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  • It Was Once a Huge Red Flag

    Posted on 24, September, 2014

    When a car’s odometer would hit 100,000 miles, “it was almost a magic threshold that meant the car was probably worn out,” says Kay Wynter, who runs an auto service center in Fort Myers, Fla., with her husband, Terry. But thanks to improvements in car design and maintenance, the milestone of 100,000 miles now means something very different. Although some cars are ready for trade-in at that threshold, many others can travel twice as far without major repairs. What allows one car to pass the 100,000-mile barrier with few repair bills, while another is ready for the junkyard? It’s all about preventive medicine. “It’s just like when you get to be 70 and everyone tells you the same thing: Exercise, eat right, take care of yourself,” says Lauren Fix, author of “Lauren Fix’s Guide to Loving Your Car” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008). Feeding your car the right things and taking it for regular checkups will make all the difference.

    Open the Book

    The key to keeping your car running smoothly is probably tucked at the bottom of your glove compartment, under the spare napkins and ketchup packets. It’s the owner’s manual, which most people ignore at their peril. “There is a schedule in the manual that runs well over 100,000 miles,” says Fix, and it lists when to replace parts likely to be wearing out. The list will vary for different cars, so check yours and follow it. Newer cars may have the maintenance schedule built into an internal computer. A blinking light or a beep will announce that it’s time to replace certain parts, says autoeducation.com founder Kevin Schappell. “Things like the water pump and timing belt should be changed before you notice a problem,” Schappell says. Replacing them won’t be hugely expensive, but “if that belt breaks, it can cause internal damage to the engine, or if the water pump fails, you can overheat the engine and warp the cylinder head.” That’s when things get expensive. “Typically, around 100,000 or 120,000 miles there are some major preventative maintenance things that need to be done,” Schappell says, so it’s a great time to catch up if you’ve been lax until now.

    Get Fluent about Fluids

    The liquids that go into your car (gas, oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, etc.) are crucial to its survival. To extend the life of your car beyond 100,000 miles, these experts suggest frequent oil changes and fluid checks done at dealerships or full-service auto centers. The staff at a quick-change lube shop, Fix says, isn’t likely to have extensive training. Often, “they don’t have experience,” she says, “so they’ll top off long-life fluid with non-long-life or they’ll put power-steering fluid where the brake fluid ought to be.” These mistakes cause damage, but the car owner doesn’t realize it until well after the discount oil-change was done. In choosing oil, Fix advises buying full synthetics. They “actually will lube the engine better. It’s designed for longer life. There are less emissions, so it’s greener. There’s slightly better fuel economy and better performance,” she says. “There are no negatives except it costs a little more.” Whichever oil you choose, Schappell says, be consistent over time. That way you won’t mix synthetics and blends, which can cause problems. Gas also matters: Different cars benefit from different types, so check your manual. “For a Honda which runs really hot because of the compression, if it says run premium, then run premium,” Fix says. “But if it says there’s no benefit from premium gas,” you don’t need it.

    Find the Right Shop

    “Do your research,” says Terry Wynter, and choose the best people to extend the life of your car. Ask friends and neighbors, and search online for reviews of repair shops. Once you’ve chosen one, get to know the staff and ask questions. “Consumers are smarter now than ever before” about their cars, Wynter says, but many still are uncomfortable asking for details about work that needs to be done. Sticking with your car’s dealer can be a safe choice, because the staff will be trained to work on your car. But over the life of a high-mileage car, regular maintenance at a dealership can get pricey. “Rates at an independent shop may be about $40 to $50 an hour,” Schappell says, “but you’re paying probably $60 to $90 an hour at a dealer.” The cost of repairs can vary widely depending on the brand of car. Parts for some vehicles, including exotic cars and some German models, can be hard to get, driving up their cost. That can be a reason to trade in a car just before the 100,000-mile threshold. At 100,000 miles, Fix says, “it is out of warranty and you’ve got to consider that.” When you do replace parts, there are ways to save money: “A quick oil-change place will charge you $50 for an $18 air filter,” she says, because you’re mainly paying for labor. But an auto-parts store will charge you only the $18 price tag, she says, and “you can buy it and say, I don’t know how to put this on. They’ll do it as a courtesy.”

