40 ways to make your car last forever
Want to eke every mile that you can out of your car, while paying as little as possible for the privilege? Then here's how to do it...
Like the idea of your car lasting forever? You're in the right place.
If you're the kind of person who drives your car on the door handles and is happy to fit a new set of brake pads every week, there's nothing here for you.
But if you'd rather eke every mile that you can out of your car, following a few simple rules can make all the difference.
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1: Pick your routes
This might seem extreme, but it isn't. If you use a really badly surfaced road every day it can take its toll on your car with broken springs, buckled wheels and potentially damaged tyres all resulting.
Taking a different route that's better surfaced could save you a lot more than you realise.
2: Use your air-con
You've probably got loads of friends who refuse to switch on their air-con because "it pushes up the fuel consumption".
Modern air-con systems are very efficient and by not switching them on from one month to the next you're doing untold damage to the seals and other components – so when you do finally use it, it'll probably leak or a major component will expire and it'll end up costing you a lot more than you've saved on fuel.
3: Brakes to slow
There's a maxim that says 'gears to go, brakes to slow'. Some drivers change down through the gearbox to slow down, but this puts extra stress on the bearings, reducing the life of your gearbox's components.
So if you need to slow, use engine braking by all means – but use the foot brake to shed most of your speed.
4: Clutch control
If you have a manual gearbox and let your foot rest on the clutch pedal it will partly engage the clutch, leading to it wearing out faster.
It might seem like an obvious point, but don't ride the clutch – because it's amazing how many people do.
5: Garage it
So many people have a garage and don't use it to store their car – they keep the lawn mower in it instead, along with boxes of rubbish that will never be used.
Garaging your car will stop the sun from bleaching its interior and it'll also prevent the interior from getting really hot on sunny days – and that heat won't do the trim or plastics any good.
6: Speed is what you need
Today all diesel-engined cars have had to be fitted with a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter). To stop the filter from getting blocked up you have to sit at high revs for a bit on a regular basis.
Fail to do this and problems are highly likely, so if you have a modern diesel make sure you give it a high-speed run on a regular basis.
7: Use it regularly…
You might not have the luxury of being able to let your car stand unused for more than a day or two, but if you've got more than one car or you don't drive all that much, don't just abandon your car altogether for weeks on end.
The battery will probably go flat, the brakes and clutch will probably seize up and if you leave the car long enough the fuel will go stale and you could even get flat spots on your tyres.
8: …but not too regularly
Most engine wear occurs at the start of a journey, when the oil is thick because it's cold.
The engine also burns more fuel when it's cold, which accelerates wear of the cylinder bores, so if you regularly make very short journeys, if you can, leave the car at home and walk instead.
9: Let the engine warm up
Modern engines warm up pretty quickly, which helps to reduce wear, but it's easy to get carried away and pile on the revs while the engine is still cold.
Get into the habit of revving the engine when cold and it'll wear out that much faster. Incidentally, an engine warms up much faster when it's under load, rather than just idling.
Generally, before the engine is up to temperature, drivers of petrols should change gear at around 2500 rpm and diesel drivers around 2000.
10: Use those revs
Whether your car has a petrol engine or a diesel, you need to explore the upper reaches of the rev range occasionally, because this helps to reduce the carbon deposits that can build up in the injection system and the cylinder head.
But don't overdo it!
11: Don't run low
If you're one of those people who regularly runs their fuel tank on empty you could be damaging much of the fuel system.
That's because sediment tends to gather at the bottom of the tank and if the engine is always running on fuel from the bottom of the tank it's likely that the pump, filter and potentially even the injectors could get clogged up, leading to hefty bills.
12: Make regular checks
If you drive your car on an everyday basis, making a few key checks every couple of weeks could stop a small problem turning into a big one.
Check the oil level and top up if necessary; fail to do so and the engine will seize. If the coolant or brake/power steering fluid levels are dropping by much you need to investigate because these shouldn't need to be topped up.
