​14 ways to make your car last longer

​14 ways to make your car last longer
The RAC's top tips for prolonging your car’s life and keeping running costs down.

With the help of our very own RAC patrol ambassador 2017, Chris Burgess, we have compiled 13 detailed, but easy-to-follow, tips to help you make your car more efficient, nicer to drive and last longer.

Many seem like straightforward common sense, but you’d be surprised how few drivers adhere to them all.

1. Change filters regularly

Air filter

Your car’s oil filter and air filter become clogged over time, thus renewing them regularly is important.

They should be replaced as part of scheduled servicing, but both are relatively simple jobs – particularly an air filter swap – so you may wish to attempt them yourself. You could save money on servicing if so.

You can often prolong the life of the air filter by washing it, too.

Consult your handbook for advice on filter cleaning and changes, and be sure to use genuine parts. Cheap, poor quality filters could damage your engine in the longer term.

2. Drive smoothly… most of the time

Car rev counter

Driving with mechanical sympathy is something you should practise regardless of whether the engine has warmed up.

Doing so will reduce wear and eke out more miles per tankful. Smooth inputs through the major controls – steering wheel, gearbox and pedals – are key, along with looking well ahead to reduce the need for sudden braking.

Our top fuel tips guide offers many more tips to improve your driving style to get the most out of your car and its fuel economy.

Chris says: 

“The more aggressive you are on the pedals the higher your fuel and repair bills are likely to be.

"Learning to drive more smoothly is kinder to your car – and the environment – accelerating and decelerating in a controlled manner and anticipating the road ahead will save you pounds on your fuel bill.”

That said, 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.

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.

Diesel cars may also have problems with clogged diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which are designed to trap harmful exhaust emissions.

A longer motorway run once a month will help clear them.

3. Use your air conditioning

Air con

‘Use it or lose it’ is a phrase that could be applied to air conditioning.

Air-con systems inevitably leak refrigerant gas over time, particularly if they aren’t used regularly.

Leaving your air-con off may save fuel, but you could end up with a bill for re-gassing instead (often around £50, available at most garages and fast-fit centres).

And yes, that means occasionally letting your vents blow cold in winter, too.

MORE ADVICE: How to demist your windscreen in double-quick time

4. Replace spark plugs and leads

Spark plugs

As cars become ever more complicated, drivers are – understandably – less inclined to do their own servicing.

However, replacing spark plugs and high-tension leads is another straightforward job you can do yourself to optimise your engine's performance, but you should always consult your vehicle handbook beforehand and stick to the service schedule.

When inspecting a spark plug check that it is has: a light brown electrode and insulator, there are no signs of melting and no signs of wear or deposits.

A spark plug in a poor condition either indicates wear over time and needs replacing, or can hint at the condition of your engine. 

If the plug is relatively new and has developed a significant gap between the electrode and the insulator then it could be an indicator that the engine is under performing. If that's the case you should consult a reputable garage.

If the leads have cracks or show signs of heavy wear they should be replaced. We recommend using a reputable garage to carry this out, however, if you have the experience and feel confident enough then you should ensure you follow your vehicle handbook's guidelines. 

Obviously this point doesn’t apply to diesel cars as they don’t use spark plugs.

READ MORE: Petrol or diesel? Facts and quiz to help you choose

5. Top up fluids regularly

Oil change

Fluids are your car’s lifeblood, and failing to replenish them may have dire consequences.

Check your engine oil once a fortnight by opening the bonnet and removing the dipstick.

The oil level should be between the minimum and maximum markers – and a light yellowy-brown colour if your car has a petrol engine.

Dark, dirty oil should be replaced. Note, however, that diesel engine oil accumulates soot as part of the normal combustion process, so dark-coloured oil isn’t a cause for alarm with a diesel car.

Other areas to check fortnightly include the coolant reservoir – top up with 50% distilled water and 50% antifreeze – and the windscreen washer bottle.

