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Maintenance Tips for Old Cars: Avoid Costly Expenses


Glenn Stok applies his engineering background to solve technological problems and save money on car repairs. He writes to share his insight.

Your old car can last many rewarding years when you take care of it properly.

Your old car can last many rewarding years when you take care of it properly.

There are many benefits from maintaining your old car. Treating it well with proper maintenance will lead to a rewarding long-term ownership, saving you the expense of buying a new vehicle sooner than necessary.

I’ll tell you how I kept my 20-year-old car running as good as new, and how it's good enough to last me another 100,000 miles.

Keep up With Manufacturer's Maintenance Recommendations

Your car's user manual includes a schedule for maintaining certain things. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. That helps prolong the useful years of your vehicle.

Here is a list of possible maintenance items:

  • Change oil and oil filter routinely.
  • Keep all fluids appropriately filled. That may be included with oil changes.
  • Replace spark plugs.
  • Replace coolant.
  • Check brake fluid.
  • Rotate tires as recommended by the tire manufacturer.
  • Check the tire pressure of all tires once a month and before long trips.
  • Don't forget the spare tire or donut; check its pressure too.
  • Other maintenance as needed per recommended schedule.

I have well over 100,000 miles already on my car. In the next section, I'll explain what I recently had done to be sure I'd get another 100,000 miles out of it.

Change Engine Timing-Belt After 100,000 Miles

The timing belt or chain connects the crankshaft to the camshaft. It controls the timing of the valves in an internal combustion engine.

There are two types of engines:

Interference Engine:

I have a car with an interference engine. If my timing belt should break while driving, the engine will be damaged and will need to be replaced. That's costly!

Non-Interference Engine:

Vehicles that don’t have an interference engine will not suffer much damage when the timing belt breaks. It will just stop running. The car will still need to be towed, but the repair would require only the replacement of the timing belt, not a whole new engine.

Check out your owner’s manual to see which type of engine you have. If you have an interference engine and you have reached 100,000 miles, then you should get the timing belt replaced before it breaks. If you don't have an interference engine, you still should plan to get the timing belt changed, unless you look forward to being towed someday, possibly at an inconvenient time.

I decided it was time to get it done, and I brought my car to my local auto shop to avoid taking chances of blowing my engine.

How to Save on Labor

You can save future expenditures on labor by having several things done at the same time the timing belt is changed. I asked the mechanic to do all the following along with the timing belt:

  • Change all the belts
  • Change the water pump
  • Flush the cooling system

That will save money in the long run. Since the mechanic has to remove all the belts anyway to get to the timing belt, there is no extra labor charge for putting on new belts. One of them may be nearly ready to break someday, and they are not expensive if done along with the rest of the job.

If I needed the belt that powers the AC compressor later on, then I'd pay the costly labor again. Therefore, I may as well have all new belts now.

The same logic goes for the water pump. It would be costly to change the water pump if it ever should break down. However, while the timing belt is being replaced anyway, the cost of labor is already included.

Finally, it's only logical to have the cooling system flushed since they have to drain it to change the pump. There's no extra charge to do it along with the water pump replacement.

Things You Can Do Yourself

  • Change wipers when they are worn.
  • Vacuum the interior and clean leather and vinyl with a proper cleanser.
  • Maintain proper tire inflation (keep a handle gauge in your glove box).
  • Don't forget to check the pressure in the spare tire (donut).
  • Check all lights (inside and out) to be sure none are burnt out.

Use a Tankful of High-Octane Gas Once a Year

Once a year, fill up a full tank with high-octane gas. That will clean out gunk from pistons and the catalytic converter. These are two of the most costly things to repair and replace. Keeping them free of build-up helps keep the car running clean and more efficiently.

Why does this work? After all, high-octane does not burn hotter. It works because higher octane types of gasoline usually have more additives and better detergents that may help clean out buildup.

I have personal proof. My check engine light came on seven years ago. My mechanic said it was my catalytic converter and it would cost $650 to replace. Today that cost could be $1,000.

I picked up a low-cost diagnostic scanner to read the check-engine trouble codes in the car's computer. I saw that he was telling me the truth. However, instead of having it replaced, I filled up with a tank of high-octane gas.

The check engine light never came back on, and it's already been seven years since then with no problems. Of course, the catalytic converter may indeed be damaged. If it is, you need a new one. But in some cases, it’s just filled with gunk and high-octane gas could help clean that out.

Replace the Cabin Air Filter for More Comfort

Not many people know that the passenger cabin of many cars has an air filter. That gets dirty after several years and should be replaced.

You can find replacement cabin air filters that are even better than the standard ones installed in new cars. Some car manufacturers provide paper filters as a standard, but I suggest getting carbon filters when you replace them. I bought mine made by FRAM.

Replacing the cabin filter is a little tedious, but it's a job you can do yourself. With some cars, there are a lot of screws and snaps to remove to get to the filter.

I did a Google search to find a YouTube video showing how to change the cabin filter in my car. You can find a "do-it-yourself" video for just about any make vehicle. Just do a Google search for "YouTube changing cabin air filter" and include your make of car.

Pick up the correct replacement filter for your particular car at any local auto parts store. You can also find the right one for your vehicle on Amazon. Then follow the YouTube video instructions that you found with your search.

My Personal Experience Changing the Cabin Filter

It took me an hour. I had to go back and view the video a second time while I was doing it.

Besides the screws, my car had a lot of snaps that hold the dash in place, but every vehicle is different. I had to pull hard after removing the screws to get the dash dislodged from the snaps.

