The Ultimate Guide to Extending the Life of your Car

24th March 2016

Knowing how to look after your car and make it last as long as possible is something that is incredibly useful to know and will save you money.

We’ve put together an exhaustive list of tips to help you keep your car in the best possible condition so you can drive it for as long as possible.

Check and change the oil at regular intervals

Check the oil levels often and change the oil regularly. The question of what “regularly” means brings another question in itself. It is said that in extreme driving conditions it is best to change the oil every 1,000 to 3,000 miles.

Extreme driving conditions mean a lot of stop start driving, not giving the engine much time to cool down between journeys. It also means driving in very hot or cold conditions frequently.

If you don’t drive in extreme conditions, an often quoted figure is every 5,000 miles or every six months. For new cars check the manufacturers recommendations, 7,500 miles is sometimes recommended but this does vary by make and model.

This video runs you through how you can check your engine oil yourself.

Change the air filter

An air filter that isn’t working properly can affect the fuel efficiency of the car as well as how well it accelerates. Filters need to be changed less often than oil, around 30,000 miles or if the car has been driven for more than 3 years without a change.

Again, if you are driving in extreme conditions, particularly if there is a lot of dust it is best to check the filter more often than you usually would. You will be able to tell if the filter needs changing because it will be clogged.

Spark plugs

In order to ignite the mixture of fuel and air in the car’s cylinders spark plugs are needed. Over time these ware out and will need to be replaced. Different makes of cars have various recommendations on when spark plugs should be changed, as usual check the manufacturers guidelines on this.

You can change the plugs yourself if you have a new set and the correct tools for the job. This useful guide will help you.

Check the coolant

Coolant has an extremely important function in your car, if the engine is heating up too much coolant cools it down and in the winter months stops your engine from freezing. If you don’t keep coolant levels topped up it can damage your engine to a level at which it is impossible to repair.

If the temperature gauge on your dashboard tells you that your engine temperature is high this could mean that you have not topped up the coolant or if you have there might be a leak.

An important point here is to not open the cap to the coolant tank when the car is warm. The liquid is a very high temperature and steam will burst out of the tank with the potential to cause serious burns. Wait until the engine has properly cooled down before attempting to check coolant levels.

Watch the video below for advice on how to properly check coolant.

Check and change brake fluid

Under heavy braking the brake fluid in a car can heat up a lot. If the boiling point of the fluid isn’t right it can turn into vapour which can cause brake failure because bubbles form in the braking system.

Over time the brake fluid in your car can absorb water which causes the temperate at which the fluid boils to lower. This then increases the chance of brake failure.

It is best to change the brake fluid in your car every 2 years to make sure that your brakes will continue to work effectively. In some cases it is advisable to change the fluid more often, if the brakes have experienced extreme or unusual conditions.

Check brake linings

The brake linings are meant to wear down, however they protect the brake disks and other parts of the brake from being damaged, so are an important part of the brake. You can do this yourself but it requires jacking the car up and removing the wheel. You need to make sure you know how to safely do this before you attempt it.

If you aren’t familiar with how to do this it is best take the car to a mechanic and have them check the lining and give you their opinion. In general if your brake linings are under 3mm then they will need to be changed. This guide will help you do it yourself.

Cam Belt

If the cam belt fails it means a large repair bill, so it is important that it is checked regularly and is replaced before it breaks, because if it does fail it can cause damage to pistons and valves. It is vital that the engine is switched off as soon as the belt fails to stop any more damage occurring.

Read more about what a cam or timing belt is and how it works here.

Maintain the battery

Older batteries are most likely to cause problems, a battery that is over five years old and is finding it increasingly difficult to start the car should probably be removed and replaced with a new one.

If you only do short journeys or the car isn’t driven for long periods the battery is unlikely to get a good charge and will be at risk of not being charged enough to start the car. You can now buy a battery charger that can be left charging the battery for months at a time. You can have this connected when you aren’t driving the car much so it keeps topped up at all times.

For proper battery maintenance take your car in for a service, they will be able to check for corrosion and warn you if there are any serious issues.

Learn in the video below how to properly charge a car battery

Check the power steering

If you have power steering it’s important to check that the reservoir that keeps the power steering fluid is fully topped up. About once a month would be the optimum time to do this to ensure it doesn’t run low. Most cars have different ways to top up the power steering reservoir so check your manufacturers handbook for the correct way to do it.

Your handbook will also tell you the right fluid to use for your car. Don’t attempt to use anything different, or a cheaper version as you are likely to make the situation worse.

Washer fluid check

It seems simple but having the correct amount of fluid to keep your windscreen clean can mean the difference between a well-kept clean windscreen that is easier to clean and a very dirty one that becomes impossible to clean properly.

