Hopefully by now you know how crucial oil changes are to extend car life. But what other car maintenance hacks can help you keep your prized steed around for long past the 100,000 mile mark? Take a look at these 10 car maintenance tips to easily extend the life of your car – some are mechanical basics, and some are clever little life hacks to help you navigate the automotive surprises of the changing seasons.
1- Engine Break-In
A brand new engine has slight imperfections in the metal surfaces; over the first few hundred miles of driving, the engine parts (with help from oil!) actually smooth out the places where they contact each other which allow them to glide more smoothly and seal properly. Specific instructions vary across manufacturers, but in general they recommend avoiding aggressive acceleration, hard braking, and long periods cruising at the same speed for the first 500-1,000 miles.
If you take a minute to think about it, idling is the worst. The most obvious knock on idling is that you’re getting zero MPG while still burning gas and creating exhaust emissions. But beyond that, it’s also hard on your engine. That’s because idling creates the same internal friction for your engine as driving even though the car is just sitting. Manufacturers recommend that vehicles that idle a lot (ambulances, taxis) actually get their oil changed more often because the engine is working all the time even though the car’s not moving. Car manufacturers have cut down on idle times with auto start/stop technology . . . if your vehicle doesn’t have that, you can do your part by turning off your engine if you’re going to be sitting for more than 2 minutes.
3- Cold Starts
The hardest part of an engine’s life are the first few minutes after it’s turned on, before the oil has warmed up to provide maximum lubrication. This is true of every start, but especially turning your engine on in cold weather. Traditional wisdom was to let a car “warm up” by idling before driving it. However, modern engines are different and benefit instead from minimizing the length of time they run while cold – they enjoy better fuel efficiency and longevity at warm operating temperatures. Plus, we just finished talking about the downsides of excessive idling. So, once your car is started, run it for about a minute if it’s really cold and then roll on your way. Drive gently for the first few miles so you’re not revving your engine to high RPM while it’s cold. Once you start driving, the burning the fuel will help the engine warm up faster – not to mention your car’s heater!
4- Wash That Car!
The easiest way to prevent premature rust damage is regular car cleaning. Far from a vanity activity, frequent car washes remove salt and other corrosive materials from your car’s body work and vital mechanical parts underneath. We recommend washing your car every couple weeks, and washing it as soon as possible after driving where salt has been applied to roads such as in cold regions or following a snow storm. Remember to flush that salt off your car’s underside; if you’re at a commercial car wash, get the “underspray” or “underwash”. A coat of wax on your paint will help it bead away moisture for longer and resist UV damage as well. Trouble getting around to washing your car? Check out a quality on-site car wash service such as AlwaysCleanCars.com to have your care cared for while you’re busy . . . just like Nomad does.
5- Driving Habits
As you can guess from the bit about Cold Starts, the most efficient time to run a car is when . . . it’s already running. You can make your car last longer and save fuel with some basic trip planning. Doing errands? String your stops together into one long round trip instead of a bunch of separate trips. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can even plan a clockwise trip to maximize right turns like UPS does. While you’re driving, it’s most efficient to cruise along at a constant steady speed. Eliminate as much acceleration and braking as possible if you’re interested in reducing wear and tear and saving fuel.
Alignment refers to how straight your car’s wheels are relative to each other – and to the process of straightening them if needed. Does your car pull to one side when driving? Do your tires wear out faster on one edge than the other? Do you hit a lot of potholes (hello New Jersey)? Your car is likely out of alignment so your tires are working against each other rather than rolling in the exact same direction. Correcting your car’s alignment will help improve your vehicle’s handling characteristics and improve the tread life of your tires. If you live in an area with bad roads (hello again New Jersey) you may benefit from having your alignment checked and corrected each year. Affordable alignments are often available at tire shops.
7- Tire Pressure and the Seasons
The leaves turning . . . the geese flying south . . . the little yellow tire light flashing on your dash. Oh, the signs of Autumn. Does your tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) ding on every fall? When the temperature falls, the air in your tires contracts, reducing the pressure in each tire. Your TPMS is set to notify you when your tire inflation dips below a certain point (often 10% or 20% of total pressure). So, on mornings after a big change in temperature you are probably seeing your TPMS light because of that, rather than a bigger issue such as a leak, puncture, or flat tire. If you air your tires up to their correct PSI rating (look for the sticker inside the driver door), your TPMS notification will likely go away. The best bet: keep a tire pressure gauge in your car and check your tires regularly so you know where they stand. And don’t forget to check pressures as weather gets warmer in the spring, to avoid over-inflation.
8- Bug Removal and Cleaning Sap
Pulverized bugs (as well as tree sap and tar) can leave remarkably stubborn stains on your windshield and paint! Here are some tips to making your next Summer road trip much less . . . smeary. First, do not run your windshield spray and wipers to remove the bugs. Your wipers are just rubber squeegees that are great at getting water off your glass, but they don’t apply enough friction to scrub off the bug guts. If you’re in the middle of a drive, you may find leaving bugs on the glass is better than looking through a whole windshield of wiper smears, especially at night. Second, clean the bug goo off as soon as possible – it comes off much easier before the bugs dry and bond on to the surface . . . this will also minimize damage to your car’s paint. Third, the best ways to get bugs off? If you’re on the road, you may find the sponge side of a gas station squeegee does the trick due to the texture and pressure it applies (more than a wiper). At home, some drivers like to use household products like Windex, vinegar, or even WD-40. Nomad has had the best results using commercial Bug & Tar removal products however, and recommends sprays from Meguiar’s, Turtle Wax, and Safety Kleen. A little dollop will soak into a stubborn bug carcass and then wiping it away with a cloth is easy.
9 – Windshield Wiper Care
On the subject of wipers, remember they are made for gliding across your windshield to remove water. Avoid these habits to help your wipers work better and last longer: Do not use your wipers to remove ice or heavy slush – remove ice from your wiper blades and their ‘sweep’ area before your start driving so they can make a clean seal on the glass. Don’t use your wipers to take off bug guts. If your wipers are leaving lots of streaks, try cleaning the windshield and wiping the length of the wiper blades by hand to remove any particles trapped between the rubber and glass. For very dirty windshields, save yourself the effort and wiper fluid of trying to clean them with your wipers . . . a quick hand clean with a squeegee or even windex/paper towel will cut down on wear and tear.
10 – Frozen Locks
“My car door won’t open” . . . “My key won’t turn in the lock” . . . “My key is stuck IN the lock”. In wintertime, frost may seize your car’s locks. Cold metal itself isn’t likely to become frozen in one place, but if the weather was wet or humid before the freeze, ice can form around the lock’s parts and hold them in place. A few tips: Rubbing alcohol is a great way to melt ice because it stays liquid even in the cold, try squirting it into the frozen mechanism. You may also try a hair dryer or other heat source to thaw out your locks, being careful not to melt, warp, or damage your car’s finish. DO NOT try to muscle the lock open with your key, as you could bend it or break it off inside the lock. Try the car’s other doors and trunk to see if you can gain access and open your door from the inside. Worst case, an automotive locksmith should be able to help if you’re more stuck than these DIY tricks can handle.