Top Car Care Tips

We've all heard stories of cars and trucks lasting anywhere from 200,000 to even 500,000 miles.

But how? Three simple words: maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Here are some of the top maintenance tips to help make the engine, transmission and other parts of your vehicle last even longer. 

1. Check the oil: The easiest task you can do to increase the longevity of your vehicle is to keep the proper amount of oil in the engine. Also, change the oil and filter as recommended in the manufacturers owner’s manual, or every 3000 miles to be safe.

2. Check power steering fluid: Most older vehicles and even some new models have a hydraulic power steering pump that requires power steering fluid. These pumps have a screw-type cap that lifts off, so the fluid level can easily be checked.

3. Transmission fluid replacement: Having the correct amount of transmission fluid is important because it cools the transmission, lubricates its moving parts, and makes shifting gears smoother. But of course this fluid deteriorates over time. Frequent stop-and-go driving or anything that puts stress on the transmission, such as towing a trailer, accelerates this deterioration. Under these type of conditions the transmission’s operating temperature rises, which puts a strain on the components and the fluid. Automakers recommend you change the fluid more under those conditions. Of course you can check the owner’s manual for more details.

4. Radiator coolant flushing: Coolant has rust inhibitors that break down over time. Rust and corrosion can harm the engine, plug up a thermostat, and damage the water pump. Some automakers recommend changing the coolant every 30,000 miles, while some suggest 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to be sure.

5. Top off brake fluid: While you are checking all of your other fluids, it’s a good idea to check the brake fluid level as well. Put your vehicle on a level surface, then remove the reservoir cap. Make sure the brake fluid level is between the minimum and maximum marks on the fluid reservoir. Use the recommended fluid (DOT3, DOT4, etc.) and fill to the proper level.

6. Rotate your tires: Tires aren't cheap, so you want to make them last. Almost all tires should be rotated every 5000 to 6000 miles and alignment checked every 10,000 to 15,000. Also, it is very important to maintain the proper air pressure in each tire. A sticker on the driver’s door frame lists the proper tire pressures for the front and rear tires.

7. Have a clean engine air filter: A clean air filer can help increase your miles per gallon, help engine performance, and contribute to lower engine emissions.

No maintenance required

There are some components on cars that at one time required regular maintenance, but because of technological advances, there’s no need anymore. Ball joints and steering linkage which at one time required lubrication, no longer require it; new spark plugs may last 150,000 miles and at one time vehicle batteries (which are now sealed for lift) needed the water level in the electrolyte periodically checked.

Why you should get your car detailed

3 Reasons Why you Should Spend $100 Or More To Get Your Car Detailed


It sounds so, you know, involved. Can't you just wash your car in the driveway as have countless generations before, or simply run it through a car wash once a month? Sure, that would all be fine. You should wash your car about every month and wax it a few times per year, to keep the exterior finish in good shape. But the daily grind still takes its toll — more so if you have pets, children, or use your vehicle for gardening/home-improvement duty or lead an active, outdoorsy lifestyle. You don't even want to know what three kids did to my Honda Odyssey minivan on a regular basis. My argument is that it's worth it, once a year, to spend $100 to have your car detailed, and maybe more if you want a heavy-duty detail. That just means in addition to a thorough exterior wash-and-wax, a professional detailer or full-service car wash will get down and dirty with the interior, extracting as much filth as possible. You'll be shocked at how new your old car looks. And in some cases, a mobile detailer will come to you, so you don't have to leave home! I've chosen the $100 figure because that's a decent ballpark for proper detailing. You can spend extra for ever-more surgical obsessiveness, involving compressed air, Q-Tips, X-Acto knives, whatever it takes. The price just goes up.But you also don't have to spend that much for less thorough quasi-detailing. This option will consume far less time. I recently paid about $30 to have my Toyota Prius washed, waxed, and more heavily cleaned inside than usual. The entire process ate up about half an hour on a weekend. I ended up with a quite tidy hybrid. Ultimately, there are three main reasons to undertake this yearly or bi-annual ritual (if you opt for the cheaper treatment, which could also be a quarterly thing).


