People come to me all the time with their car-buying and maintaining woes. The common thread between all of these people is that they just want a car that lasts longer. I feel like everyone wants a car that never stops running.
Routine maintenance and checking things like your tires, battery, and fluid levels will help your car last longer. In addition, you’ll want to garage your car and take it out for a spin at least weekly. Find a more detailed run-down in the following sections.
In this guide, I’ll give you some of the tips that you need in order to achieve this. I’ll cover why your car might die in the first place, the great parts about a car that lasts longer, and 23 ways to make your car last longer. If you ever wondered how to make your car last longer, you came to the right place.
What Kills Your Car?
There is no such thing as “natural cause” in the car world. Cars all die for very specific reasons. Some of them are so random and unpredictable, like a tree falling on the front hood. Others can be avoided with some techniques I’ll highlight later.
In any case, there are only a few general reasons why your car is dead. In other words, these are the things that kill your car.
Wear and Tear
Wear and tear are something that simply happens over time. It’s when parts rub against one another or get banged up through general use.
It’s also used to describe any exterior or interior damage that’s done that just happens through regular use — things like dings, small scratches, and fading.
“Wear and tear” is usually just said with a shrug, but it can add up over time and cause the event that kills your car. Namely, a small scratch through wear and tear can eventually rust and lead to body and frame damage.
Having an accident is a quick way to kill your car. The size of the forces at play in a car wreck is hard to comprehend. It’s the reason why airbags exist in the first place.
When something is exposed to big forces like this, a lot can go wrong.
Even a little fender bender can result in damages that just get worse over time. It’s why having an accident on a Carfax report is often a kiss of death.
Even though cars spend a lot of time outside, the great outdoors is a bad place for a car. The sun, rain, grass, gravel, and high and low temperatures can kill your vehicle.
If you ever stumble across an abandoned house that has weeds growing all over it, check the area for a car parked. In almost every case, the car is in terrible shape and probably inoperable.
Moisture is the mortal enemy of a car. Whether it’s under the hood, on the undercarriage, or in a scratch on your car — moisture leads to things not working.
It also leads to a rusted framework which results in a totaled car (in extreme cases).
Long Periods Without Using It
You know that action figure you have on your shelf in the original packaging? The one that will lose all of its value if it’s ever touched or exposed to the air? Cars are the opposite of that.
As pretty as the cars look in a 10-car garage, they will be useless piles of metal if they aren’t taken out routinely.
Going long periods of time without using your car will almost always result in parts failing and acting up. Rot can start to set in, rust will take over, and electronics will break down.
Acts of God
Aptly called “acts of God” in the insurance world, this category is all the stuff you really can’t avoid. This is floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis — things that are completely outside of your control and typically natural disasters.
Short of sending your car into outer space (I’m looking at you, Elon), there isn’t much you can do to avoid this.
If you have the burning desire to go fast, do some burnouts, and throw your car into a drift, play some Xbox. Misusing your car will quickly kill it, especially if you do so repeatedly.
Parts that you didn’t even know existed on your car will break and need a replacement after driving recklessly.
Using your car for anything other than a casual drive from point A to point B might be secretly doing damage.
The Benefits of a Longer-Lasting Car
Next, I want to talk about why you might want a car that lasts longer. Some of the reasons might seem obvious, but they’re worth mentioning. After all, why bother squeezing every mile out of your car if there aren’t some massive benefits?
The headaches that go with a short-lived car are hard to describe. It’s a constant battle against breakdowns, broken parts, and mechanic shops.
If your car lasts longer, there are fewer headaches along the way. It’s a matter of doing some work today to avoid a problem tomorrow.
Less Time Spent Turning Wrenches
If your car lasts longer without a breakdown, that means you get to enjoy your weekends without lying on your back under a car.
As you can see in my general troubleshooting articles on my blog, it’s not easy to pinpoint a problem in your car. It might take you weeks of trial and error before you finally correct the problem.
All the while, you’re either wasting time turning wrenches or you’re paying an auto shop to do the same.
Less Money Wasted
Speaking of paying auto shops, do you want to talk about how much money is wasted in a short-lived car? One that dies quickly leaves you with a big bill in the mail before you expected it.
The money gets wasted through buying spare parts yourself, taking your car to the shop, and buying a used car when your car dies. If you can drag out the final day of your car, you can enjoy less money wasted along the way.
More Bang (Years) for Your Buck
This is my personal favorite reason to make my cars last longer. The longer they last, the more bang you get for your buck.
Let’s say you buy two cars on the same day for $30,000 each. One car you neglect and don’t really take care of. The other one you do all the steps that I’ll outline in the next section.
The first car lasts 8 years, and the second one lasts 15 years.