Then when I put it all back together, I forgot to replace a brace that goes across under the dash. I had to undo it all again to put the brace back in. Therefore, I suggest that you pay close attention to the video that deals with your car. Watch it a few times before you start.

In my case, the filters were not that dirty. I guess that's because I always have it set to "recycle" my cabin air. I prefer to do that rather than blowing in air from outside, which sucks in the fumes from other vehicles.

After I changed the cabin filter, I discovered I could leave the internal air recycle off since getting fresh air from the outside is better now with a new filter. I no longer smell the street fumes because the new filters I put in are carbon filters, definitely much better than the old paper filters that came with the car.

By the way, I had to replace two filters. Some cars only have one, so check your car's user manual before you buy new ones.

I noticed nothing prevents you from putting the filters in backward, so I paid close attention to the arrows showing the airflow direction. Don't make that mistake.

Repair Scratches Before They Rust for Long-Lasting Beauty

Body scratches tend to appear almost by magic. People brush up against your car in parking lots. People open doors next to you and hit your vehicle.

Even the weather has a lot to do with it. Hail, road gravel, you name it. There are rough elements in the air that put blemishes in your car's surface.

I found that over time, these blemishes and scratches grow more prominent and even rust. It's crucial to stop this from happening. One way is to use nail polish, but this shows up when viewed at an angle.

I found that Quixx makes a great scratch remover kit that includes the right grade of sandpaper and the right paint for your make and model of car. It works well and keeps the outside looking clean and fresh. You can find it at your local vehicle parts store or on Amazon.

Proper Car Care Is Rewarding

Instead of buying a new car, you can take care of your old vehicle properly and have it last many rewarding years. Keep the money in the bank or make a meaningful investment that will grow while you enjoy many more years of value from your present car.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 03, 2018:

Mark Werenczuk - Extended use of gasoline with too high octane might cause damage to older cars that don’t compensate for it, as you indicated. But those cars don’t have OBD monitoring systems anyway, so the issue is mute.

With modern cars that have OBD, one tankfull will not cause harm since they have stabilizing mechanisms anyway.

If the problem is a dirty catalytic converter, this method has worked for many. Driving with one tank of high octane gas has already helped me and several of my friends avoid needing to replace the catalytic converter.

Mark Werenczuk on July 03, 2018:

I don’t think advocating putting a high octane gas into any car is a good idea. You should always use the gas specified in the owners’ manual. Higher octane gas has nothing special in it to clean the engine. It merely has a different concentration of oxygen. Modern cars have a mechanism for stabilizing the engine to eliminate knocking should the wrong octane gas be put in. However things like accelerating uphill or towing anything with the wrong octane gas in your car can damage your engine.

In short, there is no benefit to putting more expensive gas in your car and possible negative effects.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 31, 2016:

VitaClean - True, the 100,000 miles I mentioned is only the minimum safe distance to consider for getting the timing belt changed. But as you said, various manufacturers recommend different distances.

VitaClean from 47 Horseshoe Lane, Bromley Cross, Bolton. BL7 9RR on July 31, 2016:

This is a very interesting article, but I have to say that changing the timing belt is a manufacturers recommendation and is different for every vehicle, you should go off your owners manual to be on the safe side and avoid costly repairs

Shelby on September 23, 2014:

Loved this! I have a 91 honda civic, with 86k everyone tells me to get a new car. I love my car and no car payments :)

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on June 12, 2013:

Crystal Tatum - That $1,000 was well-spent I can assure you. Especially for the timing belt. It's amazing that you got so far past 100,000 miles without having a problem with the timing belt. But being over 200,000 miles was really pushing it. At least now you can feel secure that you're not going to have problems with your engine dying on you suddenly due to a timing belt break. You obviously take very good care of your car and you drive well too. That's why your car is in such great shape. Thanks for the vote up and sharing. Much appreciated.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on June 12, 2013:

My Honda has over 200,000 miles and I hope I get another 100,00! I just had my timing belt changed for the first time, and the mechanic was shocked at what good shape my car was in, although I've done little but basic maintenance. That being said, this year I've already spent about $1,000 in maintenance costs. But I'd rather do that than have a car payment. Good job on this hub, voting up and sharing.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on June 12, 2013:

Mary - Funny thing, I have a '98 Honda Accord. You are definitely doing the right things to keep it lasting a long time. Thanks for sharing my hub on FB. Much appreciated.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 12, 2013:

I drive a 1997 Honda Accord with 130,000 miles. I remember my Daddy saying to always change the oil ever 3,000 miles and I do that. I am bothered that little pieces of plastic fall off the car, but I can handle that with super glue. I've done the timing belt already.

Great Hub with good info. I voted this UP and will share with followers and on my FB page....I know my friends and family will like to learn about keeping their car a long time.

moonlake from America on January 15, 2013:

We have two older cars and we are trying to keep them running. We don't want car payments. Interesting hub full of good information.

Kate McBride from Donegal Ireland on October 05, 2012:

This hub is full of good advice. My car is 20 years old and I wouldn't change it for the world but it gets all necessary oil changes and the timing belt is also done. The way you drive a car has also a lot to do with how it runs as you say. Great advice and common sense in this hub;voted it up and useful.

Michael Tully on October 05, 2012:

Excellent advice, Glenn, particularly the part about managing one's driving style. Too few people realize that the jackrabbit starts and brake-stomping stops put tremendous stress on suspension and drivetrain components. Very well written, and easy to read, too. Voted up, useful and interesting. Many thanks, and have a great day.

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