How to extend the life of your vehicle

“Regular maintenance.” These two simple words can make all of the difference between a vehicle that is nothing but trouble and one you never need to worry about. As with maintaining a house, it’s the little things over the long term that make the most difference, and while there’s nothing exciting about warming up your engine and checking your oil, they’re just things you need to do in life to make things better and easier in the long run. Here are some easy ways to keep your wheels on the road for years to come.

Don’t procrastinate

Nobody enjoys going to the mechanic, much less paying the mechanic’s bill, but staying on top of regular maintenance pays dividends. Not only will you be able to identify and fix problems before they get worse (potentially leaving you broken down by the roadside), an early fix is often going to be cheaper than a late one. Things like oil changes (see below) tire rotation and brake pad replacement are necessary parts of vehicle ownership, and the more attentive you are to them, the more life you’ll get out of your vehicle.

Check the fluids

While the intricacies of an engine are a mystery to most of us, fluid levels are designed to be relatively easy to monitor. Engine oil, for example, should be changed every 5,000 - 10,000 km, depending on the make and model (check your owner’s manual if you’re not sure), and between oil changes you should be checking your oil level at least once a month. Low oil can cause excessive wear on the engine, or worse, cause your engine to seize completely. Similarly, keep an eye on your transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid levels, especially on older vehicles, to make sure nothing is leaking. As with engine oil, consult your owner’s manual to see where your other fluid level gauges are and what you should be looking for when you check them.

Keep it clean

Keeping a clean vehicle inside and out has a number of benefits, and some are more obvious than others. Aside from the pleasure of having a nice-looking car, dirt buildup on your car’s exterior can damage the paint and contribute to the formation of rust over the years. For similar reasons, it’s a good idea to have the car’s engine professionally steam-cleaned every year or two, as grime that builds up can hamper performance and lead to breakdowns over time. Regular vacuuming of your car’s interior will likewise prevent dirt, grime and potato chip crumbs from building up. This doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of a vehicle, but anyone riding in your car will surely appreciate the effort.

Drive easy

The engine is by far the most complex and important piece of your car’s operational puzzle, and how you drive can affect its performance over the long term. Most vehicles are designed to be driven moderately in normal city and highway conditions, so things like racing between stoplights and using excessive speed on the highway won’t just make you unpopular with your fellow drivers, they can also cause undue harm to your engine. Similarly, vehicles are designed to be driven regularly, so try to make sure you are taking yours out at least once a week and taking it up to highway speeds regularly.

Let it warm up

In the wintertime when temperatures drop, taking a little more time and care with your car when you take it out in the morning can prolong the life of your engine. First, let your engine warm up for 30 seconds on a cold morning, or a minute or two on exceptionally frigid days, before driving away. Once you are on the road, be extra careful to drive your car gently until the engine temp moves out of the cold zone.

For EVs

Making an EV last as long as possible comes down to one thing more than any other: the batteries. Take good care of your batteries and your vehicle will return peak performance for longer, and improve your vehicle’s return on investment over its lifetime. For hybrids and EVs alike, try to protect your battery from extreme temperatures by parking it in the shade in summer and indoors, if possible, in the winter. For purely battery-powered EVs, take advantage of smart charging features to minimize how much time your battery spends plugged in at full charge, and avoid high-voltage DC charging whenever possible, as this can deplete battery life over time.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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