13: Get the coolant strength right
Anti-freeze doesn't just stop your coolant from turning to ice – it also acts as a corrosion inhibitor.
In an aluminium engine it stops the block and heads from corroding internally, leading to debris washing around the cooling system and blocking everything up.
14: Use screenwash
Don't be tempted to use washing up liquid in your screenwash because it contains salt and other additives that are likely to damage your car's paint.
Use a good-quality screenwash instead, because this contains anti-freeze and detergents, plus it'll help to lubricate the wipers as they clear the glass.
15: Gauge interest
It's amazing how many people don't watch what their car's instruments are telling them – many drivers don't even know what some of the gauges are for, and it's true there are less of them than there used to be. The temperature gauge is usually still present and is very important. After running for a few minutes it should be steady in the middle of its range.
If it's towards the hot end of the range, you may have a fan or coolant issue and need to check these as soon as possible. Most other gauges have been replaced by warning lights, but many drivers don't know what the obscure ones mean. Take a few minutes with the owner's manual to find out – it could save you a tonne of time and money.
16: Follow the service schedule
Filters and fluids are designed to last only a certain amount of time or for a certain mileage.
Failing to replace them on time guarantees reduced efficiency and potentially the premature failure of other parts – so replace everything on time.
17: Act swiftly
If your car starts to make odd noises don't just turn up the radio to drown out the noise, and hope that the problem will go away.
Small problems have a habit of turning into big ones if left, with repair costs increasing too.
18: Dip the clutch
When you start the car, disconnecting the drive will reduce the load on the starter motor. It might not seem like much of a help, but over several years and thousands of cycles, it can make more of a difference than you think.
19: Take a driving course
We all like to think we're really good drivers, especially if we've been practising our art for years.
But few of us have nothing to learn and a decent refresher course can make things a lot easier for our cars, in terms of improved awareness and anticipation which helps to reduce wear and tear on the brakes, transmission and maybe the suspension too. Budget £100-£200 for something worthwhile; check out rospa.com and iamroadsmart.com for more.
20: Do It Yourself
Rebuilding an engine or gearbox isn't for the faint-hearted, but there are lots of things you can do to reduce the maintenance bills on any car.
Simple servicing is surprisingly easy and even replacing parts such as wiper motors or window mechanisms tends to be surprisingly easy if you buy a workshop manual or watch an online tutorial first.
21: Clean it
Some cars feature plastic or aluminium panels but most still feature a steel outer skin in the main.
The key thing that protects this skin is your car's paint and once this is damaged rust will creep in. That's why protecting the paint is so crucial, so wash your car regularly and give it a polish.
22: Vacuum it
The same theory applies to your car's interior. Once dirt gets into the carpets and trim they'll get damaged that much more easily.
If you don't mind driving a mobile pig sty that's fine, but if not just vacuum it every few weeks to reduce the chances of the trim falling apart.
23: Attend to damage
Stone chips have a habit of festering, so if your paintwork is looking decidedly below-par you might need to get things touched up before corrosion starts to spread.
If that's in structural panels such as the sills or roof you'll find things get expensive depressingly quickly.
24: Cover it
If you use your car only sparingly, so it moves only occasionally, it's worth buying a soft cover for it to protect the paintwork.
Once the paint gets covered in dust the latter will act like an abrasive and if the paint is already old it'll get damaged that much more easily.
25: Don't cover it
If you have to keep your car outside, don't rush to keep it under a cover to protect it from the elements.
There are some great outdoor covers out there, but some just rub against the bodywork, damaging the paint and on a hot day they can heat up the paint leading to blistering galore.
26: Maintain the battery
If you leave your car for a while the chances are that its battery will discharge over time, especially if an alarm or immobiliser are fitted.
Once your battery goes flat it will be damaged irreparably pretty quickly; the key is to keep it hooked up to a battery conditioner which plugs into the mains.
27: Check the wiper blades
Wiper blades are made of rubber so it's inevitable that they'll perish, especially if a car is left out in the sun a lot.