It is normally easy to find the washer fluid holder under the bonnet which can be filled up with screen wash. Make sure to read the directions on the bottle so you add the fluid with the correct dilution.

Watch this guide on how to properly check your washer fluid.

Break a new car in

A new car has obviously never been driven before so it needs to be driven with more care than an older car might. Don’t drive with a high RPM and use all the cars performance levels from low to high speed and utilise all gears.

As always, check the vehicles manual and stick to the manufacturers guidelines. The parts of a new car need to adjust to their role in the car as a whole. If the car isn’t driven properly at the beginning of its life it could lead to problems when it’s older.

Look after your tyres

It is easy to think that tyres are replaceable and don’t affect the life span of your car, but this is not the case. Tyres seriously affect the handling of your car which can in turn affect how you drive which in turn affects the longevity of your car.

The better your tyres the better your car will handle and the less likely you are to have an accident, which will definitely decrease the life of your car.

To check your tyres you can buy a tread depth gauge, which is better than guessing. Use the gauge to check the depth of the grooves in the tyre in various places on the tyre. European law states that the depth of a tyres tread needs to be 1.6mm around the circumference of the tyre.

It is best not to let the tyre treads get near to the legal limit as fuel efficiency will be reduced and tyre grip might be compromised. If winter is approaching, having a new tyre with good grip is important to help avoid skidding in frozen or wet conditions. Even better, fit cold weather tyres on all four wheels.

Regularly check your tyre pressure too, you will find the optimum levels for your car written somewhere inside your car or in the manufacturers handbook. Regularly check the pressure and top it up when it’s needed. This is a useful article from Kwikfit about how to maintain tyre pressure.

To watch how to check your tyres see the video below.

Check your wipers

If your wipers are broken they can damage the windscreen, leaving large scratches on it. Replace the wipers if they are in a poor condition to avoid any future damage. Make sure the wipers you buy are the correct size for your car.

Below is a good instructional video about how to change the rubber on a wiper blade.

Don’t drive too fast

Driving your car too fast can seriously affect the engine, it overworks it. Driving away steadily after the car has been parked will put less strain on the engine. The oil is colder and thicker when you first start the car so it is always good to warm it up before driving at speed.

Wash your car regularly

If you don’t regularly clean your car it will shorten its life, even with modern cars corrosion and rust will eventually happen and marks on the car will damage the paintwork. Part of extending the life of your car is keeping it looking in good condition and regular cleaning will dramatically improve this.

Pressure wash your car

By pressure washing your car you can give it a really good clean that you wouldn’t be able to do with a normal hose and is definitely better than a bucket and sponge.

Be careful not to set the spray too narrow so you don’t damage the paintwork and firstly clean the dirt and grime off the car. Then use a foam cleaner in the pressure washer and apply it using a wide nozzle setting. Leave the cleaner on the car to allow it to remove the dirt and then rinse off with a high power setting.

Use a slightly lower setting for the windows of the car and lights because they are more delicate and prone to breaking due to the pressure.

Use specialised wheel cleaner

Dust and dirt can affect the brake pads of the car, the more this builds up the more chance of damaging the pads. When you clean your car use a cleaner that is specially designed to take the dirt off the wheels because a normal car cleaner won’t necessarily do the job as effectively.

Clean the windows on the inside

Car windows will stay in better shape when they are cleaned on both sides. Use a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar and a microfibre cloth to clean the dirt off the windows.

Deal with chips in the paintwork

In time the paintwork of the car will suffer from small chips due to stones flying up off the road. If these appear, deal with them, because if they get bigger they can start to rust and this is extremely hard to remove once it appears.

Look after your clutch

The clutch on your car can be expensive to replace and is definitely something you want to avoid if you are planning on increasing the longevity of your car. In order to keep the clutch in it’s best working order you will need to make sure that the clutch reservoir is fully topped up.

If when you regularly check you find that the fluid levels drain to a low level often then take the car to a mechanic to check if there is a leak or another problem.

There are some other best practices if you want to extend the life of your clutch. Riding the clutch, where you press down on both the accelerator and clutch at the same time can cause problems with the hydraulics, so is something to avoid. Place your left foot to the left of the clutch when driving rather than hovering above the clutch, which can avoid accidentally pressing on the pedal.

When you are stationary, for example at a set of traffic lights put your car into neutral and release the clutch. This reduces the pressure on the clutch and can be a big factor if you regularly drive your car in cities and towns where you are stopping and starting a lot.

Park in a garage

If possible park your car in a garage overnight because any extreme conditions can negatively affect the paintwork of the car as well as any seals. The expansion and contractions that extreme heating and cooling bring can damage a car if exposed to the elements regularly.

