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How To Keep an Older Car Running (& Out of the Shop)

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With new and used car prices still near record highs, keeping an older car running well is a good way to avoid overpaying for a newer vehicle. And since the futures of the auto industry and the auto loans industry are still in flux, you may want to keep that high-mileage vehicle running for longer than you initially thought.

For an expert opinion on all things old vehicles, Automoblog spoke to Allan Guilmart, a Durham, North Carolina, technician certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE®). He gave us advice about how to work with your mechanic to not just keep an old car running, but to keep it in tip-top shape and out of the repair shop.

Replace Components on Schedule

No matter how well you care for your older car, some components just wear out with extended use. And while that’s unavoidable, waiting too long to fix or replace aging or deteriorating components can put unnecessary stress on other parts of your vehicle.

Here’s what Guilmart has to say about which parts are likely to need replacing and when:
“If your engine is driven by a timing belt, replacing it – and [the] water pump, if it’s driven by the timing belt – is critical. This should be done by the manufacturer’s recommended interval. A broken timing belt will result in significant and costly damage to the engine. The cost to repair or replace the engine can often be high enough to total an older car.”

Practice Gentle Driving Habits

How you drive also has a major impact on the wear and tear on your vehicle. If you want to keep an older car in good driving condition, you may need to adjust some of your driving habits.

“Think of your older car the same way you would your body as you get older; it’s harder on you to push anything to the limit,” Guilmart says. “Don’t just start the engine and immediately take off. Give it a moment to warm up. Avoid extreme acceleration, braking, and turning as much as possible.”

Take Care of Regular Maintenance – Especially Oil Changes

Regular maintenance is an important part of car ownership. As a car gets older, keeping up with maintenance becomes even more important. According to Guilmart, there’s one thing you should especially stay on top of if you want to keep an older car running well.

“Regular oil changes and periodic checks of oil level are a must,” he says. “Oil doesn’t just lubricate the engine’s internal components; it helps keep them clean.”

keep old car running change oil
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Build a Good Relationship With Your Mechanic

You rely on your mechanic to provide you with honest information about your vehicle. In turn, they rely on you to take them at their word and trust their professional judgment. It takes both of you working together to give your car the best possible service.

“If a shop will take your older vehicle in, it’s reasonable to expect good service,” Guilmart says. “At the end of the day, go with your gut feeling. If you don’t feel good about how the shop is dealing with you or your vehicle, it may be time to go somewhere else.”

Consider a Warranty To Cover Repair Costs

The older your vehicle is, the more likely it is to suffer a mechanical breakdown and need repairs. With car repairs being as expensive as they are – sometimes more than an older vehicle is worth – some people purchase extended car warranties to help cover those repair costs if they’re needed.

If you decide you want a warranty to help you pay for repairs and keep your vehicle for a longer period of time, our list of the best extended car warranty companies can help you find a contract that’s right for you.

Extended warranties have the potential to be helpful,” Guilmart says. “I’ve seen a company fight tooth and nail to get out of covering relatively minor work. I’ve also seen a company readily cover a substantial bill without any trouble. It’s imperative to know the exact terms of the policy you’re considering.”

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The Bottom Line: Treat Your Older Car Well To Keep It Running

With proper care and maintenance, you can get a lot of extra life out of your vehicle. Most modern vehicles can easily break the 200,000-mile mark. The key to getting there, however, is maintaining yours.

Keeping an older car running well is a labor of love. But it’s one that can seriously pay off financially. Treat your old friend well and it will be more likely to return the favor.