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An illustration of a station wagen slowly descending a lonely road.
An illustration of a station wagen slowly descending a lonely road.
An illustration of a station wagen slowly descending a lonely road.

Updated February 26, 2020.
Published October 4, 2018.

Take these steps to extend your car’s life.

Keith Appleton was married and had a kid — yet he kept driving the 2002 Subaru Forester he got as a teenager.

An education outreach officer at STCU, Appleton credits regular maintenance for the long life of his car, which he eventually traded for a newer model.

"I couldn't replace my car for what I could sell it for," he says. "It was a quest to see how long I could keep it."

You can’t do much to control gas prices or insurance rates. But you can take steps to make your car last longer — squeezing as much out of your ride as possible before you have to buy a new one. 

Here are some tips from Appleton and Chuck Jones, a service adviser at Autocraft in Spokane Valley, for extended the life of your vehicle:

An ounce of prevention.

Jones says preventive maintenance means getting the oil changed and replacing the fluids — transmission, power steering, differential, brake and coolant — on a regular basis.

With new synthetic oils, Jones says that typically means a change every 5,000 miles (instead of 3,000 for conventional oil). For other fluids, check the owner's manual.

Your owner’s manual also will tell you how often to change your filters and belts and perform other relatively inexpensive tasks that will keep your car healthy and help prevent pricey problems down the road.

A set of wiper blades usually costs $50 or less, Jones says. That's cheap compared with the cost of a crash.

Tread carefully.

Jones also advises drivers to pay more attention to their vehicles’ tires and wiper blades. Both are critical for keeping you and your car accident-free.

"Tires are what keep the car safely on the ground," Jones says. They allow the car to take that corner or make that quick stop. So, especially as winter approaches, check tires for worn tread or cracking and replace them as needed.

Replace wiper blades yearly, Jones says. Without them, you can’t see in the rain or snow — and many accidents are caused because the driver simply didn't see that bicyclist, pedestrian, or stalled car, he says.

A set usually costs $50 or less — cheap compared with your deductible and other expenses from a crash.

One for the record book.

Finally, Appleton recommends keeping detailed records of all work done on your car, and all parts you or your mechanic have purchased for it. His owner's manual is stuffed with receipts for every part he's ever bought for his car.

When a part wears out prematurely, he has the receipt to turn in for the guarantee. When he goes to a mechanic, he's able to show what work he's done recently and help narrow the search for the current problem.

It’s all about attention to detail — now and for miles to come.

When to let go.

No matter how careful you are, your car won't last forever. Appleton's decision to hold on to his 2002 Forester came down to the cost of a repair v. cost of a loan payment. Monthly payments for the average new vehicle is now more than $500, according to Experian. So, even if Appleton spent $200 a month on repairs, he came out ahead.*

But if your repair costs are more than 20 to 30 percent of your vehicle's worth, it may be time to look at other options, Jones says.

To prepare for that eventual new (or new-to-you) car, Appleton suggests "test driving" an auto loan. Put aside money for a few months to see how it works with your budget. Once you're ready to buy, you can steer that savings into the down payment.

*Epilogue

Appleton eventually sold the 2002 Subaru and got a new one.

"Part 2 of my story is 'Fully depreciated and Fully Awesome!'" he says. "After I sold my old Subaru, my out of pocket cost was about $4,000 for my next Subaru."

Appleton said he waited years for the right vehicle — with one prior owner, all service records, and just 40,000 miles. He paid the balance off with the cash he had been setting aside each month.

Learn how to save like Appleton by "bucketing" your money.



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