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The average age of a car at scrappage is around 14 years, while the average age of vehicles on the road is closer to eight years. But don’t worry, there are some simple steps you can take to give your motor the best chance of reaching its golden years. With the help of Rac patrol ambassador, Chris Burgess, we’ve compiled a list of easy-to-follow tips to minimize running costs and keep your car on the road for years to come.

1. Maintain your car’s battery

If you don’t use your car for long periods of time, the battery will degrade and go flat. Consider using a trickle charger to keep the battery topped-up if your car is left in a garage for an extended period of time or a battery conditioner if it appears to hold less charge than usual. If your battery does go flat, having to jump start a car puts additional strain on the battery and may damage the engine management system and other delicate electronics: a double-whammy of increased wear. To look after your battery without a trickle charger, you should try to drive your car at least once a week if possible – particularly in winter.

2. Change filters regularly

Your car’s oil filter and air filter become clogged over time, so it’s important to renew them regularly. They should be replaced as part of scheduled car servicing , but both are relatively simple jobs – particularly an air filter swap – so you might want to give it a try yourself and save money in the process. You can often prolong the life of the air filter by washing it, too. Consult your handbook for advice on filter cleaning and changes, and be sure to use genuine parts. Cheap, poor quality filters could damage your engine in the longer term. Find out more about  what’s involved in a car service and whether you can do some jobs yourself.

3. Drive smoothly… most of the time

Driving with ‘mechanical sympathy’ is something you should practice at all times. That means using the controls of your car while understanding how it works.  Doing so will reduce component wear and you’ll make your fuel go further. Simple things like using the steering wheel, gearbox and pedals smoothly are key, along with looking well ahead to reduce the need for sudden braking. Our guide on how to save fuel offers many more tips to improve your driving style to get the most out of your car and its fuel economy. That said, if you never rev your engine fully, carbon deposits can build up and foul the valves, intake manifold and other parts, reducing efficiency and potentially causing a misfire. You should therefore allow your engine to rev to the redline at least once every few hundred miles – but only when the oil is warm and you’re on a quiet road. Diesel cars may also have problems with clogged diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which are designed to trap harmful exhaust emissions. A longer motorway run once a month will help clear them.

4. Use your air conditioning

‘Use it or lose it’ is a phrase that could be applied to air conditioning. Air-con systems inevitably leak refrigerant gas over time, particularly if they aren’t used regularly. Leaving your air-con off may save fuel, but you could end up with a bill for air conditioning re-gassing instead (often around £50, available at most garages and fast-fit centers). And yes, that means occasionally letting your vents blow cold in winter, too. Find a garage near you if you think you need a re-gas.

5. Replace spark plugs and leads

As cars become ever more complicated, drivers are understandably less inclined to do their own servicing. However, replacing spark plugs and high-tension leads is another straightforward job you can do yourself to optimize your engine’s performance. Bear in mind that you should always consult your vehicle handbook beforehand and stick to the service schedule though. When inspecting a spark plug, check that it has: a light brown electrode and insulator or no signs of melting  no signs of wear or deposits. A spark plug in a poor condition either indicates wear over time and needs replacing, or can hint at the condition of your engine. If the plug is relatively new and has developed a significant gap between the electrode and the insulator, then it could be an indication that the engine is under-performing. If that’s the case, you should consult your local garage. If the leads have cracks or show signs of heavy wear, they should be replaced. We recommend using a reputable garage to carry this out, however, if you have the experience and feel confident, you could do it yourself as long as you follow your vehicle handbook’s guidelines. This point doesn’t apply to diesel cars as they don’t use spark plugs.

6. Top up fluids regularly

Fluids are your car’s lifeblood and failing to replenish them may have dire consequences. Check your engine oil once a fortnight by opening the bonnet (with your car on level ground) and removing the dipstick. Give it a wipe with a rag then give it a dip. When it comes back out, the oil level should be between the minimum and maximum markers – and a light yellowy-brown colour if your car has a petrol engine. Dark, dirty oil should be replaced. However, diesel engine oil accumulates soot as part of the normal combustion process, so dark-coloured oil isn’t a cause for alarm with a diesel car. Other areas to check fortnightly include the coolant reservoir, which you should top up with 50% distilled water and 50% antifreeze, and the windscreen washer bottle. We recommend a shop-bought screen wash for the latter. Don’t be tempted to use washing-up liquid as it contains salt and other additives that will damage paintwork.

7. Check your tyres

 Tyres are arguably your car’s most important safety feature and it’s no exaggeration to say that checking them regularly – about once a week – could save your life. Under-inflated tyres will also increase fuel consumption, so keep them topped up to the recommended pressures listed in your car’s handbook to save money. Watch our quick video on how to check your tyre pressure, health and tread depth. Remember, tyre pressures may be different for the front and rear tyres. Some experts suggest rotating your tyres (i.e. swapping the fronts to the rear, and vice versa) in order to even-out wear and prolong tyre life. However, in the interests of safety, we recommend using the least-worn tyres on the back axle, as loss of front grip (understeer) is much easier to manage than a rear-end slide (oversteer).

8. Stick to the service schedule

Regular servicing is vital to keep your car in tip-top condition and prolong its life. Service intervals are based on time or miles driven – once a year or every 10,000 miles, for example. Check the handbook to find out when your car is due a service and what work is required. Many modern cars have warning lights on the dashboard to alert you when maintenance is needed, too. Broadly speaking, you should budget for a ‘minor’ service once a year and a ‘major’ service every two or three years. A minor service includes changing the oil and oil filter, and replacing other fluids if necessary. Depending on the car and mileage, a major service may also cover replacement of the air filter, spark plugs and cambelt. The number of tasks included in even a minor service is numerous, but all should include checks for oil and fluid leaks, tyre pressures and condition, excessive exhaust emissions, brake wear, and the correct operation of the steering, gearbox, clutch, suspension, lights, wipers and horn.

9. Keep it covered

Many of us have garages, but how many actually use them? OK, we’ll rephrase that: how many actually store cars in them? As cars become larger and more corrosion-resistant, most are left on a driveway or a road, with the garage effectively becoming an extension of the loft or garden shed. Well, consider this your excuse for a clear-out. Parking your car in a garage keeps it dry, clean and safe, reducing the risks of accidental damage, vandalism and theft. It can even cut your insurance premium, too. If you don’t have use of a garage, consider buying a high-quality car cover instead – particularly if you leave your car parked for long periods of time.

10. Keep the weight down

Motor manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to reduce the weight of their vehicles to increase the miles per gallon and to meet the emissions requirements. So it makes a lot of sense for you to keep the weight carried by your car to a minimum wherever possible. Carrying extra weight is a sure-fire way to dent your car’s fuel economy. You’ll also put additional wear-and-tear on your tyres, brakes and suspension. A practical solution is simply to remove any unnecessary objects from the car. Start with the door pockets and glove box, then look under the seats for any stray toys or drink bottles. Moving on to the boot, clear out everything you don’t need. Just remember to leave the toolkit, jack and locking wheel nut key in case of emergencies. It’s also a good idea to keep a breakdown kit in there just in case you’re unlucky enough to break down.

Writer: Chris Burgess

Date Published: 7/10/2020


Photo Credit: Don Robision Mitsubishi

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