Maintenance Tips for Old Cars: Avoid Costly Expenses
Treating one's car well with proper maintenance will lead to a rewarding long-term ownership, saving the expense of buying a new vehicle sooner than necessary.
I’ll tell you how I am keeping my 18-year-old car running as good as new, and how it's good enough to last me another 100,000 miles.
Vehicles have been built a lot better in the last 20 years than they have been in prior decades. More people are holding on to their old cars longer than ever. This may be due to the economy and the job situation, but that's all the more reason to hold on to your old car.
Benefits Of Maintaining Your Old Car
Your car's user manual gives you a schedule for maintaining certain things. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. This helps prolong the useful years of your car. Here is a short list:
- Change oil and oil filter routinely.
- Keep all fluids filled properly. This may be included with oil changes.
- Replace spark plugs.
- Replace coolant.
- Check brake fluid.
- Rotate tires as recommended by the tire manufacturer.
- Check tire pressure of all tires once a month an 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 and non-interference. 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!
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 just 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
This will save money in the long run. Since they have 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 some day, 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. While the timing belt is being changed, the 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 timing belt and 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. This will clean out gunk from pistons and from 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.
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.
I picked up a 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-test gas. low-cost diagnostic scanner
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 in fact be damaged, and if it is you need a new one, but in some cases it’s just filled with gunk and high-octane gas cleans that out.
For More Comfort, Replace the Cabin Air Filter
Not many people know that the passenger cabin of many cars has an air filter. This gets dirty after several years and needs to 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 car 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 car 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 really 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 and sucking 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 nice now. 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 backwards, so I paid close attention to the arrows showing the airflow direction. Don't make that mistake.
For Long-Lasting Beauty: Repair Scratches Before They Rust
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 car.
Even 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 bigger and even rust. It's important to stop the spread of these rust spots. 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 car properly and have it last many rewarding years. Keep the money in the bank or make a nice investment that will grow while you enjoy many more years of value from your present car.
© 2012 Glenn Stok
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