Eight ways to make your car last forever - or at least as long as possible
By Eric Peters
for immediate release

The "average" new car goes out the door for more than $22,000 -- a wad big enough to motivate any sensible person to wring as much service as possible for as long as possible out of that puppy.

If you truly want to get your money's worth out of your vehicle tack this "to-do" list on your fridge:

* First, think long-term. A great many people still believe a car is getting "old" at about eight years and 75,000 to 100,000 miles -- and so they start to think about getting a new one. This is 1970s thinking -- an echo of a log-gone era when the average new car was indeed getting noticeably tired as the odometer rolled close to six figures. But today's cars are often just hitting their stride at 75,000 miles -- and have another 75,000-plus left in them, easy. Unless you're one of those people who just likes to have new stuff all the time (and there's nothing wrong with that, if you don't mind a constant car payment) there's no reason short of abuse, poor upkeep or the occasional lemon you shouldn't be able to keep on driving your new cars for many years after it's paid off -- with gas, oil and routine maintenance your only out of pocket expenses during that time.

* Two, treat her nice. This is just common sense -- but then again, common sense isn't so common. Many people condemn their car to an early date with the crusher by failing to do simple things like following the service recommendations in their owner's manual to the letter -- letting oil change dates come and go, forgetting about crucial preventive maintenance such as flushing out the brake system, changing the transmission's hydraulic fluids -- and so on. The advent of so-called "long life" chemicals (engine coolant, oils, transmission fluid, etc.) and extended tune-up intervals with "100,000 mile" spark plugs, etc. doesn't mean "eternal life" -- and that's precisely what your car won't enjoy if you don't pay attention to what the manufacturer recommends be done.

* Three, know how things work -- and use them as directed. Improper use of components and features will wear them out prematurely. An excellent example here is the misuse of four-wheel-drive and the two-speed transfer case -- an increasingly common feature as 4x4 SUVs and pick-up trucks have grown in popularity. Many people don't understand that leaving the transfer case in 4WD mode when driving at normal speeds on dry, paved roads (and especially going around curves at speed) will rapidly accelerate wear of the 4WD components, possibly resulting in failure of the transfer case, drive axles and other components. The selector should always be left in 2H on dry, paved roads and moved to 4High (or 4Low) only when attempting to get through heavy snow, mud -- or when driving on a rough, uneven (or gravel-surfaced) road. Read your owner's manual and become familiar with how every feature of your car or truck works, when it's supposed to be used -- and when it's not supposed to be used.

* Four, keep her covered if possible. Vehicles that have to sit outside all their lives tend to deteriorate faster -- and show their age more obviously -- than cars and trucks that lead more sheltered lives. The sun beating down on a car's finish will leave it looking dull much more rapidly than would otherwise happen if the car sat inside a garage (or at least had a car cover on most of the time). The dash will fade and crack, seat fabrics wash out -- and so on. Heating and cooling cycles are also more severe when a car is subjected to the full force and effect of the outside environment. The AC has to work harder (and so will likely wearout earlier) when it has to repeatedly cool the interior off after the car has been sitting in the 100 degree sun. And it's much harder on the engine when cold-started on a 10 degree January day than it would be inside a garage that's 10-20 degrees warmer.

* Five, use the clutch properly. If you drive a stickshift car, don't keep the clutch in any longer than necessary; in particular, don't hold it in while you're sitting at a light waiting for it to change. This will rapidly wear out hard-to-get-at (and thus expensive to fix) parts like the throwout bearing. Also learn to engage and disengage the clutch quickly and smoothly, without "riding" it -- or you'll be heading to the transmission shop for an early date with a big bill. Be especially gentle with your shifting on very cold days until the gear oil has had a chance to warm up a little -- which takes about 10 minutes of driving. No hard up or downshifts. If you have an automatic-equipped car, keep it in "D" and use the brakes to slow the vehicle on downhill grades (new brake pads being much cheaper than a new transmission). Always set the parking brake first before putting the gear selector in "Park" -- to avoid putting the entire weight of your vehicle on the transmission's internal "pawl" -- which can break or bindup so tight under the load you ma not be able to get the transmission out of "Park" when you want to get going again!

* Six, use the engine properly. If you drive a manual-shift car, that means always selecting the right gear for the speed you're driving -- and above all, never "lugging" the engine by failing to move down a gear when necessary, as when slowing from highway speeds to in-town speeds. Lugging the engine can cause early bearing failure and other major problems. Regardless of transmission type, avoid short duration trips that keep the engine from reaching its ully warmed state -- what engineers call "thermal equilibrium" -- and if this is not possible, change the oil and filter more frequently, in accordance with the "heavy duty" or "severe service" schedule listed in the owner's manual.

* Seven, pay attention to your gauges (and warning lights). If the "check engine" light comes on, don't use electrical tape to hide it from view -- find and fix the underlying problem. Always scan your water and oil pressure gauges as you drive and make a mental note of their "usual" readings so you'll notice it immediately when one begins to indicate a potential problem developing -- for example, unusually high (or abnomrally low) temperature guage readings. Driving around obliviously while your engine overheats (or never warms up because of a stuck thermostat) will shorten your vehicle's useful life as surely as a diet of nothing but Hardee's Thickburgers will land you in the coronary care ward.

* Eight, feed her right. Don't cheap out by pouring 20 gallons of unleaded regular into the tank instead of the premium called for by the designers of your car (if applicable). While modern electronics (knock sensors) will prevent the worst from happening -- specifically, engine-killing pre-ignition ("pinging") -- use of the incorrect grade of fuel is not doing your car's engine any favors. And beware of off-brand fuels -- no matter the stated octane. These may not have the same detergent additives as name-brand gasoline -- crucial to the well-being of a modern car's fuel injection system -- andmay be contaminated with water and other things you don't want in your tank. Saving a buck or two at fill-up isn't worth risking a few hundred dollars in avoidable repairs down the road -- or hastening the end of your four-wheeled friend before its time has come.