There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get at least 12 years and 150,000 trouble-free miles out of a new car today -- and that can make your initial "investment" (on average, $24,000 today) a lot easier to swallow. But the key element is proper care -- and proper driving. Cars are a lot like our bodies; live like Elvis -- and don't expect to live very long. But treat your body (and your car) with care and respect -- and both should last a very long time.

To enjoy the benefits of a long-live car, keep in mind -- and try to live by -- the following rules:

* Regular maintenance per the factory recommendations -- Not just oil changes, but general maintenance, including periodic service of the brake system, cooling system, transmission -- and so on. Most automakers provide a service schedule with their new cars, listing what should be done (and when) according to mileage accrued or time passed. These are not "suggestions" -- they are there for a reason. Ignore them at your peril. As an example: Failure to have an ABS brake system periodically flushed can lead to the premature failure of major (and expensive) parts like the ABS pump.

* Understand the difference between "Normal" and "Severe" use -- Unless you read the fine print, you may be under the impression you only need to have oil and filter changes and so on done once every six months or 6,000 miles, when in fact the driving you do qualifies as "severe use" -- and the intervals are actually much shorter. The automakers tout their "normal" service intervals -- which are typically pretty generous these days -- making it seem like the need for routine service has almost gone away (implicitly saving you time and money). But if you live in a city/suburban area and your driving includes a lot of stop-and-go duty, then you usually qualify for the "severe" (or "heavy duty") intervals, which tend to be much shorter. It's important to follow the right schedule, in either case. Even if you do end up spending an extra $40 or $50 per year on oil and filter changes, that's a lot less expensive than a prematurely tired engine -- and the bill for a new car to replace your old one.

* Competent service by trained technicians -- Today's cars are more complex than ever and "do-it-yourself" work can result in botched repairs or (or worse, improperly done service that accelerates wear and tear). Make sure the person under the hood knows what they're doing -- and avoid the temptation to fiddle with things yourself unless you understand what you're doing and have the right tools to d the job.

* Driving style -- This last one's often the deal breaker. Frequent full-throttle starts, late (and hard) braking, throwing the car around corners -- it's all lots of fun, but in addition to killing your gas mileage and prematurely wearing out your tires, it also means a shorter life for your engine, transmission, brakes, suspension parts and so on. Smooth, steady driving will extend the life of all these components -- and the car as a whole. You'll also save on gas and tires.

A few parting suggestions:

* If you have a manual transmission, engage the clutch smoothly -- without "riding" it (which will wear it out faster). Do not hold the clutch in while idling at a light; this places excess strain on it -- which can lead to early failure. Instead, depress the clutch, put the transmission in neutral and wait for the light to change. Then engage the clutch, put the vehicle in gear and drive on.

* If you have an automatic transmission use the parking brake when leaving the vehicle. Throwing it into "Park" without first applying the paring brake can put excess strain on the transmission, lock it in gear -- even cause expensive damage that will require a tow.

* If you have a a truck or SUV with part-time four-wheel-drive, avoid engaging the 4WD on dry, smooth pavement. Never, ever engage the 4WD Low setting (or differential lock) on dry, paved roads. (If you have a vehicle with AWD, the system will adjust itself automatically for given conditions.)

* Use the proper grade of fuel specified by the manufacturer -- Even though modern cars can self-adjust for lower-octane fuel (preventing damage from "knocking" that might otherwise occur) you'll still suffer decreased mileage and lower performance as a consequence. Also, off-brand fuels may not have the same amount of detergents and fuel system additives of name-brand gas. Avoid filing up at out-of-the-way stations, where old (or water-laced) fuel may be a problem.

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