Live Long and Prosper….

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If you want your car to last as long as possible – and cost you as little as possible along the way – the following tips may be of interest:

* Regularly (at least every three years) change the brake/clutch fluid –

People (most people) understand the importance of regular engine oil changes. And it’s absolutely true. Your engine will live longer (and run better, giving you optimum performance and mileage) if you regularly change the oil (and filter). But the engine is just one part of your car, which is itself a series of inter-related systems. The brakes are one of the major systems and if not properly maintained, can cause major expense – especially in a late model car with anti-lock brakes (ABS).

The fluid in the lines, master cylinder (and ABS pump) degrades over time; if you look at the master cylinder of a new or nearly new car, you will notice the fluid is almost translucent and honey-colored. As it ages and becomes contaminated, it turns progressively darker. That dark color is your first warning that potentially expensive problems are in your future, including a failed ABS pump (that can cost as much as $800 or more, depending on the car), ruined calipers and rusted (internally) lines.

To avoid expensive brake system problems – and limit brake-related expenses to routine pad/shoe changes and so on – have the fluid replaced at least every three years.

And don’t forget the clutch slave cylinder. Most cars with manual transmissions built since the late 1980s have hydraulic-assist clutches. There is a little reservoir filled with brake fluid inside the engine compartment, usually close to the brake master cylinder. The hydraulic clutch system also needs to have its fluid regularly replaced, just like the fluid in the brake system – and for the same reasons.

* Do the Cooling System Flush and Fill –

This is another of your vehicle’s systems that’s often neglected – probably to a great extent because of new-car ads touting “lifetime” coolant. Don’t buy it – unless you want your car’s lifetime to be the equivalent of JFK’s. No matter what type of coolant your car originally came with, it should be purged and replaced every 4-5 years at the outside (earlier, if a simple test that any competent mechanic can do determines there’s enough contamination to warrant it). Otherwise, you risk running hot (which can ruin a modern engine made of aluminum alloy) as well as big repair bills for things like premature radiator replacement, a clogged heater core and so on.

In some late-model cars, a new radiator can cost $500 or more, not counting the install labor. And you don’t even want to know about the cost of digging out the heater core and installing a new one… .

* Be Nice to Your Tranny –

No, not Janet Napolitano. The thing that’s underneath the floorpans you probably never think about. It, like your engine, contains fluid (either gear oil or ATF, automatic transmission fluid) that also should be changed out more often than most people do (which is rarely, or even never).

Manual transmissions in particular are often victims of slim-to-none service. If you’re in it for the long-haul, consider replacing the gear lube or ATF (be sure you know which your particular unit requires) every five years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. You’ll notice smoother operation and higher mileage – and the gearbox ought to last the lifetime of the vehicle. 

If you have a car with an automatic, be sure (especially with certain imports) that you use only the fluid recommended by the car’s manufacturer. Some have specific (proprietary) additives and if you use some other (probably cheaper) fluid, you could find yourself facing a titanic bill – and  declined warranty claim.

So, FYI –


* Avoid crap gas –

Not all unleaded is created equal. Some brands have superior additive packages and these additives will help keep precision (read: expensive) parts, in particular, the parts that comprise the fuel injection system, cleaner longer. This isn’t a shill for the “name brand” gasolines, just fair warning that no-name (or off-brand) gas may not have the same additive package, or as much additives, as the “name brand” stuff. You can research brands online to find out more about who’s got what. Also, pay attention to the way your car runs. If the engine seems more lively (and gets better mileage, starts easier, etc.) when you use Brand A vs. Brand B, then common sense says use Brand A.

The other thing is, avoid buying fuel (irrespective of the brand) at out-of-the way stations that don’t get a lot of traffic. Reason? The fuel in the storage tanks below ground may have been sitting there a long time – and fuel degrades over time, losing both octane value as well as becoming contaminated by things like water from condensation in the underground tanks. Both of these issues – fuel degradation and contamination by water – are more of a problem with modern, alcohol-laced fuels (ethanol). Try to buy your gas at a busy station; the odds are good the fuel you’re pumping will be fresher – and freer of contaminants.

* Keep your seals clean and flexible –

Another item that’s often neglected are the flexible seals (door, trunk, rear liftgate, etc.) that keep water from getting into areas where you don’t want moisture. In late-model cars, these seals are often not made of rubber but rather a synthetic flexible material called EPDM (also used in roofing as well as outdoor pool applications). Whether rubber (older cars) or a synthetic EPDM material, the thing to avoid is using any product that contains petroleum distillates, which can actually cause damage to the seals rather than help keep them pliable and protect against moisture and UV damage.

A really top-drawer product for protecting rubber and EPDM automotive seals is 303 Aerospace Protectant (see here: ). Avoid oily products that mainly just impart a slick sheen to the surface.

* Drive Smoothly –

If you’re a runner, you know the importance of warming up, easing into your pace. Same with your car. At start-up, be gentle. Don’t immediately load the engine by (for example) turning on the air conditioning, or gunning the throttle. Build speed gradually, then try to maintain your pace without needing to make abrupt braking or throttle inputs. You can learn to judge the ebb and flow of traffic, matching your speed (and the distance between you and other cars) such that you don’t need to hit the brakes as often (or as hard). Ditto the accelerator.

Over time, this will save you a lot of wear and tear – as well as fuel.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I continue to be a bit amazed at the folks with garages who leave their brand new vehicle(s) parked outside year-round. Living in a four-season state as I do, I’m at a loss as to why so many folks can’t be bothered to clean out at least one bay of their garage, if only to avoid mucking about with snow and frost on a cold winter’s morning.

