Despite booming new car sales, the average age of cars, SUVs, and pickups is rising. That average age is now a record 11½ years, according to IHS Automotive.
Falling new car sales during the recession and improved quality pushed up that average age. With the average car traveling 10,658 miles annually according to AAA, that nearly 12-year-old car has about 122,500 miles on the odometer.
If you like to keep your car a long time, what can you do to make it last?
1. Regular maintenance
First, any recent-model car has built-in longevity. "Every new car today is built to last a quarter of a million miles," says Mike Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA. "But along with that capability, you need to pay more attention to maintenance."
If you like to drive a car for a long time rather than trade every few years (and you know who you are) decide early that you will stick to all the maintenance recommendations from the auto maker. Although modern engines are engineered to last, they also operate at a high percentage of capacity. That makes up-to-date maintenance all the more important.
2. Pay attention to manufacturer recommendations
Maintenance always has been important. But in the past, oil, brake fluid and other engine liquids were pretty much interchangeable among brands. Now, each manufacturer has very specific recommendations. For instance, beginning in 2011, General Motors recommends that all its cars use a semisynthetic oil called Dexos.
Not only will your car perform better with the recommended product, notes Calkins of AAA, but your warranty may be invalid if you do not follow those directions.
3. Take special precautions as the car gets older
- When your car gets above 100,000 miles, take some special steps.
- Check the belts and hoses. These rubber parts can fall apart, but in modern versions it is hard to see if they are weakening. Get your mechanic to check them when in for a regular service. Double check if you have changed the timing belt. Most manufacturers recommend doing this somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. This can be an expensive repair—ranging from $300 up to $1,000 or so on luxury brands. But if it breaks, it can cause more serious—and expensive—engine troubles.
- See if you need a wheel alignment to avoid tire wear. If your car will not hold a straight line when you take your hands off the wheel at low speed, it probably needs an alignment.
4. Don't assume a costly repair isn't "worth it"
"People sometimes think they should just get a new car," Calkins notes. "But I tell them if the repair costs less than half the value of the car, go ahead and do it. Even an expensive repair won't cost as much as five years of payments on a new car."