Ah, the feel of the open road. Windows down, hands confidently on the wheel, you feel like you could drive for hours. But does your car agree?
In this podcast episode of CarStuff, hosts Scott Benjamin and Ben Bowlin welcome guest Matt Frederick of Stuff They Don't Want You to Know to explore what it takes to make a car last 300,000 miles (482,803 kilometers). Is there a "Goldilocks zone" for rotating tires and replacing fluids that will result in a vehicle's peak performance over time? And could it lead to reaching the 300,000-mile mark?
These are difficult questions to answer, considering that mileage alone isn't the only indicator of a car's longevity. A person could drive 30,000 miles a year (the average is 15,000) and rack up miles pretty quickly, but someone who drives very little will still see their car age when the interior fades and rubber parts begin to dry. Plus, certain parts are expected to be replaced over time. By the 150,000-mile or 10-year mark, a vehicle will probably need a need a new radiator, alternator, shocks and more.
David Soloman, a certified master mechanic and editor of MotorWatch, contends there are several things you can do to prolong a vehicle's life — and extend its mileage.
The first strategy isn't about the car — it's about you. Adjusting the way you drive is a great way to take stress off a vehicle. Coast as much as possible by planning your approach to stop signs and stop lights before reaching them. As a result, you'll avoid stepping on the brake at the last moment, which wears the brakes down. Avoid heavy acceleration; stepping hard on the gas pedal when the engine is cold is the main reason an engine's head gaskets fail.
And here's a tough one: Don't turn on the heater or air conditioner immediately after you start the engine. The extra load will wear the engine down. However, you should run the air conditioner or windshield defroster at least once a month, no matter the weather, to keep oil circulating through the heating and cooling system.
It also helps to pay attention to the owner's manual for maintenance guidelines. If you fill up with premium fuel, but your vehicle's engine is designed for regular, you're wasting money, and it could cause a build-up of carbon on the combustion chambers. Speaking of gasoline, you shouldn't let the amount in your tank drop below a quarter of a tank. When this happens, it can cause condensation and damage the fuel pump.
How many times do you keep adding gas after the nozzle clicks off? Getting the amount to an even number or making the most of your fuel points may cause more harm than good. You'll damage the evaporative emission canister, which can cause the "check engine" light to come on and lead down a rabbit hole of expensive repairs.
If you really want to make your vehicle last, pay attention to the routine life expectancy of major parts — and replace them before they fail. To this end, it helps to rotate the tires every 7,500 miles (12,070 kilometers), get the battery tested annually and have the oil and other fluids changed like clockwork according to the owner's manual.
Oh, and that giant key ring weighted down with every key you own and more than its fair share of dangling décor? Ditch it. In some vehicles, the extra weight can even affect the ignition switch.