It’s difficult to understand how car dealers make a living. To start with, modern vehicles last much longer than their predecessors. Up to the mid-1970s, most cars were scrap by 100,000 miles, often earlier. Today, they often soldier-on for twice as long and ironically, because they are so reliable, people are more reluctant to replace them.

Why are today’s cars so reliable? There are many reasons, but it mainly comes down to technology. A combination of computerization and robotics has reduced the involvement of humans in car manufacture. Machines can work 24/7 and, once programmed, can carry out an identical task perfectly every time. The truth is that machines are much better suited to building cars than humans. That’s not great if you’re a redundant auto-worker, but it’s good news for drivers. It’s not just that the “Monday morning car” has virtually disappeared, but technology has improved every stage of production. You couldn’t tell with the naked eye, but bearings are rounder, cylinders and pistons are smoother and more precisely matched, and gears mesh together with less friction. All this, combined with on-board computers and improvements in engine oil, results in car parts that go on working for significantly longer than in the past.

Increasingly, more people want to take advantage of this great engineering and keep their car running as long as possible. Yet, can an owner do much to help the machine purr smoothly and look great for ten, fifteen, or even twenty years? The answer is yes. Here are twelve important tips that will help prolong the life of your car.

1)  The Car’s History
Napoleon said that what he wanted most in his generals was that they should be lucky. With cars, luck is also an important factor: two otherwise identical cars can fundamentally be very different. One could be virtually problem-free while the other could give trouble every few weeks. With a used car, this if sometimes due to the driving style and habits of the previous owner, yet often the reason is impossible to identify. That’s why it’s vital to check the service-history of a used car before you buy. If the car has needed more servicing and repairs than average, it’s best to avoid it.

2)  Documentation

Buy a good workshop manual. It’s inexpensive and available online. The manual is invaluable for two reasons. First, by explaining clearly what to do, and which tools are required, it enables you decide if you have the skills to carry out particular repairs yourself. Second, by explaining what’s involved, it makes it obvious what work is best left to the professionals.

3)  Manufacturer’s Recommended Servicing

Ideally, carry out the regular servicing as recommended in the owner’s handbook. Modern cars have longer service intervals than their predecessors, so servicing is less expensive than in the past.

4)  Custom Servicing

You may prefer not to undertake the entire service at one time, but proceed in stages. Whatever about anything else, you must regularly change the engine oil and filter, as well as the air filter. You should also regularly check all fluid levels such as brake and power-steering fluid and engine coolant.

5)  Essential Electrical Work

Essential electrical work includes external lights and electrical devices necessary for the car to drive, like the battery, fuses, starter motor and alternator. You don’t have a choice about those: you’re legally obliged to have all external lights working, and the car won’t run if the others items are faulty.

6)  Optional Electrical Work
The non-essential electrical items include the radio, heater motor, dashboard lights, cigar lighter and heated rear window. Your driving is not seriously compromised if any of these malfunctions, though you should get them fixed as soon possible. The only exceptions are items that are very difficult to access or very expensive to repair. On some cars, this could mean a simple item like a dashboard bulb that requires removing a large portion of the car’s interior to access. It simply may not be worth the trouble, especially since many dashboards are extremely difficult to put back correctly.

7)  Corrosion

Obviously, prevention is better than cure. The car’s exterior, including the underside, should be thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. This is especially important after winter if salt is used on the roads in your area, and throughout the year if you live near the sea.

Luckily, modern cars are better protected from corrosion than older ones, but if you discover rust, treat it immediately.

8)  Polishing

A good car polish should be applied every few months. Not only does it make your car look great, but it helps protect it from the elements.

9)  Oxidized Paint

If you have neglected to polish your car for an extended period, very likely the surface is oxidized: the paintwork has lost its sheen and the colour looks faded.

The good news is that this unsightly tarnishing is usually reversible by using a rubbing compound. This specially formulated product removes the oxidization build-up and other blemishes. It is as easy to apply as a car wax and, within seconds, it restores the treated area to almost the way it was when the car was new. Though it takes a couple of hours to treat an entire vehicle, it’s time well spent. Since the rubbing agent removes a build of deposits from the paint’s surface, you should apply polish soon afterwards to ensure ongoing protection.

10)  Dents and Bumps
Major body damage especially in an old car can be uneconomical to repair: the cost being close to the value of the car. Minor damage should be fixed as soon as possible for three reasons. First, most bumps and dents crack the paint, and allow moisture to reach the metal, resulting in rust. The second reason is psychological: most owners lose interest in a car that looks grubby and, worse still, they treat it with less care increasing the likelihood of further deterioration. The third reason is financial: a well-kept car that looks good is worth more.

11)  Tyres
Regularly check the tyre pressures. Incorrectly inflated tyres are dangerous, can damage the car’s steering and suspension, and increase petrol consumption.

12)  Driving Style

The way you drive effects how long your car lasts. Treat it with care: aim for “calm” driving. That means accelerate smoothly – no tyre-screeching – and stop gradually – no jamming-on the brakes at the last second. Don’t drive aggressively onto a kerb as if the car were a tank. If it has a manual gearshift, don’t drive with your foot hovering over the clutch pedal. Calm driving has an added bonus: you use less gas.

Apart from giving you a sense of achievement and even pride, extending the life of your car has many other benefits. For one thing, your insurance is lower simply because an older car has a lower value. An older car also saves you hundreds each month on loan repayments, since more than likely those repayments have long finished. All this makes you wonder why some people spend a fortune on a new car every few years. Maybe they just feel sorry for the car salespeople.