Though we may set out to keep a car forever, not everyone will have the persistence — and luck — of Irv Gordon, a man who holds the world record for having driven his 1966 Volvo P1800 for nearly 3 million miles. You can, however, greatly extend the life of your vehicle, while simultaneously reducing the possibility of mechanical mishaps. The following five items are basic and can apply to any vehicle.
1. Follow Your Vehicle's Service Schedule: This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are still too many car owners out there who pay little or no attention to the vehicle maintenance schedule as laid out in the owner's manual. "I follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, not the dealer's," says Gordon. "They built the car, so they ought to know what's best for the car." Not following the maintenance schedule is particularly inexcusable in late-model cars that have oil life monitoring systems that automatically determine the best time for an oil change. Between the service indicator lights located in the gauge cluster of many new cars and the lengthy intervals between required service (up to 20,000 miles in some models), there's no reason for skimping on proper maintenance.
2. Check Fluids and Tire Pressure Regularly: Here's a task that takes about 10 minutes. With a rag in hand and the engine cool, open the hood and pull out the oil dipstick. Wipe it clean, reinsert it and pull it out again for a quick check of your oil — the most important engine fluid. Check the radiator overflow reservoir level and the brake cylinder reservoir. Check the power steering fluid level and, while you're at it, check the hoses and belts for any signs of wear or imminent failure. Give the air cleaner a look, too. Start the car and after it warms up, check the transmission fluid level. Finally, with the tires cool, use a pressure gauge to make sure each tire has the proper psi, as described in the owner's manual or in the driver's side door jamb. Ideally you should do these checks once a week, but in the real world, once a month would be acceptable — except for tire pressure, which really should be checked at least every other week.
3. Go Easy During Start-up: You might have heard this from someone who fires up his car and immediately floors it: "It helps warm it up." Wrong. A cold engine — meaning one that's been sitting for more than five hours — will have little or no oil left on the moving parts. It's all seeped down into the oil pan. It only takes a few seconds after start-up for the oil pump to adequately lubricate an engine. During those few seconds, you should keep engine rpm down to a minimum. Give the engine at least 30 seconds before popping it in gear and driving off. Give it a little more time if it has sat for more than 24 hours.
4. Listen for Odd Noises: Turn off the radio once in a while and listen for any odd noises, both at idle and when under way. Here are a few examples: A clicking noise when you are driving could be a nail stuck in a tire. If it is time for new brakes, you might hear the loud squealing sound of the brake wear indicators. These go off when the car is driving and the brake pedal is not depressed. Similarly, if you hear a scraping or grinding noise while applying the brakes, it could mean that the brake pads are so low that metal to metal contact is already happening. If you cannot pinpoint the source of the noise, take the car to your mechanic to get a more informed opinion.
5. Drive Calmly: Take it easy on the car when you drive it. "Go easy on the brakes and don't drive it too hard," says Gordon. The occasional full-throttle acceleration or panic stop isn't going to hurt anything, but a constant Ricky Roadracer attitude will reduce your car's road time and add to its downtime.
The same easy-does-it attitude applies to shifting gears, too. Make sure the car is completely stopped before shifting into reverse, and be sure you're stopped before going back to a forward gear. That will avoid stress on the transmission components. If you need more incentive for calm driving, how about money in your pocket? Edmunds editors tested the tips and found that having a calm driving style improved fuel economy by about 35 percent.
Don't Panic Over Wear-and-Tear
These simple steps can be applied to just about any vehicle, and will help you take a proactive approach to maintaining your vehicle. But don't be discouraged when things start to break down. Parts wear out on every car, even those with excellent reputations for reliability. In almost all cases, it is cheaper to fix your car than to replace it.
These are our five tips for keeping your car running forever, but what is Irv Gordon's secret to reaching nearly 3 million miles? Drive the car like you love it. We couldn't agree more.