By on October 7, 2011

How many of you have ever eaten horse chow? What? You don’t know what it is? Well it’s made out of four key ingredients. Oats, olive oil, honey and a bit of peanut butter added if you want extra richness. It’s the basic original granola and for the last fifteen years it has encompassed most of my breakfasts. Sounds healthy and a bit dull on paper. But it’s surprisingly good to eat.

Which brings me to a related question about our cars. What we can do to and for our own vehicles to keep them healthy and running strong?

1) Keep maintenance regular

We can go to great lengths and debate the ‘when’ until the cows come home. However this site does a great job of sorting all this out. And besides I’ve covered this before.

2) Start slow

You probably don’t like to do sprints as soon as you wake up in the morning. Depending on what you did the night before, you may have to. But it’s always better to start slow and get into your groove when you wake up.

The same is true for cars. They need to get their own oils flowing until they get warmed up. Once the coolant temp gets to its regular point you can feel free to rev away.

Then again, you may not want to practice any Baruthian thrusts if longevity is your goal . Driving slowly from stops and coasting coming to stops will save a lot of wear and tear on your car. It will also help you keep your money in mediocre investments instead of involuntarily donating it to a repair shop.

3) Buy quality

I always try to find dealer queens at the auctions. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle in question is a common Camry or a dodo like Suzuki X-90. Well maintained cars always make me money and a car with OEM dealer parts is always the easiest to finance.

But don’t go to the dealer for parts if you can help it. Simply stick with what the enthusiast forums say. The cost to buying it yourself versus going to the dealer is usually about half.

Tires should also be decided on by actual owners. A site like Tire Rack can give great insights to what’s good and what’s junk when it comes to tires.

Always pay for good tires. It saves on gas. Improves ride comfort and results in less wear on your suspension. If you want to be cheap… just buy them when they’re on sale.

 4) Keep it clean! 

There is a point when your automotive VIP will turn into a  POS. Usually it happens soon after you stop giving a flip about how it looks. A car wash once a month and a wax once a year is all most vehicles need.

If you’re a ‘keeper’ type, you may also want to consider cleaning up the little dings and dents that have come along the way. If the paint is faded and the dents are numerous it may be worthwhile to get a $500 paint job and some PDR (paintless dent repair) for another few hundred. Most folks won’t want to do this and to be honest, I can hardly blame them. A little beater in a well kept car never hurts too much. But if you’re planning on keeping it for another ten years you should consider it.

What always adds dividends is taking care of the interior. Look at it this way. You probably spend more time sitting and looking at your car from the inside than you do from the outside.

Using vacuums and wipes is pretty straight forward. But if your seat stitching is starting to tear, see if a nearby upholstery shop can mend it. Once a seat wears beyond repair it’s usually given seat covers. If that happens buy something nice. Go on Ebay, shop around, and find a cover that can last as long as the car.

  5) Enjoy the great indoors.

Do you have too much stuff in your garage? Then hold a yard sale. Use freecycle. Donate your unwanted legacies to a good cause. But keep the vehicle that cost you a healthy five figured sum inside of that garage.

Human skin doesn’t wear well in the sun. Neither do most paint polymers. You can get a car cover if you don’t have a garage but 98+% of folks who park their vehicles outside don’t ever bother with one.

If you must park outside and don’t want to deal with a cover, then just get it waxed twice a year; spring and fall. Make sure you pay extra attention to the roof, hood and top of the trunk since they get plenty of extra sun exposure.

Do all these things and your car will more than likely outlast the Euro. All the best!

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45 Comments on “Hammer Time: Longevity...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Sound advice as always.

  • avatar

    AND – always use synthetic oils unless prohibitied – read the manual for the specific oils needed and if you can’t find the exact substitute for it, Honda power steering fluid comes to mind, go to the dealer and buy it there.

    Buy a pressure washer for the underside of the vehicle

    Stay off gravel roads since they will cause stone chips to the undeside parts

    Take care of noises and odd conditions as soon as they come up, no waiting.

    Regularly check NHTSA for complaints and recalls

    Spend the money and buy an original set of service CDs or manuals

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    98 Corolla, 325k miles, change oil and other fluids when need to, start out slowly till warmed up and never ever floor it, no zero to 60 from light to light, I am not in a movie, chasing a bad guy.

  • avatar

    Horse chow sounds pretty good to me, except maybe the olive oil. :)

    Are 4k RPM entrances onto the freeway okay in the morning after a couple miles? That’s usually what the car is spinning just before I shift up.

