Sometimes while cruising down the highway, I’ll spot a disabled vehicle abandoned at the side of the road. Many times it is a car or pickup that is much newer and more expensive than my ol’ Camry. I’ll wonder what happened to the car. Did it run out of fuel? Did it suffer a flat tire and the spare was flat, too? Did the engine or transmission fail?
Other times I see a reasonably new vehicle ahead of me on the street with oily smoke coming out of the tailpipe or it has nearly bald tires, or the transmission makes a whining noise. Didn’t the owners learn how to care for things? Perhaps they take out their emotional problems on their vehicles. Maybe there isn’t enough money in their transportation budgets. It might be simple ignorance about mechanical things.
Just like good housekeeping keeps a home attractive and sturdy, good carkeeping keeps a vehicle safe and dependable. Even if you have the means to buy a brand-new car every year or so, it pays to be mindful about the state of your car or truck.
I’ve learned a few good habits from people who have driven their cars for a quarter of a million miles and more. I’ve also learned some lessons the hard way.
First of all, do your homework and buy the most dependable car you can afford. The first brand new car I ever bought was a Chevrolet Vega Kammback wagon. The new car euphoria was eclipsed the first day with the sinking feeling I had just bought a serious lemon. The bright side of being a Vega owner, was that I learned a lot of practical things about engines and car body integrity. Both aspects of that car were horrible.
Four car purchases later, I let my eyes overrule my smarts. I found a beautiful tornado red VW Quantum Synchro on a used car lot. I traded in my perfectly dependable Datsun 310 and signed a two-year payment plan for the car. While I loved how the car performed and handled, I hated how expensive it was to maintain and repair. The repairs were frequent. I vowed to very carefully research my next vehicle.
Because of the repair expenses of the Synchro and my dread of car payments, I learned to put aside some money into an interest-bearing repair account. That way, if a major problem develops with my car, I can more comfortably pay the mechanic’s bill.
I purchase a shop manual for the specific car when I get a different car. This is a good investment because I can learn a great deal about how the car works and anticipate potential problems it may develop in the future.
Even if you don’t buy a shop manual, be sure to read the owner’s manual that the manufacturer provides. You’ll find basic maintenance schedules for the important parts of the vehicle. There are times to change the oil, rotate the tires, replace the coolant, and replace the timing belt. Never, but never neglect to have the timing belt replaced. This replacement is expensive, but a broken timing belt will cause much worse expenses.
A good way to keep up to date with car care and research is to go online. All the major makes and most models have forums and websites devoted to them. If you need to change the dome light in your car, you’ll find the answer. If something major comes up, you’ll find information about it, too. It’s a good idea to check out the specific website before a problem arises, so that you can find out about common problems with vehicles like yours.
Pay attention to sounds, and smells that seem wrong. Turn down the stereo once in awhile so you can listen to your vehicle to make sure it sounds OK. As soon as a problem arises, have it fixed ASAP, even if it’s just a trim item.
Don’t forget to wash and wax your vehicle regularly, especially if you live in an area where it snows. Regular washing maintains the painted surfaces. Good paint protects the metal underneath of it. When rain or wash water no longer forms “beads” on the car finish, it’s time to wax. Waxing and detailing a car is one of life’s pleasures. This helps your car stay showroom-new looking.
Finally, pay attention to your driving habits and style. You don’t need to drive like the “little old lady from Pasadena”, but refraining from jackrabbit starts and stops will lengthen the life of your engine, drivetrain, and brakes.
Best of all, good carkeeping gives peace of mind.