1. Your vehicle isn't gross and is, therefore, a more pleasant place to spend time.

You don't have to be a neat freak to be depressed if your car slips over the edge into a Superfund site. Months of spilled coffee, scattered Doritos, and the simple churn of stuff will do it.


2. It maintains the resale value.

A sharp interior helps you get top dollar for a trade-in or private sale, no doubt about it. And in an era when everybody shops based on internet photos, the cleaner the better.


3. You support your friendly neighborhood car wash.

I can get a basic wash in my neighborhood for less than $10. And I do. But every so often, it's a good idea to accept the upsells so that your local business can make more money and, you know, stay in business.

Car Wash

Here Are All the Best Used Cars You Can Buy

Here Are All the Best Used Cars You Can Buy in 2021, by Category
Based on reliability, resale, and safety, breaks down the best buys for every segment. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Hondas and Toyotas here.

Right now is a great time to sell a used car, not a great to buy one. That’s because chip shortages, COVID plant closings, and the resulting pent-up buyer demand have all combined to see used car prices and availability skyrocket.
“In a four-week period that we just ended two weeks ago… the new car inventory, on average, across all types of models and all dealers, dropped 16.6%,” said executive analyst Karl Brauer. “So in one month, we lost almost 17% of the new car inventory. If it did that three more months there would basically be no new cars on dealership lots at all.” 

Which has a direct effect on the used car market:. “As new cars go, so go used cars,” said Brauer. “When there aren’t any new cars to buy, because of chip shortages, people don’t go buy new cars, they keep their old car, which means there aren’t any used cars to buy because you don’t get used cars till people give them up for a new car.”

So if you are in the market to buy a used car right now, it makes even more sense now to research a little and make sure you get a good one. And how do you determine that? The people at sift through almost 12 million used-car trade-ins and cars returned at the ends of leases to see which ones are the best among the millions of cars that trade hands in a given year. “The winners are cars that have demonstrated long-term reliability, hold their value the best, and have the highest average safety ratings from the National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA),” the company said.

Make Your Car Last 200,000 Miles

Buy a Safe, Reliable Model
You can coax any vehicle to 200,000 miles with enough patience and cash, but that doesn’t make doing so a good idea for everyone. The best way to minimize visits to the shop is to start with a model that has a reliable track record. And you don’t have to look far for a source. Consumer Reports compiles comprehensive reliability information from our Annual Auto Survey of members. They provide us with data on more than 1 million vehicles, and we publish the findings. In addition to choosing a reliable model, make sure to pick a car you’ll want to keep for a long time. Don’t compromise on the features you want or buy less or more vehicle than you think you’ll need. If this is going to be a long relationship, it may as well be a happy one. So choose a vehicle that will fit your lifestyle today and tomorrow, and pick one that you’ll enjoy driving. While you’re shopping, keep a sharp eye out for cars that have the latest safety features. Automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and blind spot warning are highly recommended. (If you're buying an older car, insist on electronic stability control and a rear camera, features that are standard on all new cars.) Remember to research how well any vehicle you’re interested in performed in government and insurance-industry safety tests.
If you’re buying a used car, be on the lookout for signs of neglect or abuse. Check for dents, rust, and mismatched body panels. Look for paint overspray, which is often a sign of repair work. Make sure all interior components are in good condition. A mildew smell, discolored carpeting, and silt in the trunk are indicators of water damage. All components under the hood should be free of corrosion and grease. Check the fluids and watch out for damp areas in the engine compartment and under the vehicle, which might point to leaks.
When you’ve found a vehicle you’re interested in, take it to an independent mechanic for a diagnostic inspection, which costs about $100 to $150. A mechanic can help you spot signs of wear or abuse that you might not see.

