A Car Dealer’s Secrets For Keeping Your Ride Forever

[photo: Troy A via Motoramic Group on Flickr]

“I’m going to keep this car forever!”

It’s often said, and rarely true. Love is often a spurious thing for most folks who own a car. It can be new, or just new to them. But as a long-time car dealer, I often see the most beautiful of vehicles slowly turn from splendor, to mediocrity, to a rolling piece of scrap.

Why does this happen? I hate to say it, but more than 90 percent of the time, it’s the owner’s fault.

Nearly everyone ignores the little cosmetic issues. The three D’s: Dings, dents, and dirtiness are almost always left on a vehicle as an unwelcome reminder of where the car has been, and likely heading over the ensuing years.

The paint fades. The high-quality parts that came from the factory get replaced with the cheapest replacements that can be found online, And those little issues, such as leaks and suspension wear, start to become big ones with corresponding large-dollar repair costs attached to them.

On average, most cars are kept a little less than six years before the car buying process starts anew, far before the machine itself wears out. Sometimes all it takes to keep your vehicle fresh is to take care of those little things so that they never have to become big things. 

My current daily driver, a 21-year-old Jeep Cherokee, can still get the job done and even gets a nice compliment or two along with the all too flattering, “Are you planning on selling it anytime soon?”

The short answer is no. Even with a chassis that was first developed over 30 years ago, it rides too nice and I genuinely enjoy the ownership experience.
What do I do to keep it fun and interesting? Surprisingly, it doesn’t really take too much.

I keep the inside clean: It’s not immaculate mind you. But I go out of my way to make sure that the seats and floor don’t become convenient garbage cans. When I come home, it all goes out.

I spray it: In the South I don’t have to worry about the rustworm paying me a visit, but I do have to worry about the sun. So I use a nice spray-on wax at the beginning of the month and go through everything. (Put on “Cartalk” and you’ll finish the show and the job in about the same time.) I also condition the plastic and rubber exterior trim as well as the dashboard and door panels. 

My fluids are bright and beautiful!: I drain and fill my transmission fluid once a year because it’s easy to do. I change my oil with synthetic every 10,000 miles, and all the other fluids and filters get changed at the 30,000 mark. When I stop off for gas, I’ll raise my hood and check the fluid levels. This way, if there is a little issue, it never becomes big.

I ignore the “new” bug: Why do I need a sleek sports car when all I’m doing these days is driving at 2/10s to 3/10s of the capabilities of my commuter? Turning my head and the Jeep’s large rear windshield eliminates the need for a rear view camera, and my three-year-old cell phone can do all the things an advanced infotainment system offers for mere pennies on the dollar.

I love doing the math: Even with a 1990s era gas guzzler my cost per mile is about half the 60-cent-a-mile average. This 21-year-old Jeep has also depreciated so much that it’s now appreciating in value as a future classic car,

I hate taxes and insurance: Not buying a newer vehicle means I typically save hundreds to thousands in taxes and insurance over the course of years. Liability-only insurance with a few check marks for uninsured motorist and medical coverage is an absolute financial godsend compared to the cost of a full-coverage policy. I also believe in using the insurance’s towing service, which is usually cheaper than AAA.

I have other priorities: I’m a father now, so the list is nearly infinite. But even when I was young and single, I saw new cars as nothing more than a debt trap. By buying an affordable vehicle with plenty of life left, I avoided a lot of the financial heartaches that come soon after the new car smell fades.

Different folks have different goals in life, and I can understand the allure of buying new. But as Thomas Paine famously said, “These are times that try men’s souls,” and I personally associate those trying times with those poor folks who pile on the debt and ignore the little things that can make a big difference. Not just with cars, but everything.

My advice is a bit less dramatic. If you’re looking at the economics of car ownership, make it easy on yourself. Get it used, keep it, and save your money for the things that really matter. Like road trips and root beer floats.