The sale price of the vehicle is not the only investment you will make for your vehicle if you want to make a buck stretch. By also investing in truly maintaining your car, you can keep it running smoothly through 300,000 miles or more.

Here are three things you should keep in mind:

1. What’s the Point?

For one thing, investing in maintenance and repairs is a lot less expensive than buying a new car every 150,000 miles. Just like taking good care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, and getting routine check-ups can help us live a long healthy life, so does taking good care of our vehicles. However, if you were to sell the vehicle, staying on top of maintenance and repairs would maintain a better resale value to put toward your next investment.

Investing in vehicle maintenance also reduces your overall costs. Not letting needed repairs snowball, you avoid additional repairs and the money that goes along with it. For example, not changing the oil at the proper interval can cause premature engine failure. An oil change is so much more affordable than replacing an engine! Another example may be if a timing belt runs past it’s maintenance replacement, it can break and cause internal engine damage. Replacing the timing belt is significantly less expensive than repairing additional engine damage. Or, consider a failed ball joint which can cause the suspension to collapse which could cause further mechanical and body damage. Again, replacing the ball joint before it fails would prevent a lot of financially painful repairs.

Finally, if for no other reason, investing in maintaining your vehicle will ensure the safety of the driver, passengers, and any other vehicle driving near you.

2. Remembering the Basics

What Should I Consider Regarding Auto Maintenance?

Oil Changes

Most people are aware of this maintenance item if no others, but they don’t always keep on top of it like they should. It’s very common to see oil changes done late. Motor oil has a lifespan, and running the oil past that lifespan can cause premature engine damage or failure.

It’s not that one day the oil is fine, and the next day it’s not and the engine seizes. Oil break-down is a gradual process and so is engine wear. Late oil changes (or oil changes with the wrong oil or cheap filters) run the risk of what could have been a 300,000 mile motor failing much earlier, but if the motor still runs past 100k miles, people don’t always realize that they hastened its demise. Thousands of dollars for a new engine vs $40-100 for an oil change every 3,000-10,000 miles is incomparable.

You should also keep an eye on your oil between changes. Check the level once each month. You may never see the level drop, and that’s a good thing, but if the time comes that the level has dropped, you know that the engine may have started leaking or burning oil, and hopefully you’ve caught the problem before the motor is run low on oil.

Other Fluids

Coolant, transmission fluid, and brake fluid are all just as important to keep your vehicle running smoothly, but they don’t have to be changed nearly as often as engine oil. Manufacturer maintenance schedules, combined with the advice of a skilled mechanic, will help determine replacement intervals for these fluids. Additionally, window washer fluid is important for providing optimal visibility while driving.

Windshield Wipers

Old windshield wipers can create streaks on your windshield that obstruct your vision. If they are barely working, driving on a rainy day could be quite dangerous. I once saw a guy trying to manually wipe off his windshield while driving through a rainstorm! Not only was his vision impaired, but he was also very distracted…and very wet!

Streaking wipers can also leave enough water on the windshield to blind you if the sun hits the water at the right angle. Driving in the Florida sun, this is something to be cognizant of.

Engine and Cabin Air Filters

The engine air filter prevents debris and pollutants from entering the engine and damaging engine bearings. In extreme cases, debris may bypass a severely clogged filter and still get into the engine. A severely clogged filter can also affect the engine’s ability to breath and perform.

I remember once in college, I took my parent’s Jeep Grand Cherokee for a little off-roading adventure with my friends. When I returned it to my parents, they took it for an oil change and the technician showed them the filter which was filled with sand from my adventure. It was promptly changed.

The cabin air filter, likewise, keeps all the stuff in the air outside from coming into the cabin through the vents to keep you and your passengers safe and comfortable.

Tire Care

Driving on bald tires or tires with diminished tread reduces the traction of the tire on the road and increases the risk of losing control of the vehicle, particularly in wet conditions, and lengthens the safe stopping distance. Your mechanic can measure the depth of your tread to help you determine if they are in need of replacement. Once they are replaced and balanced, you should be set for tires for a few years. If the tread from your old tires did not wear evenly, you should also have an alignment performed. Otherwise you’ll end up having to prematurely replace the tires you just had replaced!

Additionally, you should check your tire pressure on a monthly basis. This may sound counter-intuitive, but low pressure increases the risk of a tire blowout. This can be caused by excessive flex damaging the tire sidewall, or the tire overheating due to increased friction against the road. Tire blow-outs can cause you to lose control of the vehicle and are especially dangerous at high speeds.

Spark Plugs

These little guys are what ignites the air/fuel mixture to start and run your engine, similar to a match lighting a candle. They can collect residue over time or lose their proper gap and will not work as efficiently, at which time they should be replaced. Maintenance intervals for these plugs can range from 30k to 100k miles and beyond.

Timing Belt

This is what synchronizes the rotating components of your engine so that the engine’s valves open and close at the proper times. A musical group will sound terrible if each instrument is playing out of sync with one another, but an engine out of time can have serious repercussions. Servicing your timing belt on a maintenance schedule will prevent it from breaking while you are driving, leaving you stranded on the road, and likely damaging other components in the engine.

I should note, many vehicles have timing chains rather than belts. Timing chains are not a maintenance item while timing belts are. Check with your mechanic if you aren’t sure which your vehicle uses.