Stick to the Schedule
Follow the maintenance schedule in your car’s owner’s manual. It spells out when to take care of every service for the life of your car, including routine oil and filter changes, tire rotations, and more major service such as timing-belt replacement. Simply follow the routine spelled out for you. Even missing one oil change can contribute to premature engine wear, or cause damage and reduce the chances of your car remaining reliable for long. (Go to our guide to car maintenance.)
If you’ve neglected following your vehicle’s maintenance schedule, it’s not too late to get with the program. Have a mechanic inspect your vehicle and take care of any apparent problems, no matter how minor. Then introduce yourself to your owner’s manual and start fresh. Even if your vehicle doesn’t make it to 200,000 miles, it will definitely last longer with proper ongoing care.
Following the maintenance schedule has become easier over the years because longer-lasting components and fluids have increased service intervals. Today, many cars can go 10,000 miles between oil changes, and some spark plugs don’t need replacing for 100,000 miles.
Consider using what's often called the severe-use or extreme-use maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. Most drivers who need to follow such a schedule do a lot of city driving; live in a very hot or cold climate in mountain regions or near the ocean; make a lot of short trips; tow a trailer; or drive in dusty conditions. If that description sounds like it includes a lot of drivers, it does.
The difference between the regular maintenance schedule and the severe-use schedule can be significant, with severe-use oil-change intervals being much shorter, sometimes twice as often. Intervals for other services also change accordingly under severe-use guidelines.
Many new models from a wide variety of carmakers make it even easier to stay on top of maintenance, with sensors that take into account your mileage and driving habits to determine the optimum time for maintenance. They monitor the miles driven since the last service and record data such as how much stop-and-go driving is done, the engine temperature during each trip, and the time the engine spends operating at higher speeds. The system then calculates how quickly your oil is breaking down and alerts you when service is due, and can even adjust a car’s complete service interval to compensate for your specific use.
But don’t overmaintain your car; that can be a waste of money. Watch out for dealers or repair shops that add maintenance work not called for in the owner’s manual. That can add hundreds of dollars to a routine service bill.

Don't Skimp on Parts
Trying to save a couple of bucks on cheap parts and fluids could cost you in the long run. The wrong type of oil or transmission fluid, for example, could cause damage leading to expensive repairs, voiding your warranty and diminishing long-term reliability. Cheap and no-name belts and hoses might not wear as well as those from a name-brand supplier. To be safe, only use parts and fluids meeting manufacturer specifications.
If your car’s manual says that premium fuel is required, go for the expensive stuff. Some engines won’t perform correctly without higher-octane gasoline, and using regular or even midgrade fuel might cause damage. If premium fuel is recommended (but not required), you’re fine using lower-octane gasoline because the engine-control system has sensors that will compensate for it. Using premium fuel in a car designed to run on regular gas won’t cause an improvement in performance, fuel economy, or engine life, so save your money. (For more tips, see our guide to fuel economy.)
Know What to Watch For
Even if you adhere to the schedule, remember that problems can arise unexpectedly. The manual might say how often to inspect belts and hoses, for example, but when to replace them can vary greatly by climate and other factors. So get in the habit of opening the hood to look, listen, and smell for anything unusual. Fraying and cracks in belts are sure signs of trouble, along with cracks and bulges in hoses. Look for evidence of leaks, and check the level and condition of coolant and brake and power-steering fluids. They can give you clues about what’s going on inside components. Gritty-­feeling or burnt-smelling transmission fluid, for example, could indicate the start of internal damage. By catching it early, you could reduce repair costs and increase long-term reliability.
On the road, listen for odd noises from your engine, suspension, and brakes. If you have any doubts about a noise, get it checked out right away by a mechanic. Taking care of a minor repair now could help you avoid an expensive one later.
Consider investing in a vehicle service manual, available at car dealerships and most auto-parts stores. More detailed than your owner’s manual, a service manual can explain in illustrated detail what to look for, and assist with minor repairs that can extend long-term reliability. (Learn more from our car repair guide and estimator.)

Keep Your Machine Clean
Cleaning inside and out will keep your car looking fresh, and the routine will also make it a more pleasant place to be as the miles roll up. Washing and waxing can help preserve the paint and prevent rust, and vacuuming sand and dirt out of carpets and seats can minimize premature wear that leads to tears and holes. And while you clean, you might spot small problems that you wouldn’t notice otherwise, such as scratches that need to be painted over and loose or broken parts that should be repaired or replaced. (Learn how to make it shine with our car wax advice.)