  • avatar

    Considering I’ve almost exclusively driven +/-20 year old cars, I must have been doing something right :P
    And I agree with those tips. Even a 300k Ford that’s not well kept can go on for a year or two more if you just treat it with respect, especially when cold.
    Here in Norway (and everywhere else with ‘real’ winters and salted roads) the cleaning is even more important. And stop any rust as soon as you see it (and check it as often as you have the time) one reason there’s always an abundance of cheap 20 year old cars with only one or two years left in them is rust. You will make yourself and any future buyer very happy.
    And something especially modern car owners forget, is that most cars (not old Volvo’s or Honda’s from the 80’s) use some oil. And they can actually run dry if you never check it :O

  • avatar

    All great advice so far. “carquestions” gives great advice,. Take care of problems as soon a they arise!

    Here in Southern Ontario a yearly, or at least every second year, oil spray is crucial. I hate it its messy and it wrecks wash mitts. Compare the cost, and bother, to the cost of replacing brake and fuel lines. The oil spray looks pretty good.

  • avatar

    This should be a sticky on the Subaru forums. Excellent advice, but it seems to ring true to my turbo Scooby in particular.

    Horse chow sounds good, and considering that the ingredients are staples in our home, worth a try. I see another recipe online that calls for lemon juice and sea salt, but yours sounds better.

    • 0 avatar

      The paint chips like mad; luckily the hood is aluminum. Sadly the doors are not but since I park inside rust hasn’t started yet, unlike a few cars I’ve seen. Worse is deferred maintenance. I had an axle repaired and the dealer damaged a seal re-installing it so I have a slow drip of transmission fluid.

  • avatar

    #5 drives me nuts, I drive past people’s homes all the time and see their garages STUFFED with worthless junk while their $40K pride-n-joy sits baking in the cruel FL sun. Makes NO sense, if they can afford the car then they afford to put all that other stuff into a storage facility. Cars were meant to go in garages last time I checked.

    #4 is good one as well. If you take the time to once a month to go over your vehicle with a sponge you’ll find all sorts of little things (dings, rust) that start small, but quickly become BIG issues. Prime example: uneven tire wear, on a FWD car you can eat thru tires pretty quick if your alignment is even slightly off I’ve noticed.

  • avatar

    Then again, you may not want to practice any Baruthian thrusts if longevity is your goal

    I’ve only blown up four engines ever.

  • avatar
    George B

    Steve, what paint colors resist UV damage the best? One coworker thought that white resisted the sun better than darker colors. What turns my cars into beaters isn’t a lack of maintenance, but sun damage to the paint after about 12 years. Park in a garage at home, but they have to live out in the sun at work and Dallas gets 232 days of sun a year on average.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      The best repellent is wax. Nice thick coats of wax… and given where you live a car cover pays fantastic dividends.

      If I lived in Dallas and parked outside for work I would most definitely use a car cover. It takes only about two minutes to put one on and they cost less than $100.

      Just from the way the heat wears interiors in that type of climate, I would go get a car cover.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Wax is a good repellent period. In college my Cutlass was “tagged” by an a-hole jock who didn’t care for me. He tagged it with orange construction paint stolen from a local construction site. The white beauty has so much carnuba wax on it I buffed it out with a clean soft towel, a little product, and elbow grease.

      • 0 avatar

        Wax, wax, wax.

        Car covers are dicey because the cheap ones don’t breathe and can actually promote rust.

        The best solution is to use a *quality* wax (my favorite is Collinite 845 – it’s some of the most durable out there) and 303 aerospace protectant (again, the best stuff I’ve found for preserving/protecting rubber) on rubber/plastic surfaces.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    +1 On the tires. Also, more expensive tires usually have better traction – wet or dry – and are less likely to fail catastrphically when you insult them involuntarily by running off the road into some unexpected chuckhole.

    Regarding paint colors, another reason NOT to own a red car is that red paint oxidizes like crazy.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      One rule of thumb I have when looking at used cars: Look at the tires. If the previous owner was willing to cheap out on something that is so easily visible, he is also willing to cheap out on the items that are not so easily visible.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed Chicago Dude. Even in classic car circles, you often see high priced enthusiast cars riding on bargain rack tires. As a long-time motorsports enthusiast, I know that tires are the single biggest determinant of a car’s ride and handling. Put Ferrari spec tires on a minivan, and it will steer and stop like a Ferrari. Put minivan tires on a Ferrari, and it will handle like a minivan. Anyone who doesn’t get the best tires for their use doesn’t know or care enough about cars for me to buy one that he has made maintenance decisions about.

      • 0 avatar

        Bingo! I always thought this was a dead giveaway. My problem is that I’m a bit OCD about tires & balancing. Even our base Civic wears the Michelin Pilot Exalto 2’s that the SI model gets.