Brake pads

Brakes wear out over time. Checking the thickness of the pad on a routine basis will help you to know how quickly they are wearing and at what point they need to be replaced.  Not all brake noises represent a safety issue, but we do recommend checking in with your mechanic if you hear brake noise. For your own safety, and that of those around you, you don’t want your brakes to go out while you are on the road.

How Do I Know What Maintenance Schedule to Keep?

This may seem like a lot to stay on top of, but your mechanic can help you determine what needs to be done and when each time you go in for service. Your owner’s manual should contain a maintenance schedule, but your mechanic also has access to it through his service information database. Maintenance schedules are helpful guidelines, which should be interpreted with the help of a knowledgeable mechanic. Once you’ve determined your maintenance schedule you can use a mobile app to help you remember when to schedule your next service. You can also usually check off a few maintenance items in one visit, which could save you money, but also time.

No maintenance schedule is perfect. You will still encounter necessary repairs, but keeping to the schedule may save you a lot of heartache. The attention to the car can unveil unknown issues. The mechanic may notice a strange noise or something leaking that you weren’t already aware of. It’s better he notices a problem at that time than for you to discover it after being stranded on the side of the road.

3. Expecting the Unexpected

Sometimes the hardest part of making a vehicle last is making the difficult decision to spend a significant amount of money to keep it running. It really helps if you are prepared to expect the unexpected, and here’s how.

Comprehensive Inspections

Every so often, you should get your vehicle into your mechanic for a comprehensive inspection (this is different than diagnostic testing). He should be able to identify key concerns for your vehicle ranging from problems you are currently having (maybe you were aware of them or maybe there’s no way you would have known) to problems which you should plan on dealing with over time. The mechanic should be able to provide you with a comprehensive list that will help you plan for repairs, or if warranted, to make the decision to get rid of the car for something more reliable.

About a year ago we had a married couple bring us both of their vehicles clocking around 250,000 miles each. Andrew performed comprehensive inspections on both and then spent some talking through the condition of each vehicle. They asked a lot of questions and took some time to think it over. Eventually they decided to keep one of the vehicles and get rid of the other.

The vehicle this couple kept needed some significant repairs, but the repairs ended up costing less than replacing the vehicle for something of equal value and reliability. The car they got rid of required repairs that they didn’t find to be worth spending money on in relation to their goal for the vehicle. Soon after they replaced the vehicle, which the wife drove, they welcomed their first child into the world. We’re glad their child is safe and sound in the new vehicle but that by keeping the old vehicle, they were able to save a some money.

Major Repairs and Unexpected Problems

If you drive your car or truck up to 300,000 miles, it’s not a matter of if you will spend some significant cash on repairs but when. Sometimes you can plan for these repairs, especially if you get a comprehensive inspection done every so often. However, sometimes, no matter how closely you pay attention to your vehicle, some problems come as a big surprise. Therefore, you should always expect to be surprised every so often.

We recently had a 20 year old truck come into the shop with about 150,000 miles on it. It’s owner keeps meticulous records of the truck’s care almost down to every last drop of oil. He had an inspection done on it about 5 months prior and was getting the recommended repairs done diligently over time. Then one day he was driving around town and started to feel something off. Andrew had to deliver the bad news – he was facing transmission trouble.

Yikes! That’s a major expense that the customer hadn’t anticipated. He talked through the options thoroughly with Andrew – one option being to replace the whole truck. He soon realized that despite the great cost of replacing the transmission, the cost and risk of buying another truck of equal reliability with it’s own set of problems was a lot more. So, he decided to go ahead and replace the transmission on his beloved truck.

Budget Monthly

If I haven’t made it clear enough already, let me say it as plainly as possible: you WILL need to spend money to keep your vehicle going. Again, it’s not a matter of if you’ll need to spend money on repairs, it’s a matter of when.

We strongly recommend starting a car fund to save up for expenses, both known and unknown, so that when the time comes, you aren’t scrambling to figure out how you are going to pay for it. We’ve processed repair bills anywhere from $20 – $7,000 that made complete sense for the vehicle being repaired.

There are several ways you can plan to save, but ultimately it depends on how much money you make, your cost of living, and how old your vehicle is. Let’s say you put away $25 each month and don’t end up needing it for two years – that’s $600 which can cover a variety of repairs, or at least lessen the blow in the likelihood that the total cost is more than that. Saving $25 is equivalent to passing on eating out one or two times each month, which I know is a lot more fun than getting your car fixed, but neither is not being able to go anywhere because your car doesn’t work. Keep in mind, it’s not unusual to need to spend a thousand dollars or more during a single visit. That’s why knowing the condition of your vehicle can be really beneficial to help you start planning.

A customer once told me that she had financed her vehicle, and yet after it was paid off she continue paying that same monthly amount into an Auto Repair fund to help with maintenance and repairs down the road. You’ve already made it work in your budget to make payments on the loan each month, so it shouldn’t be hard to continue paying them. Even if you payed for your vehicle outright, consider making a “car payment” to yourself each month anyway. You’ll thank yourself later!

When all’s said and done, unless you live in a city with top-notch public transportation, you will need a vehicle to get to work, get kids to and from school, do errands, and visit with friends and family. Your vehicle is a necessary expense for survival whether you’re low income and drive an old economy car or well off and drive a luxury vehicle from this decade. You must be wise with the time and money you invest to keep it running well for you and potentially the person you’ll sell it to down the road, should you choose to move on.