That’s an additional 7 years with no additional money upfront. The added maintenance costs won’t amount to much over those additional years. You’re left with a car that gives you much more, all because you took care of it.
Postpone the Car Buying Process
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that a long-lasting car puts you further away from the car buying process. I think everyone hates how hard it is to buy a car, so why sign up for this process more often than you need to?
Think about how much time and energy you waste every time you’re trying to get a new car. The negotiation process alone can take hours.
This is why I try to keep my cars alive as long as humanly possible. The longer I go without seeing a dealership, the lower my blood pressure is.
23 Ways to Make Your Car Last Longer
Now it’s time for the main event. Let me explain some of the best ways to make your car last longer. Implementing some or all of these tips will definitely help your car last longer.
Use Your AC/ Heater Year-Round
You might not realize it, but the AC and heater in your car are susceptible to failure if they go without use for too long.
If you ever wondered why your AC didn’t work the first time you really needed it on the first hot day of summer, this is why. If you don’t use it, you can lose it.
I suggest that you run your AC and heater whenever possible. Even if it’s really cold, you can put on your AC for a few minutes and angle the vents away from you.
Although running the air conditioning doesn’t help you keep your gas costs low, it will help you to avoid damaged or broken parts in the next season.
Avoid the Redline
Do you see that really tempting red area of your tachometer? That’s called the redline. It’s the range of revolutions per minute that can do some serious damage to your car if you stay there for long enough.
As fun as that range sounds and feels, you need to avoid it at all costs. Your engine isn’t designed to stay in that range for any sustained period of time.
Keep it Smooth
You want to be smoother than Fonzie when you’re driving around. Like any moving mechanical assembly, smoothness is synonymous with long-lasting.
Fast, jerky motions can do damage to different parts of your vehicle. You want to be especially smooth when it comes to accelerating, braking, and steering, as these are three systems that don’t especially like dramatic changes.
Don’t Forget Your Filters
There are filters all over the place in your car. If you didn’t know this, you could be in trouble. These filters keep contaminants out of key players in your vehicle.
An air filter, for example, will keep pollen and dirt out of the air that gets blown out of your car’s vents.
When filters clog and fill up, components don’t work the way they’re supposed to. By regularly replacing your filters, you’ll be optimizing how your car runs. As a result, your vehicle will last longer.
Idle for 10 Seconds Before Going
Experts always suggest that you should idle your car a little bit before hitting the road. This helps your oil circulate a little and allows your engine to heat up some.
Idling for more than 10 seconds is typically a waste of gas and will hurt the environment. You just want to idle for a little bit to get the best results.
Check Your Battery’s Health
If you regularly check your battery’s health, you can make sure that the heart of your car is beating strong the whole time. A dead or dying battery might stop you from even starting your car in the morning.
However, there are plenty of signs that tell you that your battery is on its way out. Looking for these signs allows you to replace or fix the battery before it’s too late.
If you want to avoid an accident, I always suggest driving predictably. Other drivers are going to assume your actions and base their own actions around that. If you drive at consistent speeds and use your blinkers to give plenty of notice, you can help avoid an accident.
I always pretend that the drivers around me on the road want to kill me and have no idea how to drive. This thought process means that I’m overly cautious in driving situations and has helped me avoid countless accidents at this point.
Replace Your Spark Plugs
When your spark plugs start to die, your engine will underperform or not start at all. Replacing spark plugs is a relatively easy process and it’s pretty low-cost.
Spark plugs will typically last around 100,000 miles before you need to fully replace them. When you get around that mark, consider replacing them ahead of time.
Rotate, Replace, and Align Your Tires
Your tires do more than you realize. They are the only thing that comes in contact with the road under you (unless something’s really wrong).
All that grip and motion of your car is thanks to your tires.
Making sure they have enough tread, they’re properly aligned, and they’re rotated with every oil change is a great idea. It improves the overall health of your tires and signs you up for a long-lasting vehicle.
Not sure where to start? Use my handy tire health guide here.
Check and Refill Your Fluids Regularly
Your transmission, power steering, and windshield wiper fluids need to be topped off from time to time. Running out of any of these fluids is a big problem.
Some are easier to refill than others. For example, your wiper fluid just needs you to pop your hood and open a cap before pouring in new fluid. Something like this takes a few minutes and a few bucks.
Perform Small Checks Now to Avoid Big Problems Later
Get into the habit of walking around your car and checking some of the key players. A few small checks now can help you spot and mitigate a potential problem that you’ll have in the future.
A great example of this is spotting a bubbling or flat tire and replacing it before it’s too late.
Warning Lights: Be Warned When They Appear
Warning lights are there for a reason. When one pops up on your dash, be warned! Assuming that they’re pointless and they’ll just go away is a quick way to ruin your car.
