And with the average car adding more than 10,000 miles to the odometer each year, it’s practically a given that you’ll hit the once-notable milestone of 100,000 miles. In fact, you might even triple that without needing a big-dollar repair, such as a new engine or transmission.
But reaching those loftier targets requires some input from you, the owner. Squeezing maximum life out of your ride at minimum cost means being attentive to your car in a variety of ways. We’ve outlined nine here. Take a look.
Regular Maintenance Is Crucial
There’s no getting around this one: A car that’s not regularly serviced won’t last as long as one that is. It might not even make it to 100,000 miles.
Regular maintenance is “the key to the automotive fountain of youth,” says Tom Torbjornsen, author of "How to Make Your Car Last Forever."
What is regular maintenance? It’s what it says right there in the maintenance schedule of your owner’s manual, says Torbjornsen. Follow the “severe duty” schedule of more frequent servicing if your manufacturer specifies one.
But at a certain point, the manufacturer’s schedule may fail a high-mileage driver — as it sometimes lacks specifics beyond, say, 150,000 miles, other than to start over as if the car were at mile zero. “Can [manufacturers] truly believe that an engine with more than 50,000 moving parts – with 150,000 miles – is going to replicate an engine straight off the assembly line?” wonders Pam Oakes, a certified technician and author of “Car Care for the Clueless.” “What about a 180,000-mile engine? Would that have the same wear as an engine with 30,000 miles? I don’t think so.”
Like other experts we spoke with, Oakes recommends building your own maintenance schedule with a trusted, certified mechanic who knows you’re interested in going the distance.
Use Your Senses: Sight
If your routine is to plop into the driver’s seat in a darkened garage at one end of your trip and slam the door behind you in a darkened garage at the other end, it’s time to shake things up a little. “Do a ‘preflight’ at least once a week,” says Tony Molla, vice-president of communications for the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (and a certified technician with years of experience). “Walk around your car. Have your kid step on the brake and see if the lights come on. By spotting a problem now, when it’s small, you might save yourself more than just a ticket.”
Lauren Fix, an automotive analyst and host of the “Car Coach” segments on Time Warner Cable, suggests looking back at where you’ve parked every time you pull away. “Just take a second to look back and see if there are any fluids left behind. If there are, next time park on some cardboard, and you’ll know where it was coming from,” says Fix.
Use Your Senses: Sound (and Touch)
Though your sight is the most important sense when driving your car, hearing may actually be the most important one to keeping it running. A car that sounds like it’s falling apart probably will soon.
What you’re listening for is anything out of the ordinary. “Any bump, squeak, knocking, ticking? Don’t turn up the radio — turn it off! At what speed does it happen? That’s a really important piece of information you can give to your mechanic,” explains Fix. “If you can guide a technician [with that information], you will save them hours of trying to track something down.”
Use Your Senses: Smell
No, really, your nose can help you head off problems that could endanger your run for 200,000+ miles. When you’re checking the oil, counsels Fix, give it a sniff. If it smells burnt, that could be a sign that your engine is running too lean (not using enough fuel). Fixing this condition could save you from a costly engine rebuild.
Smell can also come into play if your car has a dipstick to check the level of the automatic transmission fluid (not as common as it used to be). If that fluid smells burnt and nasty, it’s also a bad sign. (We’ll discuss stinky transmission fluid more later.)