CAR CLINIC | Six tips to make your car last as long as possible
The halcyon days of a new vehicle is a time to be savoured. That wonderful “new car” smell, the smoothness, the quietness, the precision of the controls.
But, like the old joke about marriage – first comes the wedding ring, then the teething ring, then the suffering – new car ownership soon brings you face-to-face with the practicalities of life, and in particular the question: how can you make this piece of machinery, for which you have paid such a lot of money, last as long as possible?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted. It should already be on your mind when you are deciding which car to buy. If you intend to keep a vehicle for a long time, you should select a manufacturer with a strong, established presence in SA, which will hopefully not abscond when the chilly winds of adversity begin to blow. This requires some clairvoyance.
Who would have thought 50 years ago that the mighty General Motors would one day fall on hard times and feel obliged to withdraw from our shores?
From the offerings of the chosen manufacturer, you would then choose a volume seller. Volume sellers offer the best quality relative to price, the best prospects for long-term spares availability, and the best hope of continuing technical support when you need it. If your 1970 Ford Escort should give you trouble, you will probably still find a retired mechanic who cut his teeth on that little Kent engine.
If your 1970 Lancia Flavia should misbehave, you will be extremely lucky to find a surviving specialist to assist you. I say this without any malice towards Italians. They are great people who make some excellent cars.
Once you have made the purchase, the golden rules for longevity are:
- Avoid short trips as far as possible. There is a strong negative correlation between the frequency of cold starts and the expected lifespan of an engine.
- Use common sense. The quickest way to damage an engine is to rev the living daylights out of it in neutral (something the engine computer on many modern cars will simply not allow), or to let it idle for hours on end. Conversely, the kindest thing you can do for an engine is to drive the car all day long at 110km/h in top gear.
- Bear in mind that longevity involves not only engine durability, but also the effects of the sun's UV radiation on plastics and rubbers. Rust is another merciless enemy. It is often the major cause of premature demise.
- The single most important rule of preventive maintenance is to change the vehicle's vital fluids (engine oil, gearbox fluid, brake fluid, coolant, power steering fluid) strictly according to the manufacturer's prescribed schedule. In fact, I would suggest shortening the engine oil change interval by at least one-third. Always use the best fluids you can afford.
- Never take a chance with a timing belt on a modern engine. Replace it on schedule. This is simply non-negotiable.
- It helps a lot if you take a technical interest in your car. Even if you can just identify the components you see when you open the bonnet. That will at least enable you to spot anything abnormal when you look at the engine. You might not always be near a workshop or in a financial position to afford the services of a professional mechanic, so a good service manual or internet source of information is a valuable resource.