Lengthening the Life of Your Ride

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In 1966, Irvin Gordon visited a Volvo showroom in Long Island, New York to test-drive a new car.

The salesman threw him the key for a cherry red car with a chrome finish and a standard shift. Three hours later, Gordon returned the vehicle, but only because it had run out of gas. At that time, Irvin Gordon earned only $5,000 per year and the dealer wanted $4,150 for the car. What was he to do? Gordon traded in his Chevy, borrowed from his dad, and purchased the new Volvo.

Gordon drove the vehicle out of the showroom on a Friday evening and didn't stop driving until Monday morning when he returned to the dealer for a 1,500-mile service checkup. In later reflection he stated, "I couldn't get out of the car. I was having such a good time." In 1987, two decades later, he reached one million miles, rolled up two million miles in March 2002, and hit three million miles in September 2013.1 The driver's seat is original although it has been upholstered twice. The engine was rebuilt at 680,000 miles. The oil has been changed more than 870 times. He had his share of accidents such as the buses that squashed his vehicle twice in the school parking lot and the 18–wheeler that locked onto his bumper and dragged his car for over a mile on Pennsylvania Interstate 80. Gordon has crisscrossed the United States numerous times, in fact seven times in one year. On one occasion he drove from New York to Los Angeles in three days.

Why a "Stewpot" on Vehicles?
Not all of us are as captivated by the vehicles we drive as Irvin Gordon, but we all have to deal with being stewards of our resources when it comes to our transportation. First, we have to be wise stewards of our transport financially. According to a recent article, the annual maintenance cost for a midsize car is $9,150 ($760 per month) and $11,600 ($967 per month) for an SUV. This covers gas, maintenance, tires, insurance, license and registration, depreciation, and financial charges. Plus, if you add in the square footage of your garage (400 square feet at $100 per foot) that can mean $40,000 of your mortgage goes to your car.2 Next to housing, most financial educators would place vehicle costs at number two in most individual or family household budgets. Second, we are also stewards of the safety and the well-being of our families.

Listed below are six important reminders that will help keep your vehicle running smoothly and safely, ensuring it to run for as long as possible:

Oil Changes
The oil in your vehicle reduces friction and captures those contaminants that contribute to the wear and tear of your engine. Always change your oil according to the prescribed schedule. Don't go longer than one month or 300 miles past the date interval/mileage. Purchase the grade oil that meets the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations. Using low-grade oil can damage your engine and invalidate your warranty coverage. Be sure to change your oil filter as required by your owner's manual.

Avoid habitually running your vehicle with a tank low on gas. A full or nearly full tank reduces the odds of needing an expensive fuel system service during the life of your vehicle. Some gas tanks are made of metal, and low or partially empty fuel tanks are prone to rust. These rust particles can flake off and clog your fuel filter, fuel line, and fuel injector, which ultimately leads to costly repairs. Many vehicles have fuel pumps that are cooled by immersion in the fuel. Running your tank low can cause those pumps to fail early due to heat. The goal is to never let your tank get less than half-full.

Modern tires are much more reliable than those of our fathers' vehicles so we seldom think about them or check their air pressure. Underinflated tires are the most common cause of increased friction as compared to those tires that are at the right amount of pressure. Fortunately, most new vehicles have built-in eclectic tire pressure monitors. If you have an older car and use a handheld gauge, it is best to check when the tires are cold.3

Radiator Service
The key to a well-performing radiator is the quality of coolant you use. Most vehicle engines today are made of alloy, not cast iron, and using old or contaminated coolant can cause corrosion or rust and also can lead to overheating of the engine. Remember, fresh coolant appears bright green or orange-red and translucent, and certainly never cloudy.

Wiper Blades
Obviously, for visibility and safety, replace your wiper blades regularly. The crucial time to replace them is when the glass becomes streaky. Replace them annually or every six months if you live in a climate of brutal summer sun or rough icy winters.

Vehicle Washes
There are two good reasons to regularly wash your vehicle—to prevent rust and to maintain the paint shine. The latter adds value when you sell your car or truck.4

Final Thought
When it comes to doubling your vehicle's life, read and follow the manual—it is your bible for extending the life of your vehicle.

1Casey Williams, "Autos: Irv Gordon's Secrets to Topping 3 Million Miles in His Volvo," INDYSTAR, May 10, 2014.
2Andrea Coombes, "Mercedes or Ford, a Car Costs a Lot More Than You Think," The Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2014.
3Eric Peters, "5 Simple Ways to Make Your Car Last 300,000 Miles," BottomLine Personal, July 1, 2009, p. 7.
4Eric Peters, "To keep Your Car Running Smoothly," BottomLine Personal, March 15, 2009, p. 5.

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