The End of the Road
No matter how well you choose and care for a car, someday it will be time to move on because it’s costing too much or is no longer safe. Still, saying goodbye can be a tough decision, especially if you’re attached to your car.
Here are signs that it’s probably time to find another vehicle:
  • It needs a big repair that will cost more to fix than the car is worth.
  • Rust is compromising the structural integrity.
  • It remains unreliable even with frequent repairs.
  • It has been in a flood or a serious accident.

How to Finance a Used Car

Used Car Loans From Car Dealers

The used car dealership where you buy your car could also help you finance it. You'll find three types of used car financing at auto dealerships.

Dealer-arranged financing: When you apply for a used auto loan at the dealership, the dealer will submit your application to multiple lenders to see which offers you the best deal (this is called "rate shopping"). In many cases, however, the dealer will increase the interest rate so they can make some money for arranging the loan.

Captive financing: Car manufacturers often own financing companies that make loans on the manufacturer's new or certified pre-owned vehicles. Although captive financing companies sometimes offer good deals, loans may be limited to certain makes or models, and the best financing terms (such as 0% APR) are usually reserved for new vehicles.

Buy here, pay here financing: Some used car dealers offer in-house financing. These buy here, pay here (BHPH) dealerships cater to customers with poor credit or no credit history. More lenient standards make it easier to get approved even if you've had trouble getting a loan elsewhere. On the downside, BHPH lenders usually charge very high interest rates and fees and require larger down payments than traditional dealers.

Used Car Loans From Online Lenders

Online lenders work similarly to banks and credit unions, except that the loan application process takes place entirely online. Many online lenders specialize in certain types of loans, such as auto loans, or certain types of borrowers, such as people with fair to poor credit. You'll start by getting prequalified with the online lender; once you're prequalified, you can submit an official loan application.

Using an online lending platform to find a used car loan has some advantages. You can get prequalified quickly and compare loans from several online lenders much faster than you could with traditional banks. You can also get approved and receive your loan funds in just a few days. But there are disadvantages too. Online loans may not offer terms as good as your bank or credit union, and if you prefer talking to lenders face-to-face, an online lender isn't the best option for you.

What to Look for When Comparing Used Car Loans

When you're comparing used car loans, there are several factors you should consider to find the best loan.

Down payment: The larger the down payment you can make on the car, the less you'll need to borrow, and the less interest you'll pay over the term of the loan.

APR: The annual percentage rate (APR) of an auto loan incorporates both the interest rate and any loan fees the lender charges. Assuming the down payment and loan terms are equal, comparing APRs is a good way to weigh the relative cost of different loans.

Term: This refers to how many months it will take you to repay the loan. New car loan terms generally start at 36 months and go as long as 72 or even 84 months. Because used car loan amounts are typically smaller, the terms are usually shorter. Still, in 2019 the average used car loan term was about 65 months, according to Experian data. A longer term means a lower monthly payment, but also means you'll pay more in total interest over the life of the loan.

Monthly payment: This is the amount you agree to pay the lender each month until the loan is paid off. The payment is the same every month and includes both principal and interest.

Used car loans often have higher interest rates than new car loans. In the last quarter of 2019, the average interest rate for a new car loan was 5.76%; for a used car, it was 9.49%, according to Experian data. The older the car is, the higher the interest rate is likely to rise.

Taking a shorter loan term can somewhat offset the higher interest rate of used car loans, but it will cause your monthly payment to rise. For example, if you took out a 36-month used car loan at 9.49% APR, you'd pay $1,530.18 in total interest. If the same loan were stretched out to 60 months, however, you'd pay $2,598.18 in total interest. Choosing the shorter term would save you over $1,000.

Choosing the Right Used Car Loan

When you're looking for a used car loan, don't rush the process. Check your credit score before you apply for a loan and take steps to boost your score if necessary. Once your credit score is where you want it to be, shop around to see which lender offers the best interest rate, loan term and monthly payment for your needs. Buying a used car can be a smart way to save money—and taking a little time to find the most favorable loan terms can save you even more.

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