      • 0 avatar

        Totally agree on the tires. Back in 1992, I bought a 1983 Honda Civic that had cheapish tires on it, when they wore out, I sprung for some Michelin X radials in what, 1993 or 95 and they were $50 a piece, then again, I had 13″ steel wheels and it was a very good decision as Honda has used the MVX series on the Accord back in the late 80’s and they not only lasted but had good wet and dry traction too.

    • 0 avatar

      Depends on the red paint, I’ve seen lots of red cars and if taken care of, they DO last a fairly long time but most cars built in the last 15 years have clear coat paint on even the non metallic paints and as long as the clear coat remains intact, the red color coat will hold up MUCH better. Even there, some red cars will fade, others not as much, and again, a lot of that has to do with where the car spent a lot of its life, its age, how well it was maintained since new and whether its left outside all the time or not, but even there, proper maintenance will stave off the excessive weathering.

      The other day while coming home on the bus, I spotted an older car, I forget what except it was a compact sized 4 door sedan but it had the non metallic red paint with clear coating, the clear coating had pealed away on a good chunk of the car and the underlying color paint layer was badly faded and in places, chalky and pinkish, but where the clear coat remained, the paint still had its luster and was still very much red.

      But the big thing is to keep it washed and waxed, even if you have to park it on the street, outside 24/7.

      Some other colors I’ve seen fade are pale golds, often found on older Hondas and Toyotas, the other day, I spotted a badly faded Camry in that light gold, the trunk and roof especially were almost white but the clear coat looked to be intact still. Yellow will fade, and not always evenly but there again, not all of them will be clear coated, which seems to be key here.

      I’ve had cars where I’ve waxed them and they always manage to look great once done but no matter what, many older non metallic paints get to a point where they just don’t stay nice in between waxes as they age. The Civic got all cloudy in between wax jobs, which I did about twice a year (it was non metallic) as an example.

      My ’92 Ford Ranger which is a light Calypso Green Metallic (with clear coat), which I’ve not waxed in 5 years still looks decent and the color hasn’t faded much either even though it’s now over 19 YO, though it may well have had been taken care of until I got it.

      • 0 avatar

        Is this that light green, almost turquoise color? My 92 Sable has that color and the paint has held up remarkably well, especially in light of the fact that the car spent its entire life outdoors. I also have a Rio red car, and I did paint the roof as the fade was getting a little too much for me. But that car still spends its entire life pampered in a heated garage.

      • 0 avatar


        Yes, in fact it’s the green on the truck that’s in my avatar, it’s my truck. :-)

        I’d say it’s more in the jade family than actual turquoise and for a guy who’s not really into green, I like the color quite a bit.

  • avatar

    Don’t know how true it is, but I have heard that you should not park in the garage after driving in snow. It causes the snow to melt, mix with the salt used on the roads, and causes the car to rust faster. Better to leave it outside so the whole mess stays frozen.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      A lot of car washes up here have an undercarriage wash. If you are really concerned you should just go through one of these a couple times per winter. If you are cheap you could always just put a sprinkler under the car once a month.

      Parking indoors in the winter is a benefit that nobody should give up if they don’t have to.

    • 0 avatar

      @BMW…Your close, the rusting process takes place at higher temps. Heated garages are a no no. When the temp drops down to sub zero washing and rinsing becomes impossible. If you to park outside at sub zero,your better off leaving the mess on the car,

  • avatar

    Buy 88,000 mile tread-wear warrantied Michelins at Costco, and save the receipts. When they wear out at 40 – 60k miles, go back and get a replacement set for the adjusted price, about half. Keep doing that…and cut your tire costs in half, more or less.

    • 0 avatar

      Which is fine if you can stand the absolute lack of driving joy such tires provide. If you can, your advice makes good sense. Unfortunately for me, the tires I like have no treadwear warranty and are down to the wearbars at 30K. A tradeoff I am more than willing to make, but 800 bucks or so that often sucks.

      • 0 avatar

        Here in AZ, tires will dry rot in 3 years anyway. Instead of dealing with the 80K mile “worst feeling tires on earth”, I just buy high, ultra, or max parformance summers for everything that doesn’t get driven up north.

    • 0 avatar

      They have a bad habit of cross threading my lugs at Costco. About 3 more rotations and all 20 will be new. I am going with someone else for the next Michelins.

  • avatar

    I’ll also add:

    Keep a log and a file of all receipts. I’ve sold a few cars with high (150K+) miles, and buyers are ALWAYS impressed with a complete log of EVERY $ spent on the car, including gas. That and a couple of thick files of all my maintenance receipts.

    It shows you cared enough about your car to track these things,and that you can PROVE every oil change, brake job, repair, tires, etc.

