TAHOE/TRUCKEE - With proper care and feeding, virtually any car can be kept running as long as the owner wants to keep it. Here are eleven guidelines to keeping your car alive well into six-figure territory.
Buy a good car to begin with. Though Japanese cars are generally the most reliable, don't dismiss American cars - their quality is improving and they are often less expensive to repair. European cars are generally the most expensive to fix. If you're shopping, talk to owners of similar cars about their experiences.
Follow the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual. If your car has a "maintenance minder," use that as a guideline for service, but be sure to double-check your owner's manual as some items need to be replaced based on time rather than mileage. Don't forget the timing belt! Most cars need to have the timing belt replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. It's not cheap, but it's far less expensive than the damage it causes if it breaks.
Keep a repair fund. Cars do break, and there's nothing like a $1,500 repair bill to scare an old-car owner into the new-car showroom. Remember, your car would have to generate repair bills of around $5,000 per year for at least four years in a row to even approach the cost of a new car. In place of your payment, try putting $100 or $200 per month into an interest-bearing car-repair account. That way an unexpected repair or major maintenance won't disrupt your normal cash flow.
Do your homework. Many cars have known problems that tend to pop up under certain circumstances or after enough mileage/time. Most makes and models have Web sites and forums devoted to them; they can be a gold mine of information. Knowing your car is prone to a given problem isn't necessarily cause to get rid of it; it just allows you to be prepared.
Be aware. Be on the lookout for new noises, strange smells or anything that just doesn't feel right. If something seems amiss, talk to your mechanic or dealership. Don't let them tell you "that's normal" - if you've been driving your car long enough, you know best what normal is.
Ask a friend to drive. Every two or three months, ask a friend to take you for a drive in your own car. Some problems appear or increase so gradually that you may not even notice them, but they'll stick out like a sore thumb to someone less familiar. And by riding along in the passenger's seat, you may spot something you missed while preoccupied with driving.
Fix everything as soon as it breaks. If you're going to keep your car as long as possible, you have to want to keep it as long as possible. Don't ignore seemingly unimportant problems like broken trim bits, torn upholstery, or electrical glitches. Little annoyances tend to add up and can begin to erode your love affair with your old car.
Use quality replacement parts. Whether or not to use genuine manufacturer parts is open to debate, but don't just opt for the least expensive parts you can find. Discuss options with your mechanic or parts store. If a non-wearing part is damaged, consider buying a used replacement - you'll get manufacturer quality at a more affordable price.
Keep it clean. Paint does more than make your car look good; it protects the materials underneath. Wash your car regularly. When water no longer beads on the paint, wax it.
Fight rust. If you live where it snows, be sure to wash the car regularly - but only if the temperature is above freezing. (Below freezing the salt stays in solution and won't harm the car.) Don't park in a heated garage; melting snow allows embedded salt to attack. Make sure your car wash does not recycle their water - otherwise they're just spraying your car with salt from other people's vehicles.
Drive gently. There's no need to baby your car; in fact, a little foot-to-the-floor acceleration every once in a while is a good thing, but driving like a wannabe Michael Schumaker in his Formula 1 Ferrari isn't good for your car (or your nerves).
Keeping your car as long as possible saves you hundreds of dollars per month; keeping it in good repair minimizes the environmental impact by ensuring that it runs cleanly and efficiently as possible.
- Doug Schroeder owns Tahoe Blue Automotive, located at 10990 Industrial Way, No. C4, in Truckee. Learn more at www.tahoeblueautomotive.com.