We recommend a shop-bought screenwash for the latter.

Don’t be tempted to use washing-up liquid: it contains salt and other additives that will damage paintwork.

Chris says: 

“You would be surprised how many cars are running desperately low on oil.

"I routinely check the water, coolant and oil level when I attend a breakdown and I often discover that the oil is at the bottom of the dipstick and the coolant is desperately low.

"Either can have a catastrophic impact on the engine and yet it is easy for the driver to keep an eye on these and get the habit of a fortnightly check.”

6. Check your tyres

Tyre check

Tyres are arguably your car’s most important safety feature. Thus, it’s no exaggeration to say that checking them regularly – aim for once a week – could save your life. It could also save you money.

Under-inflated tyres will increase fuel consumption, so keep them topped up to the recommended pressures listed in your car’s handbook.

Watch our quick video on how to check your tyre pressure, health and tread depth.

Remember, tyre pressures may be different for the front and rear tyres. Some car experts suggest rotating your tyres (i.e. swapping the fronts to the rear, and vice versa) in order to even-out wear and prolong tyre life.

However, in the interests of safety, we recommend using the least-worn tyres on the back axle, as loss of front grip (understeer) is much is easier to manage than a rear-end slide (oversteer).

Chris says: 

“Your tyres are the most important safety feature on your car – they keep you gripped to the road.

"Imagine your car’s contact with the road is an area equivalent to the size of your hand, or a smart phone, for each wheel - so it is vital that the rubber is in tip-top condition.

"So ensure that you know and regularly check your tyre pressure, you have a minimum of 3mm tread and look-out for signs of wear or damage which could result in a blow-out.”

Having your car’s wheels professionally aligned may reduce tyre wear, too – with the added benefits of improved steering response and handling.

7. Stick to the service schedule

Service book

Regular servicing is vital to keep your car in tip-top condition and prolong its life.

Service intervals are based on time or miles driven – once a year or every 10,000 miles, for example.

Check the handbook to find out when your car is due a service and what work is required.

Many modern cars have warning lights on the dashboard to alert you when maintenance is needed, too.

Broadly speaking, you should budget for a ‘minor’ service once a year and a ‘major’ service every two or three years.

A minor service includes changing the oil and oil filter, and replacing other fluids if necessary.

Depending on the car and mileage, a major service may also cover replacement of the air filter, spark plugs and cambelt.  

The number of tasks included in even a minor service is numerous, but all should include checks for oil and fluid leaks, tyre pressures and condition, excessive exhaust emissions, brake wear, and the correct operation of the steering, gearbox, clutch, suspension, lights, wipers and horn.

Chris says: 

“It sounds basic but keeping on top of your car’s servicing is the best thing you can do to get the most out of your car and to maintain reliability.

"The investment in an annual service will save you pounds on repair bills and potentially avoid a stressful breakdown.”

MORE ADVICE: Everything you need to know about MOTs

8. Keep your car clean

Car wash

We all know people who never wash their car. Perhaps you’re one of them.

But keeping your car clean isn’t simply about pride of ownership: it can significantly extend its life, too.

Grit and grime gets into moving parts and and the chassis, leading to accelerated wear and corrosion.

Winter road salt is especially corrosive, while bird droppings play havoc with paintwork.

Take your car to a hand wash, or simply do it yourself. Automated car washes have stiff brushes that may leave fine scratches – plus they miss bits, too.

Use a proper cleaning solution rather than washing-up liquid and dry the car using using a soft chamois.

Polish the paintwork at least once a year to provide a layer of protection and attend to stone chips promptly to prevent rust spreading.

It’s also important to keep the inside of your car clean.

Using a protective spray on the dashboard plastics reduces the likelihood of cracking or discolouration. Placing a sunshade in the windscreen on bright days helps here, too.

Chris says: 

“It sounds obvious but keeping your car clean and the bodywork sound will help maintain its condition and keep up its value when it comes to selling it and trading up to a new vehicle".

