUR CLUTCH
The clutch on a car with a manual transmission wears down during the course of normal use, mainly because of friction. Replacing a clutch can cost $1,000 or more, so the longer you can go between clutch jobs, the better.
What to do: Most wear and tear takes place when you start and stop the car and shift gears. To cut back on wear and tear on the clutch, try to minimize stop-and-go–type driving as well as gear changes.
Example: Try to maintain your vehicle’s momentum by anticipating changing lights and the ebb and flow of traffic. It is much easier on the clutch to “roll out” in second or third gear than to start from a dead stop in first gear. When you change gears, do it smoothly, not abruptly.
Important: Avoid excessive use of the clutch or “riding” it (partially engaging the clutch, which increases friction and can wear it out).