    A few folks have been genuinely amazed when I tell them that my vehicles are X years old. Yes, keeping the car in the garage really does make a difference where preservation is concered. In particular, the accursed plastic headlamp covers might never turn yellow.

    • Speaking of which….

      I often pass by this guy’s house on my way over to a friend’s… they guy (I don’t know him) has a really nice/restored early ’70s CB750. And he parks it… outside. Year-round. No cover, either. It makes my teeth hurt every time I see it.

      • I pass the same guy except he has a Harley Davidson Road King and a Sportster out front. Rain, shine, and sometime even snow you’ll see his units on the front lawn! When the snow gets bad he put them in the shed, or an enclosed trailer.

      • There’s a guy in my neighborhood who rides a new KLR650. His two-car garage is so full that the KLR has to sit in the driveway. I think he knew his destiny when he had the house built, though, as the driveway was widened to accommodate three vehicles across(the standard is two.) One of them is a soft-top Wrangler. I say this because it’s my personal rule to have garage space available before purchasing a convertible. Car ports don’t count.

  2. Eric, how dare you make that “tranny” crack about Sister Janet? You need to apologize to the next tranny you see. If Sister Janet were the result of a sex change operation that extreme she would have died from it (or turned out as Janet Reno instead).

  3. Sun visors really help keep the heat down in cars too! In doing so I think they keep the dash and interior lasting longer. Another thing (which Eric hit on already) is keeping all the gasket/rubber/seals clean and moisturized, but I think a lot of people forget about their sun roof seal/track/and metal contact points (where the seal meets).

  4. Don’t forget this…wash your car often. Particularly in locales that use road salt; it not only makes your car last longer, but reduces the chances and severity of rusting. Even in those that don’t, things like tar, bird poop, tree sap, and just plain pollution can do a number on your car’s finish and open the door to rust.

    Although some may consider it wasteful, I take my car immediately to the wash booth when a bird poops on it (that’s bad stuff) or the first clear day after a snow.

    • And a little-known fact: a clean car runs faster and smoother.


      I carry a small bottle of club soda to clean bird poop; the acids in bird poo will etch the clear coat right off on a hot day.

      • Mechanical systems like to be clean. IMO it is important to clean the engine and engine compartment. Just as important as it is to keep clean fluid inside.

        • Also makes simple tune-ups and repairs that much easier to do when things are clean and easy to deal with. I clean my engine compartment and undercarriage/components with each oil change. Little bit here and there keeps it always clean.

  5. Thanks! Was already up to speed on everything “except” changing clutch and manual trans fluid. Will include with the next oil change…..Speaking of which, I was surprised that you didn’t weigh in on the “synthetic oil” issue, one way or the other. What say you?

    • I’m not sure what Eric is going to say, but I’ll say this. I’ve never run anything other than cheapo oil in all my vehicles and have never had an internal problem. I have 450k on the clock for my ’94 Saturn and the engine is still very tight. Then I have 50k on the hog, 120k on the 4Runner, and 100k on the toy car. Never an issue. Would I like to run “synthetic oil?” Sure! If I had a race car, or high performance unit I would. For an everyday vehicle.. NOPE.. Just my $.0.02.

      • Today’s oil – even the “cheap” stuff – is much, much better (superior additive packages, better base product) than the stuff of 20 or 30 years ago, so that probably explains it. On the other hand, I get smoother shift feel when I use synthetic in my manual transmissions and (in bikes) can definitely notice the difference (power) when I use top-of-the-line synthetics vs. standard oil.

        • Oh, almost forgot to mention. I have a high dollar tranny in my hog (six-speed unit) and I put synthetic in that. Like 28 ounces or something like that.

        • “I get smoother shift feel when I use synthetic in my manual transmissions and (in bikes) can definitely notice the difference (power) when I use top-of-the-line synthetics vs. standard oil.”
          Ditto. I cringe a bit when purchasing my $10/qt. 10W40 synthetic ambrosia, but the Suzuki thanks me every time I shift gears.

        • For my e39 M5, I run Royal Purple XPR. It’s got the old “good stuff”, zinc in the form of ZDP. I also run their oils in the transmission and differential, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in cold and hot shift action since switching from the BMW “lifetime” lubes…which are only “lifetime” if you junk your car at 100K miles.

          Interesting anecdote: I was running Mobil 1 in the wife’s Infiniti M45. I send all my oil in for analysis at Blackstone Labs–great service, BTW. The Infiniti had 7500 miles on the Mobil 1, and the results came back with a little lead and copper in the oil–indicating some bearing wear–and zero life left in the oil as indicated by the TBN number. Blackstone warned me not to run it that long again.

          I switched her to Royal Purple (regular not XPR, she doesn’t push the car that hard). Next analysis–same mileage, driver, conditions etc–came back *sparkling*. They even commented that they rarely see such a huge difference between brands, and advised me to go 10K miles on the next change because the oil was still practically new.

          My father-in-law’s gas mileage has improved 8% since switching from Kendall synthetic to Royal Purple.

          I’ve been a believer in Royal Purple ever since, I just wish I’d switched to it before wearing out the big-end bearings in the M5!

          The best part? It’s made in Texas.

          • I’m also a big Royal Purple fan. I use it exclusively in my old muscle car, partially for the zinc and other additives and also because the base product is just clearly superior to conventional oils. Highly recommend – if you care about your machinery!


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