In the U.S., the average car is over a decade old and probably has between 120-140,000 miles on it. That’s a lot of wear and tear. The average car lasts for around 200,000 miles – but yours could run for up to 300,000 miles with proper maintenance. So if you’re wondering how to make your car last longer, you’re in the right place – today, we’ve got five old car maintenance tips that will help you keep your favorite set of wheels on the road. 

Old Car Maintenance Tip 1: Dig up that Owner’s Manual (or Find It Online)

Unbeknownst to many car owners, owner’s manuals do more than list a car’s specs and parts – they also come with manufacturer suggestions for car care. That includes how often you should get different car parts serviced by your mechanic. 

If you haven’t looked at your owner’s manual in a while, take the time to find it (whether buried in the abyss of a glovebox, your closet, or online). If you see a maintenance suggestion you haven’t attended to, bookmark it for the next time you take your car in. 

Tip 2: Check Your Timing Belt, Alternator, & Water Pump

Most car parts need to be repaired or replaced earlier than ten years (assuming the driver averages 10-14,000 miles per year), but some last longer. 

Water pumps (responsible for circulating coolant through the engine) should get changed every 60-90,000 miles. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “huh, I haven’t replaced my water pump yet,” you’re probably past due. The typical replacement runs around $400-800. 

Similarly, most alternators (basically, the thing that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy and powers car electronics like your battery and radio) have an operating life of about 100,000 miles. It’ll probably fail shortly before your car’s tenth anniversary, but if it has yet to give out, get someone to look at it. Alternator replacement typically costs $500-$1,000. 

Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to check your timing belt. Most timing belts also last around 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual (told you it would come in handy!) and see if your car has an interference or non-interference engine.

If your car has an interference engine and the timing belt gives out, it’ll damage your whole engine (which, needless to say, can be costly). In vehicles with non-interference engines, a broken timing belt means less damage, but the car still won’t run. Regardless, you’ll want to replace your timing belt if you haven’t yet (or, at the very least, make sure it’s in good working order). Timing belt replacement often costs around $400-1,000. 

Want a comprehensive maintenance checklist (and budgeting tips to boot?) You’re in luck! We wrote a whole article on car maintenance (and budgeting for it).

A picture of a car timing belt.
Checking your timing belt is a must for maintaining an old car!

Tip 3: Make Sure to Top Your Fluids off Regularly

The older your car, the more important it is to stay up-to-date on fluid changes. At a minimum, check your:

  • Engine oil (needs a change every 3-7,000 miles on average, depending on the type and quality of oil – synthetic oils can be good for up to 15,000 miles);
  • Brake fluid (needs a flush every 2 years or 30,000 miles on average);
  • Transmission fluid (needs a flush every 2-4 years or 30-60,000 miles on average);
  • Windshield wiper fluid (needs re-filling… well, as often as it runs out. Unlike many other fluids, no expiration date here);
  • Coolant (needs a flush every 2-3 years or 30,000 miles on average, like brake fluid); and
  • Power steering fluid (needs a flush every 3-5 years or 40-80,000 miles on average). 

Tip 4: Have Your Mechanic Check Rubber Parts, Like Hoses & Belts

Rubber car parts, like hoses and belts, will wear down or crack over time. Most stay functional for years, but getting them checked is a good idea if you have an older car – better to be ahead of the curve than behind it. 

If you need to replace your timing belt and other belts or hoses show wear and tear, you’ll probably save money by asking your mechanic to replace it all at once. Mechanics need to remove all the other belts to get to the timing belt anyways, so many charge less to replace other belts when coupled with a timing belt replacement. 

Bonus: If your car gets scrapes or scratches, be proactive about repairing them. Older vehicles may be more prone to rust as paint wears and thins, so taking care of body damage soon after the fact is important if you want to prevent corrosion. 

An image of a mechanic giving old car maintenance tips to a customer.

How to Make Your Car Last Longer Tip 5: Keep Your Tires in Good Shape

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that underinflated tires cause 664 highway deaths and around 33,000 injuries annually. In addition, cars with tires that are underinflated by 25% or more are three times more likely to be involved in an accident. 

You may only need a tire change every five years(ish), but you should rotate them every 5,000 miles to ensure you’re keeping them in good shape. You should also check your owner’s manual (there it is again!) and memorize the manufacturer’s recommendations for tire pressure. Then, keep a pressure gauge with you and re-fill as necessary. Tire pressure often fluctuates with temperature, so check your tires when the weather changes and make sure they stay topped off. 

Bonus Tip: Think about Replacing Your Air Filter

If you’ve lived in the same place for a while, you’ve probably replaced air conditioner and/or swamp cooler filters a few times. Your car air filter’s no different – but it may be more difficult to replace. 

Whether you decide to replace it yourself or have a mechanic do it for you, replacing your air filter’s a good idea if your car’s starting to show its age and you haven’t yet. Better air quality is never a bad thing!

There you have it! A quick rundown on how to make your car last longer. Care for more auto industry news and car care tips? Stay tuned!

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