    It drives my wife nuts to have to keep up with this, but we sold her ’97 CR-V to the first person who looked at it, at our asking price. The buyer took one look at the logs and files, and stroked a check.

    He was driving through the neighborhood looking for a boat he’d seen online, and saw me taking pictures of the car for AutoTrader.

    And, for Heaven’s sake, use a GOOD wax. A quality buffer and some nice carnauba does wonders.

  • avatar

    Of all my high mileage cars, I have never had a lubrication related failure…even with the “orange can of death”. The very best advice I can add after proper oil changes, is making sure you never, ever, overheat. After 100K or so, change ALL coolant hoses, including heater hoses. Change the bypass hose if you have one of those, too. Dump the T-stat and flush the system. Check at enthusiast websites for weak parts of the cooling system…any 3 series Bimmer owner best change all that plastic garbage that is called an expansion tank, impellers, etc. Check to make sure the cooling fan(s) operate and the clutch for those vehicles with an engine driven fan. Overheating from just environmental factors is a thing of the past. Today, part failure is the cause. Overheat an aluminum engine and Game Over.

    • 0 avatar

      And this goes double for anyone owning any European made Ford since around 1990. For some reason in all Zetec and Duratec engines (including the 2.5 and 3.0 Porsche/Cosworth-v6) they put a plastic impeller in the water pump that usually self-destructs and then kills the engine bit by bit, giving these cars an awful reputation for having weak head gaskets…

  • avatar

    Good advice, and I’ll add one to the list. Buy the car you like the best rather than shopping for a deal or settling for a car that is almost as good at a better price. Inevitably you will maintain this car better and want to keep it longer.

  • avatar

    Man, I hate being so busy at work this week, I haven’t had the time to give TTAC as much attention as I’d like (same for CC).

    Maintenance IS the key to long car life. Admittedly, I don’t wash or wax like I used to, but I do my best and take the cars to a good car wash in town that happens to do a fine job.

    I have my own mechanic for the Impala, but I take it to the dealer every other oil change. That way you get any red flags, whether real or not – pretty easy to figure out, especially if you have a good dealer to start with, if issues are discovered that an independent may not know about.

    All good advice in this column. Oh yes – garage-kept cars are much happier, too!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Thanks for the complements. Your strategy of dealer/indy is actually pretty good assuming that the dealership gives you a decent price for the oil changes.

  • avatar

    It’s good to wait a few more minutes after the water temp reaches the green. On a cool day, it takes a Corvette another 15-20 minutes for the oil to get up to operating temperature. Did the experiment myself.

  • avatar

    Since most cars today are designed to simply start and drive off without a warm up, that still doesn’t mean one can stomp on the gas and rev the sucka out of it until it’s had a chance to warm up.

    That and change the oil every 5K or so, other fluids at the recommended intervals as spelled out in the owner’s manual.

    That’s largely what I’ve done and I’ve managed to take my truck to 235K+ miles and counting.

    Otherwise a good set of suggestions there Steven.

    Oh, I like good granola, just wished it weren’t so dang’d expensive in the stores.

  • avatar

    Lots of good advice here. Steve Lang briefly mentions something that I believe has been proven in consumer surveys: Once you think of your car as a POS, you treat it like one. The effect snowballs until you’re neglecting maintenance. Then a major component craps out, and you have to trade in your car just when its value is lowest – because you neglected it. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that.

    My way of dealing with this: if I have one niggling little problem – a blown dashboard lightbulb, for example – I ignore it. But as soon as I have TWO such problems, I grit my teeth and get them both fixed. This can be a pricy PITA (you want an hour’s labor for reconnecting that door speaker? Really?), but it ensures that even at 150K+ miles, I can look around my interior and see not only that everything works, but that I’m invested in the process.

  • avatar

    Excellent advice all ’round, but what many motorists seem to forget that the summer heat on an enclosed vehicle for ‘hours on end’ in the extreme heat of summer does indeed inflict ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ to the interior—upholstery, electronics et al—and my advice is this: invest in a good quality reflective windshield screen when your car is being subjected to this extreme. Here in Eastern Ontario it can be pretty hot in the summer and I hate the thought of what it must be in the U.S. Sunbelt at that time!

  • avatar

    Re: not high revving when cold.

    Eeek my 2011 Sentra SER tach momentarily springs all the way to the red soon as I start it…

    Maybe this is something to get the oil churning – I don’t know. Dudes its leased and boorish who cares.

    On the topic of corrosion ain’ t overnight summer condensation in hidden surfaces a problem?

    • 0 avatar

      Does the engine actually rev to redline, or do the needles just move to redline? For whatever reason, some cars are designed to swing all the needles up and down whenever the ignition is turned on.

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