9. Keep it covered

Car covered

Many of us have garages, but how many actually use them? OK, we’ll rephrase that: how many actually store cars in them?

As cars become larger and more corrosion-resistant, most are left on a driveway or road, with the garage effectively becoming an extension of the loft or garden shed.

Well, consider this your excuse for a clearout. Parking your car in a garage keeps it dry, clean and safe, reducing the risks of accidental damage, vandalism and theft.

It’s likely to cut your insurance premium, 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.

10. Keep the weight down

Cluttered car

Carrying extra weight is a surefire way to dent your car’s fuel economy.

You’ll also put additional strain on wear-and-tear parts such as tyres, brakes and suspension bushes.

However, while it’s tempting to make the kids walk, a more practical solution is simply to remove any unnecessary objects from the car.

Start with the door pockets and glovebox, then look under the seats for any stray toys or drink bottles.

Moving on to the boot, clear out everything you don’t need. Just remember to leave the toolkit, jack and locking wheel nut key in case of emergencies.

Chris says: 

"Motor manufacturers are constantly looking at ways to reduce the weight of their vehicles to increase the mpg and to meet the emissions requirements.

"So it makes a lot of sense for you to keep the weight carried by your car to a minimum wherever possible.

"Avoid keeping heavy loads and loose items in your car when not required and pay careful attention when packing your car for a family holiday or long trip.

"And don’t forget to remove luggage racks and roof bars when you no longer need them as they will add significantly to the drag on your car and push up fuel consumption.”

11. Maintain your car’s battery

Car battery

If you don’t use your car for long periods of time, the battery will degrade and go flat.

Jump-starting the car then puts additional strain on this essential component, and may damage the engine management system and other delicate electronics: a double-whammy of increased wear.

Consider using a trickle charger to keep the battery topped-up if your car is garaged.

If not, try to drive your car at least once a week – particularly in winter. Batteries don’t like cold weather too much!

12. Don’t scrimp on parts

Cheap car parts

Manufacturers cover millions of miles and spend billions on R&D to ensure their cars are as reliable as possible. So why put that in jeopardy with inferior-quality ‘pattern’ parts just to save a few pounds?

Using original parts could actually save you money in the long-run by keeping your car on the road.

And when it comes to classic cars in particular, originality is key to future value.

Giving your car the best also applies to the fluids you use.

Choose the engine oil recommended in the handbook and if you have a performance car that needs ‘premium’ fuel (e.g. super unleaded), use it.

That’s what the car has been designed and developed for.

Chris says: 

“The RAC only uses quality parts either from the original manufacturer or equivalent replacement parts (OEM parts) and we would recommend you do too to keep your car in the best condition and help maintain its value.

READ MORE: 13 driving myths uncovered

13. Have your car rust-proofed

Rust proofing

Modern cars are very rust-resistant, but metal corrosion is the number-one killer of vehicles built in the 1990s or before.

Once it sets in, many simply won’t be economical to repair.

If you see rust spots on your car, don’t wait for them to develop – at the very least, cover the exposed bodywork with touch-up paint before getting it professionally resprayed.

Applying a stone-deflecting film to the front of your car could prevent paintwork damage in the first place.

You could also have the chassis properly rust-proofed, which includes filling the cavities with a waxy substance designed to prevent water ingress.

Like all the tips here, it could save you money in the long-run.

14. Resist the temptation to modify

Car modifying

Modifying your car is likely to make it less reliable and shorten its life: fact.

Tuning the engine for more power puts extra strain on components, including the brakes if you drive faster as a result.

And stiffer, sportier suspension causes additional wear to the chassis, subframes and bushes.

Remember too, that money spent on modifications probably won’t increase the value of your car.

Indeed, the opposite is often true. Since depreciation is frequently the biggest cost involved in running a car, reducing the resale value shouldn’t be taken lightly.

READ NEXT: The ultimate guide to buying a used car