    The Type of Miles Matter

    It may seem surprising, but highway driving puts less stress on a car that tooling around locally. It requires less quick braking and acceleration, and moisture under the hood has a chance to evaporate. “Cars that do a lot of short trips will require exhaust work a lot sooner than car that travels on the highway a lot,” Schappell says. Fix agrees: With local driving, “if you sit in rush hour traffic, tow a trailer, idle outside a school, drive on dusty roads, that’s considered severe duty.” Local driving in colder climates can also cause buildup of ice and snow under the car, which may contain corrosive chemicals. Fix suggests hosing it off on slightly warmer days. She also suggests waxing your car regularly. Sound like a lot of work to keep a car zooming along past 100,000 miles? “It’s your second most expensive investment. You want to take care of it,” says Fix. “With your home, something needs fixing and you get on it,” she says. “With your car, especially one with a lot of miles you have to get on it right away too.” These small investments will add years to the life of your car.

    Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

  • How Does Preventive Maintenance Protect My Automotive Investment?

    Posted on 24, September, 2014

    For the past five years or so, Ben and his friend, Shirley, both have owned the same model car and have driven about the same number of miles. Their driving habits are similar, so it would stand to reason that the repair histories for both vehicles should be about the same, right? Wrong! While Shirley has never had a major problem with her car, Ben has had numerous malfunctions, breakdowns and unexpected repair bills.

    Could Ben’s car simply be a “lemon”? Maybe, but Ben’s luck probably has more to do with the difference in the way Shirley and Ben care for their vehicles.

    Shirley faithfully follows the suggested maintenance schedule for her car, while Ben has a tendency to forget about, procrastinate, or otherwise neglect his maintenance recommendations. Ben has an “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude.

    Shirley knows that practicing good preventive maintenance is the best way to avoid major mechanical breakdowns and to protect the substantial investment she made when she purchased a quality vehicle. Her goal is to drive a safe, dependable vehicle that will maintain its full market value.

    In the meantime, Ben seems unaware that driving a neglected vehicle can pollute the atmosphere, waste fuel, increase ownership costs and pose a safety hazard to himself and other motorists. It is also difficult to budget for car repairs when you don’t know when they might occur or what is likely to go wrong. Ben still does not realize that if small problems are not found and corrected, they turn into major problems that can get expensive and shorten the life of the vehicle.

    Preventive maintenance is recommended to prevent major problems by ensuring the vehicles various systems are properly inspected and serviced at regular intervals. Unfortunately, some motorists are under the impression that “preventive” means “optional” or “not really necessary”. They put off these procedures, and then they can’t figure out why their vehicle is not delivering the reliable, fuel economy and trouble-free performance they expected.

    Let’s take an example: tire maintenance. Shirley checks her tire pressure every few weeks. She makes sure her wheels are properly aligned and balanced, and she gets her tires rotated every 6,000 to 7,000 miles. As a result, she can expect them to last up to 20% longer than the neglected tires that are wearing unevenly on Ben’s car.

    As far as her pocketbook is concerned, that’s the equivalent of getting a 20% discount on a set of four tires. As a bonus, she gets better gas mileage, performance and handling to boot!

    Here’s another example: many motorists assume their car’s thermostat is working fine as long as the engine doesn’t overheat. But a thermostat’s primary function is to help keep the engine at its most efficient operating temperature – neither too hot nor too cold. Any deviation from that temperature can produce a drop in efficiency, fuel economy and performance. The problem is that a thermostat, like most other parts on your car, does not last forever. After a few years, it begins to lose its ability to regulate operating temperature. This can result in increased engine wear that will shorten the life of the vehicle. So for Ben, a simple component like a thermostat can become an invisible drain on his wallet if it’s not replaced at the appropriate interval.

    What about severe service?
    When you review your car’s maintenance schedule, you must determine if it falls under the use category known as “severe service”.

    Many people assume this category pertains only to taxicabs, police cars and tow vehicles. They’re often surprised to learn that under most manufacturers’ definitions, about 70% of all vehicles may fall into this group! The determining criteria often include common situations such as short-trip driving, stop-and-go-driving, driving in extremely hot or cold temperatures, excessive idling and driving in dry or dusty conditions. If your vehicle meets any of these criteria, you may need to follow your manufacturer’s schedule for severe service.

    Preventing breakdowns.
    The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that as many as 5,000,000 roadside breakdowns could be prevented each year if motorists would simply ensure their belts, hoses, tires, and batteries are checked on a regular basis.

    In Ben’s case, if service is not performed on his vehicle for 10,000 miles, that means no one is inspecting his belts, hoses, battery, charging system, cooling, fuel and ignition systems, brakes, tires, transmission, steering, suspension, exhaust, etc. Ben can’t know if potential problems are developing in any of those areas.

    Have your vehicle serviced at the appropriate intervals to control your car’s repair and maintenance needs – don’t let those needs control you! For recommendations regarding the proper service intervals for your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual or ask your service technician.