Tips and Blogs

Improve your car’s life expectancy

By 28th October 2021No Comments

Most cars last around 14 years before being scrapped, and the average age of cars on the road is 8 years.

What can we do to keep our cars safe and reliable for as long as possible? Here are some tips from the RAC which should help keep your car running for many years to come.

Maintain your car’s battery

Especially important if your car is regularly inactive for extended periods, which can degrade and discharge the battery. 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 car tends to be left in a garage during periods of inactivity, a trickle charger can help keep it charged and healthy. If the battery seems to be running flat more quickly than it should, use a battery conditioner.

Jump-starting the car in the event of a flat battery can put additional strain on delicate electronics in your car, as well as the battery itself. If trickle-charging your car is impractical or inconvenient, it’s important to drive your car regularly – especially in winter.

Maintain your filters

Your car’s oil and air filters become clogged over time, so it’s important to renew each of them regularly.

While replacing them should be part of regular servicing, it’s a relatively simple job for both of them, particularly the air filter. It might be worth giving it a try yourself. If you haven’t done it before, you can save money and learn a new skill in the process. Just make sure you consult your handbook for proper technique, and use genuine parts.

Washing the air filter can improve its life expectancy, too.  Again, consult your handbook for the best way to do this.

Drive smoothly… most of the time

Being mindful of how our driving puts strain on the the mechanical components of our cars can help us to adopt a driving style that reduces wear and tear, improves fuel economy, and can improve driving safety too.

Things like using the steering wheel, gearbox, and pedals smoothly, and looking well ahead to anticipate hazards and reduce the need for sudden braking all help achieve this wonderful combination of improved safety, economy, and reduced strain.

That said, never revving your engine can be harmful too. 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. That’s why, at least once every few hundred miles, and only when the oil is warm and it is safe to do so, you should rev your engine to the redline.

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.

Clogged diesel particulate filters can be a problem unique to diesel cars. A longer motorway run once a month will help clear them.

Use your air conditioning

Failing to occasionally use the air-con in your car can end up leaving it leaking refrigerant gas more quickly, and then breaking down.

Turning it on frequently, even in winter, will help reduce the need for re-gassing; a much more expensive option than the small cost to economy.

Top up fluids regularly

Failing to keep your car’s fluids topped up can have dire consequences, and can lead to much more serious breakdowns than one can generally expect from normal wear and tear.

To check your engine oil, park your car on level ground, and remove the dipstick. Wipe it clean, then dip. The oil, which should have a light yellow-brown colour in petrol cars, should reach between the maximum and minimum markers. Darker oil is fine with diesel cars, but dark oil in petrol cars should be replaced ASAP.

You should also check your coolant reservoir (in general you should top up with 50% distilled water, 50% antifreeze), and windscreen washer fluid – best topped up with shop-bought screen wash. Don’t use washing-up liquid – it can damage paintwork.

Check your tyres

See some of our handy tyre safety resources

Tyres are critical to your safety and should be checked frequently – about once a week. Driving with unsafe tyres puts you, your passengers and other road users at risk.

Underinflated tyres are less fuel-efficient, too. So keep them properly inflated and you’ll save some fuel money, and remember to properly check recommended pressures for your vehicle – sometimes front and rear pressures differ.

Tyre tread is another essential regular check. The legal minimum in the UK is 1.6mm, but you should think about changing them when they are between 2mm and 3mm – the less tread you have, the less effective the tyre becomes in wet conditions.

Finally, look carefully for signs of wear or damage which could result in a blow-out. Bulges or chips can be extremely dangerous and are illegal, leaving you with points and a fine if you’re caught.

Stick to the service schedule

Regular servicing is one of the best things you can do to give your car the best chances of a long and happy life. Measured by miles or time – a service might be recommended every 10,000 miles, or once a year.

You can check your vehicle handbook to find service recommendations, and many cars have warning lights on the dashboard to alert you when maintenance is needed.

Building service costs into your car budget is wise: for example, leaving room in the budget for a minor annual service (including changing oil and oil filter, and replacing any other fluids if needed), and a major service every two or three years, which might include changing the air filter, spark plugs and cambelt.

There are lots of individual tasks involved in both major and minor services, but both should include checks for oil and fluid leaks, tyre pressures and condition, excessive exhaust emissions, brake wear, and that the steering, gearbox, clutch, suspension, lights, wipers and horn are all working as intended.

Keep it covered

Lots of garages are used for storage, but a lot of the time it’s not vehicle storage. Parking your car in a garage keeps it dry, clean and safe, reducing the risks of accidental damage, vandalism and theft, and can cut your insurance premiums 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.

Keep the weight down

Read our tips and posters on the importance of avoiding overloading

Habits like keeping the golf clubs and other unnecessary heavy objects are counterproductive, in that they offset so much of the work done by vehicle manufacturers to reduce vehicle weight wherever possible.

An overweight car means:

Reduced control. Even for highly skilled drivers comfortable with heavy vehicles, exceeding weight limits can mean the driver is less likely to stop safely as the brakes are stretched beyond normal limits. The excess weight can also cause issues with handling and make it harder to steer and manoeuvre and react to emergency situations.

Wear and tear. Vehicles that exceed their weight limit can expect more wear and tear on vital components such as brakes, clutches, suspension and tyres. For fleet managers, this can result in more frequent vehicle downtime and expensive repairs while also putting drivers in danger if those parts were to fail.

Increased emissions. It’s not just the drivers at risk. Studies have proven that overloading a vehicle results in a significant increase in the amount of CO2 emissions that are released when driving¹. This can impact local air quality, increasing the harmful pollutants that affect vulnerable groups.

Resist the temptation to modify

Car mods are likely to decrease lifespan and reliability. Engine tuning will increase strain on many components directly, and many parts indirectly (such as the brakes if you end up driving faster as a result)

Stiffer, sportier suspension also causes additional wear to the chassis, subframes and bushes.

Money spent on modifications will probably only decrease the value of your car. Since depreciation is frequently the biggest cost involved in running a car, reducing the resale value shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Avoid driving over potholes and rough tracks

Read our tips on avoiding pothole damage

Potholes can cause horrible damage to cars, especially on suspension, tyres and exhaust.

The miniature craters can lead to sidewall bulges, tread separation, suspension can become misaligned and shocks damaged. Deeper holes may even scrape catalytic converters leading to holes and a loss of power.

Check your warning lights immediately

It’s only too easy to ignore warning lights if they don’t appear alongside an alarming noise or obvious change in vehicle performance, but leaving them problems unchecked could lead to an untimely end of your car.

Your engine, braking and power steering lights indicate some of the most urgent faults that could lead to expensive repair bills or worse: an unsafe driving situation.

While brake and steering problems will reduce your control of the car, the engine light could turn on for a number of reasons. A loose filler cap, or the far more concerning contaminated catalytic converter, are all flagged by the same light, and it’s best to get anything you’re unsure about checked right away by the experts.

If you want to help equip your people with the skills to protect themselves and your vehicles, contact us and find out how we can help you achieve higher levels of driver safety, and reduce costs like vehicle damage.

Charlie Reynolds

Author Charlie Reynolds

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