If you’re not sure what the indication means, you can check your car’s handbook. It should outline every light and what you can do to correct the problem.
These lights are a direct result of a sensor being tripped for something. A low air pressure indicator means that your car is noticing one or more of your tires has a pressure below the manufacturer’s suggested psi.
Visit a Mechanic from Time to Time
“Mechanic” is a four-letter word around my house, but it’s important to go to one from time to time. They have the eye, expertise, and knowledge to point out potential problems with your vehicle.
They also have the tools to get it done quicker than you can if you’re interested. There are a lot of reasons why you should go to a mechanic instead of fixing it yourself, and I always visit mine once or twice a year.
Sometimes it seems like they’re just making stuff up to make money, but most of the time they’re spot-on about what they report back.
Cheap Parts Are…Well, Cheap. Avoid Using Them
You get what you pay for, and that’s especially true in the world of car parts. A car part that’s advertised as half the price of another one is that cheap for a reason. They are probably poorly manufactured and will lead to reliability issues.
I’m not saying that you should get the most expensive option whenever you’re buying a part, but I’d definitely suggest that you don’t get the cheapest one.
OCCASIONALLY Floor it
I said that you should avoid the redline, but every once in a while it’s okay to get near it. Car experts suggest that you should floor your car very occasionally.
This helps to get rid of some carbon deposits in your engine. Places like your throttle body, valves, combustion chamber, and intake manifold can be coated with carbon that can lead to their demise.
By flooring it, you’re flooding these areas with combustion that will burn away the excess carbon. For safety, only do this in a remote and safe location and never go excessively fast. You can floor it quickly just to burn off the carbon then go back to your normal drive.
Never Run Low on Gas
Your car is designed to always have gas in it. You have a fuel pump that’s always sucking in fuel and displacing it around your car.
When you run out of gas, things like debris, sediment, air, and other contaminants can clog your system. They can even build up and prevent fuel from passing through after you fill up again.
It might seem strange, but keeping your tank above 1/4 at all times is the best way to do it.
Don’t Rest Your Hand on the Gear Shifter
Your gear shifter is tied right into your transmission. If you rest your hand on the shifter while you’re driving, you’re putting unnecessary force on your gearbox, making it wear out quicker.
This is true in automatic or manual cars alike.
Clean Your Car Regularly
I hate to sound like your mom, but you should clean your car regularly. Cleaning the interior will help prevent mice from making their way into your car.
Cleaning your car’s exterior with the right car care products will prevent rust and body damage over time. It also helps the resale value of your vehicle by preventing fading.
Grit can make its way into the moving parts of your car, accelerating wear and tear. Again, a simple cleaning will avoid this.
No one is actively aiming for potholes, but it’s worth pointing out that these little buggers can do some big damage.
Hitting a pothole can damage your tire, exhaust, and suspension system. The sharp corners of a pothole can lead to some sidewall bulges which ultimately result in a tire blowout.
Potholes that are especially deep can even hit your catalytic converter and cause your car to lose power.
Long story short, do your best to avoid potholes. Make sure you leave enough distance between you and the car in front of you so you can see when one is approaching.
Lower Weight Means Higher Odometer
Another good tip is to get rid of the extra weight in your vehicle. Having it constantly stacked with all your tools, sports gear, and storage puts a strain on your car.
When the car is heavier, almost all the systems in your vehicle are working harder. Things like the engine, transmission, and the suspension — three big-ticket items if you have to replace them.
Lowering your weight means your car has a better shot of lasting longer and giving you a higher odometer reading.
Garage Your Car Whenever Possible
If you want to avoid nature, you should park your car in a garage. As I mentioned earlier, the great outdoors can do some serious damage to your vehicle, especially over time.
If you’re in an area where garage parking isn’t an option, consider getting a carport. If nothing else, you can put a tarp over your vehicle and use a sun visor to protect the interior.
Service Schedules Are There for a Reason
A lot of people don’t even know that their car has a manufacturer’s suggested service schedule. Things like how often you should replace tires, belts, oil, and components are all clearly laid out.
For instance, you can find out everything about what your Honda Civic needs through their manufacturing maintenance schedule. It gives you big mileage markers that you need to do different services and what services are required.
Slow Down and Be Mindful
Another way to avoid an accident and lengthen the life of your car is to always be mindful while you’re driving. Distracted driving is a huge issue.
It’s a good idea to slow down a little bit too. This gives you more time to react and stop, avoiding a potential accident.
I wasn’t kidding when I said I would give you the ultimate guide to make your car last longer. I just covered 23 ways to maximize your car’s life, some reasons why your car might die, and why it’s great to have a long-lasting car. If you want more guides, explore the rest of my blog. Be sure to check out what car products I highly recommend for every car owner.