Once the blade starts to separate, it'll fall apart altogether when you switch the wipers on – and it'll scrape your windscreen in the process – potentially to the point that the screen has to be replaced. So replace your blades before they're wrecked, not after.
28: Be careful with chemicals
Alloy wheel cleaners can be acidic, which means the lacquer on your wheels gets destroyed and the metal then corrodes.
If you're a regular at cheap car wash sites, be careful; they may spray your alloys with strong chemicals to speed up the cleaning process – potentially leaving you with tired-looking wheels very quickly.
29: Get it rust-proofed
Even relatively new cars can benefit from a professional rust-proofing treatment.
Surface corrosion can lead to fractured suspension coil springs if frost gets in, and once areas such as sills, wheelarches or floorpans start to rust, things will only get worse if you don't take action.
30: Use synthetic oil
If there's one thing that helps to prolong the life of your gearbox, engine and differential it's the use of clean oil.
Mineral oils degrade much more quickly than synthetic alternatives which is why you should stick with the man-made stuff and replace it regularly. Be careful if you've got a classic though; synthetic oils can be too thin for older components.
31: Use gummi pflege
Gummi pflege is great stuff but the chances are that you've never heard of it.
It's a lubricant and protectant for rubber door, convertible roof and window seals and by applying a bit every few months it can help to significantly increase the lifespan of your car's seals – items which tend to be very costly to replace.
32: Wheel alignment
If your tyres are wearing unevenly it could be because the tracking is out, but it might be that your suspension bushes or track rod ends are tired.
The only solution is to replace them (it's not necessarily expensive) or you'll forever be fitting new tyres because of the uneven and increased wear.
33: Cam belt renewal
Some car makers have stretched their cam belt (otherwise known as a timing belt) replacement schedules to unrealistic lengths, in a bid to reduce on-paper running costs.
But if the belt breaks the engine will probably be trashed. If a schedule of more than 100,000 miles is the official guidance, we'd say aim to replace the belt no more than every 80,000 miles or six years.
34: Renew the water pump
If you replace the cam belt but you leave the original water pump in place, you've retained a weak link in the chain.
If the pump fails your entire engine will probably be lunched – and all for the sake of a £50 part.
35: Get handy with the lube
Locks, hinges and linkages all dry out over time and that's when they start to wear.
Applying a bit of three-in-one lubricant from time to time can make a big difference to how quickly things wear out.
36: Check your tyres
This might seem like an obvious one but it's still one that most people overlook. If your tyres are down on pressure by just a few PSI they'll wear out more quickly and your engine has to work that bit harder, which means your fuel bills will be a little bit higher.
So check your tyre pressures every couple of weeks.
37: Fuel hoses
If you've got a classic car and it's on its original fuel hoses – or if they were replaced many years ago – you could be heading for disaster.
Not only does the rubber perish, leading to leaks, but modern fuels attack the rubber that much more aggressively, hastening its demise. As the ethanol content of petrol increases, you really need to change to rubber that's okay with modern fuel.
38: Air filter(s)
Factory-fit air filters are designed to be thrown away once they're grubby; make sure you do so because if left clogged up they'll strangle your car's engine.
You could also think about swapping these disposable filters for aftermarket items that can be cleaned and reused. Just make sure that you do clean them occasionally…
39: Coolant hoses
This is one of those preventative maintenance things that might just save your engine from being cooked.
The constant heating and cooling cycles in your engine bay leads to the rubber hoses perishing and if one lets go the first thing you'll know about it is when your temperature gauge shoots into the red, because your engine has lost all of its coolant.
40: Get any recall work done
Car makers regularly have to recall their cars because of a design or manufacturing problem. You can check if your car is subject to any outstanding recalls via the DVSA website (www.gov.uk/check-vehicle-recall) or via any official dealer.
As with any fault, fail to get recall work done and a small problem could develop into a bigger one. Bearing in mind recall problems are always fixed for free, doing nothing is especially daft.
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