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Keeping It Young

If you're going to make a vehicle last you've got to treat it right.  There are a lot of things you can do to help extend the life of your vehicle and there are a lot of things you can do to quite frankly, cause the premature demise of your vehicle.

To me, the absolutely number one priority is your attitude - you have to have the mind set that this vehicle is going to last.  Even if you have no intentions of keeping a vehicle for a long period if you keep it in good shape you will have a much better chance of not only selling it more easily but also commanding a better price.  Let's face it - no one is going to pay top dollar (or any dollars for that matter) for some POS.  As an aside, if you don't plan on driving it forever, it is really a good idea to keep some sort of service log - and the more detailed the better.  Of course if you have all your service done at a dealer this is easy.  A used vehicle buyer is much more likely to be interested in a car that can be proven to be well maintained than one with a questionable maintenance history.

The time to start thinking about making your car last is the day you buy it - not a couple years down the road.  I have known (and still do know) a lot of people who ignore this early on.  Cars are pretty well built today and will run quite a while with minimal care.  They won't do this forever though.  Ignoring the car while it is new is not the formula for success.

There used to be a great series of advertisements for Fram Filters with the catch phrase - "you can pay me now or you can pay me later".  The main theme involved a guy who spent all his time polishing and primping his car while ignoring basic maintenance (like changing the oil and filter).  Due to his negligence, he was facing a major engine job.  While I liked those ads a lot and totally agree that basic maintenance is a key to keeping your car young.  Notice I said "a" key, not "the" key because while basic maintenance is critical, it is just one facet in the total picture.

Since I just mentioned basic maintenance I'll start there.  This is an absolute no-brainer.  If you don't at a minimum follow the manufacturer's recommendations for routine service you can't expect your car to last.  While in my experience I have found some service intervals that I question (both ways I should add), those findings are based strictly on my own vehicles and I won't even recommend them to anyone else.  Your Owner's Manual or a supplement provided by the dealer should have a maintenance schedule.  If you lost it or whatever, the internet is the place to look.  I know that servicing a vehicle, particularly if you can't do it yourself, can be both costly and time consuming (if not a plain old pain in the butt) if you have to leave the car somewhere to be serviced.  Look at the alternative though; being broke down on the side of the road and facing a big repair bill is not an attractive option.

I had a supervisor once who I thought was a pretty smart guy.  That was until he told me about his "fix on failure" philosophy with his vehicles.  He basically ignored all preventative maintenance (he did have the oil changed) and waited for a failure to get anything done.  During the two years I worked for the guy, he was late once because his battery failed and his wife got stranded on the Capital Beltway another time with a broken serpentine belt.  He admitted to me that both the battery and the belt were well past their service life expectancy.  Sorry, but for a "smart" guy he sure was an idiot.  Pushing things to the limit is a sure way send any vehicle to an early demise.  The idea of stranding my family somewhere is not even in the equation.  Of course, like I said earlier, the guy wasn't quite as smart as he thought he was.

So what about the interior and overall vehicle appearance?  Contrary to the Fram ads from I believe the 70's, how your car looks is important.  First of all, in my mind it is easier (at least for me!) to replace an engine than it is to repair a lot of interior damage.  This is something you can do yourself and it doesn't take a lot of time or money.  I treat all non-carpeted interior surfaces to regular applications of Armor-All.  The result is that with over 216,000 miles the interior of my Subaru looks better than a lot of people's cars that are only a year old.  I can tell a lot about a person by the way their car looks.  Please don't give me the "I have kids" excuse either.  When my children were little I still found the time to properly maintain all my vehicles.  I also didn't let them "trash" the thing either.  My neighbor has two small children and works some long hours as a nurse.  She still finds the time to keep her vehicle (a really nice Lexus SUV) in tip top condition.  Why?  Because she "gets it" and likes having a nice ride.  Although if something isn't quite right she won't (can't is more like it) fix it herself, she does not ignore little things either.

How about how you actually drive the thing?  Hey, I will be the first to admit that I like to "drive it like I stole it" from time to time but that doesn't mean I abuse the vehicles.  It makes no sense to drive aggressively in stop and go traffic or just around town.  The good news for Subaru owners is that Subaru engines like to be leaned on and handle it quite well.  That doesn't mean you need to be red lining it all the time, but you can enjoy the brisk acceleration every now and then.

If there is one thing that has really extended the life of my Subaru it has to be keeping it in a garage.  I know some people don't have a garage and there's not much you can do about that, but I know people that park two 25-35K vehicles in their driveway while their garage houses a couple hundred dollars worth of disorganized crap.  I used to be one of those people.  I remember the day I saw the light.  I was living in Milton,WV when I was the Commanding Officer of the local Coast Guard Marine Safety Office.  I had a detached garage that was, well, full of disorganized crap.  The Subaru already had a space in the main garage, but my 3 month old 45,000 dollar Silverado sat outside.  It was New Year's Day 2004.  It was a beautiful clear day with the temperature in the 50s however a front was coming at it was supposed to start snowing within 24 hours.  The light just popped on.  I spent the afternoon cleaning and organizing my detached garage and by dinner the Silverado was safely tucked in.  The weather people nailed this one and while everything was covered with ice and snow, my truck stayed out of the weather.  The bottom line is that if you can possibly keep a vehicle out of the elements do it!  Of course, a side benefit of that is the car will be the same temperature as your garage.  Yes, on a 90 degree day it is 90 in the car but that's a whole lot better than the 130 it would be in the sun.  During the winter it might be 50 in the garage, but again, that's way better than the 20 (and frost covered) the car would be sitting outside!

It really is your choice - do you forestall the aging process or let it go?  The choice is yours.

This page was last reviewed on May 17,, 2014.
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