Here in mid-Michigan, where road conditions can be horrendous in the winter, smart people own what is called a "winter beater." These older cars are purchased cheaply, so that the owner is not out a lot of money if road conditions put them in the ditch and ruins the vehicle. Along with an older car, however, come different considerations than you normally wouldn't find with newer vehicles still under warranty. If you have an older car, and want to keep it in the best possible shape, then take into considerations the suggestions in this article that will help you keep the older car alive longer.
About Older Vehicles
It is not unusual to see cars on the road with 100,000 miles on the odometer or more. The wise owner not only performs regular maintenance, but is aware of the things that go wrong with an older vehicle. These things can and will include things that will leave you stranded. Although that may be true about any car, it is especially true about the older vehicle. Along with the regular maintenance, a list of priorities is in order to keep the vehicle on the road.
Older vehicles will have higher wear on ball joints, constant velocity joints (CV) tie rod ends, drive shaft bearings if a rear wheel drive car, brakes and wheel bearings. People that own older vehicles tend to not keep up with these vital elements of an automobile, and owning a car that drops a tie rod at highway speed is definitely not a good experience. One thing highly recommended by savvy owners is to have a car inspected BEFORE you purchase it. Most trustworthy mechanics will do so, usually for a fee of $50, or, if you typically have them work on your cars, for nothing. It makes little sense to buy a car with a faulty
drive train that would cost you more to repair than the car is worth. These suggestions should be a top priority in any older vehicle, because your safety depends on it.
Don't Be Left Stranded
One of the quickest ways to getting stranded beside the road is failure to thoroughly checking hoses and belts. Hoses and belts harden and crack with age and can fail. One of the biggest things overlooked is the heater hoses in your car. A good way to check hoses is to inspect them at the fittings where hose clamps attach. It is the first stress area, and if the hose shows cracks around it perimeter, it is time to change them. When running the heater in the winter, if you notice a smell like pancake syrup inside the vehicle, it means that the heater core has probably failed and the odor you smell is antifreeze leaking into the interior of the car. The heater core can be tough to replace - if you aren't mechanically inclined, let a mechanic do it for you.
Fans belts will eventually fail. Again, check them for cracks and hardness. Often, they will squeal when getting ready to fail. The outer edge of belts will fray, giving you a good indication of impending failure. Always be sure to keep fan belts tightened properly. On older cars, power steering units can fail. Always be sure to check the fluid level in the unit on a monthly basis - more if steering is a bit jerky when making tight turns. If a power steering unit or belt fails, the car will be almost impossible to drive.
Pay close attention to the sound of your vehicle. don't make the mistake of having your radio blasting so loud all the time that you cannot hear any new noises the vehicle may be making - grinding, clicking and whining noises may mean brake pads may need to be changed, a whining noise can be bearings in the power steering unit failing or water pump bearings going bad. A whining noise that changes when you let up on the gas could mean that a wheel bearing is getting ready to fail. If you hear a whining noise, try to isolate it by turning your head in the direction of the sound. This goes a long way in determining a wheel bearing going bad.
Using Common Sense
An older vehicle is like an older person - they need a bit more care. There is no reason, however, that you cannot get a lot of good miles out of an older vehicle. The money saved in car payments goes a long way towards maintaining an older car.
The investment of a Chilton's manual for your vehicle goes a long way in keeping the car running properly, and for a $20 investment, it is good insurance.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.