Use shade to your advantage

In the summer strong UV rays can discolour the interior of your car causing it to look older than it otherwise would. When possible park in the shade on extremely sunny days.

Have the car serviced regularly

Taking your car to a good garage to have it serviced often is one of the best things you can do to extend the life of your car. Mechanics will have a check-list of things to run through, if anything isn’t in good condition they can make the necessary repairs which will then prevent future problems from occurring.

Buy a good quality exhaust

You might find that you need to invest in an exhaust more often than you would like. If you invest in a good quality stainless steel exhaust it is likely to last for far longer than standard exhausts and will save you money in the long term.

Buy a used car carefully

If you want to buy a used car that will last a long time and cost you less money then buy one that is newer, with high mileage rather than older with less mileage. Cars that have had higher mileage have parts that have been at the right temperature more often and have been worn in. Lower mileage cars that are older are more likely to have water in the brake fluid, oil and in other parts causing them to rust.

This isn’t necessarily true for all cars so look at each one on an individual basis before making a purchase. Watch the video below about how to buy a used car in the best way.

Use good floor mats

In the winter months especially, the floor of the interior of the car can become very dirty. In snowy conditions the grit and salt used to treat roads can drip from your shoes and seep through the carpet to the electrics underneath. Salty water is not something that is going to help those components, so avoid this scenario happening.

Use good winter floor mats that are easy to remove and clean when they become very dirty. This will protect the carpet of the car as well as the electrics.

Look around the car regularly

Be aware of your car and give it a regular inspection. You might not be an expert in car maintenance but if you take the time you will be able to spot things. Check where you have parked to see if any oil has leaked from the car, check that all lights are working correctly, and listen for any unusual sounds coming from the car when you drive it.

By being aware of any changes in your car you might just spot issues before they become big expensive problems. If you are in doubt, take your car to a mechanic or local dealer to have it inspected.

Warning lights are there for a reason

If a warning light comes up on your dashboard then treat it seriously, your car is telling you that there is a problem. If you ignore that problem it is likely to get worse and cause the car more problems in the future. Take the car to a garage to have it looked at, especially if it is something that you can’t repair yourself.

Avoid short trips

Short trips don’t allow the engine to reach the best temperature for it to work at. Water can get into the oil and doesn’t have a chance to be boiled away because the engine isn’t getting hot enough.

In the winter when temperatures are much lower the engine will take even longer to warm up, so trips need to last longer to reach the best operating level.

Reduce starting and stopping your engine

Some claim that most of the wear that a car’s engine suffers is caused when it is first started. It is said that it produces much more wear in the first few seconds of a long journey than driving it for a few hundred miles afterwards.

Be wary of this but don’t become obsessive about starting your engine as little as possible, a car is there to drive.

The vehicle handbook is your friend

Many of us are tempted to ignore the vehicles handbook, but if you want to extend the life of your car as much as possible you are going to need to follow the cars maintenance procedures very strictly. The car manufacturer knows the best way to treat your car, they have built it and tested it extensively so possibly the best step you can take is to stick to their schedule of maintenance.

Following the manufacturers guidelines may seem like hard work but is much more likely to prolong the life of your car than if you didn’t.

Avoid carrying excessive weight

By weighing your car down you are placing stress on it that is wasn’t designed for. The engine will need to work harder to transport the heavy load, the suspension will be stressed and the brakes will be affected. You will even use more fuel if you drive with a very heavy load because more energy is needed to propel the car forward.

Find a good mechanic

A good mechanic that you trust and can go to and ask questions will be a valuable asset in trying to extend the life of your car. You will need to invest in repairs from time to time, so find someone that you trust to do the work and who you are confident in to tell you when something needs fixing on your car and they aren’t just looking to profit from you.

Friends and family are often a good place to start for a recommendation of a good mechanic. This guide from the BBC also offers some good tips.

Log the repairs and servicing

Track all the repairs you have made to your car as it will help to keep the cars value and show that you have cared about it whilst you owned it. It will also be easier for a mechanic to check if future work needs to be completed so they can see what has been repaired already.

Own a large sheet or blanket

If you are carrying anything large and dirty such as garden waste, bicycles or building materials always cover the carpet of your car with a large sheet or blanket. It will protect the car’s interior from damage and stop it getting dirty. Also protect the roof of the car if you are putting anything that could be possibly damaging on a roof rack.

Turn around if you see a fuel tanker in the filling station

If you pull in to fill up and see a fuel tanker, turn back. Dirt sits at the bottom of the filling station storage tanks and when it is filled up this dirt is stirred up. You don’t want the dirt to get into your tank as it could cause problems in the engine, so it’s best to turn around and come back the next day or go to another filling station.