By: Sarah E. Sanuth, an insider in the automotive industry  with many years of experience in the car dealership and repair business

With the economic down-turn, many consumers are looking to save money and cut corners when possible. Up until recently, especially with the great financing deals automakers were offering, many consumers were trading their vehicles in every three years or so, but not getting the full potential out of their vehicle. Now that credit options and our own pockets have tightened, it is forcing many of us to look at extending the life of our vehicles.

Of course there are many people who don’t want to have to deal with taking care of or maintaining things, but vehicles are no different than a house or home, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

First and foremost, find a mechanic who charges reasonable rates. In this economic time, look for a mechanic who charges no less than $50 an hour and no more than $75. A mechanic who charges too little can draw you in on the price and not provide quality while a mechanic who charges more than $75 an hour is charging too much.

The following are some tips you can take to ensure that you extend the life of your car:

  • Check your oil often. Many drivers don’t realize that a new vehicle can burn as much as one quart of oil every 1,000 miles with the average vehicle only holding about 4-5 quarts. With that said, you could burn as much as three-quarters of your oil before your next oil change. Check it, and check it often.
  • Have your oil changed on time. While every 3 months or 3,000 miles has been the standard to having your oil changed, it may be outdated. Check your vehicles owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation. The next time you get an oil change, ask the person providing the service exactly what kind of oil was used, because some types don’t need to be changed for up to 15,000 miles. Don’t just get an oil change, get an L.O.F.; Lube, Oil and Filter. But if you’re ever unsure, always stick to the “every 3,000 miles” rule.
  • Make sure other fluids are topped off; such as antifreeze/coolant, brake fluid, power steering and transmission fluid.
  • Transmissions and cooling systems need care, too. Many drivers forget that they have a transmission or radiator that may need servicing as well. If you don’t recall when the last time was that you had these components serviced, you should think about getting it done. This is not a maintenance issue that needs to be done all that frequently, but nonetheless, still needs to be done and is sometimes just a matter of getting a transmission flush. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations and get it done.
  • Tires. Tires not only need to be inflated to the proper PSI for gas mileage, but help lengthen the life of the tires themselves and provide safer driving conditions, while reducing the wear on other components of your vehicle.
  • Winter means special care. If you live in an area where there is salt used on the roads in winter, it is best to have certain items performed at the start of the season. Have the undercarriage of your vehicle undercoated. This will stop the salt from causing the steel underneath to rot. Salt not only cause steel to rust or rot, but can cause other components to fail as well. So make sure you wash your vehicle regularly in the winter as well.
  • Keep the body looking good. Make sure that you wash your vehicle regularly year round (never forget the underneath and wheel wells) and apply a wax every once in a while. If you keep the paint in good shape, you are also keeping the metal underneath in good shape (which will also maintain its overall value.)
  • Check for updates. Many times manufacturers will come across something that will extend the life of a component of your vehicle, such as an updated type of transmission fluid. This information is not public, but the next time you have your vehicle serviced make sure the technician checks AllData for such updates. If the mechanic does not have AllData, it is best to go somewhere where they do.
  • Check recalls. While many vehicles will be fine, it is still best to check every once in a while to see whether yours has had a recall for any reason, as these are free repairs. Check http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/recallsearch.cfm.
  • Once a year have your vehicle completely run through by a mechanic. Many mechanics will provide this service for a small fee, usually under $100. By doing this, you will know a time frame of what repairs or issues needs to be addressed, and be able to take care of them before it is too late or they cause damage to other areas of the vehicle.

When all is said and done, you will have spent much less than what it would have cost to finance a new vehicle. Many of the items above can be done yourself, as long as you have the capability of performing them. If you are ever unsure, it is always best to have a qualified mechanic perform these tasks.

Keeping your vehicle running smooth and keeping up with cosmetic items not only extends the life of your vehicle, but will help maintain the overall value of it when it does come time for you to purchase another vehicle.

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