Stretch Your Dollar: How to keep your car running longer and save money

March 13, 2013 3:17:45 PM PDT
These days, people are looking for any way to stretch a dollar. One way can be to holding on to your car or truck longer.

Today, the average vehicle has been on the road nearly 11 years. If you want to keep yours that long, Consumer Reports can help you go the distance and save money.

"I am the first owner, and I will be the last owner," Ariel Manacher said.

When Manacher bought his Toyota Camry back in 1996, he never imagined hitting 226,000 miles.

"I didn't know it would get this far, but it did, and we're pleased," he said.

Liza Barth, Consumer Reports' auto expert, says people often are not aware of the long-term financial benefits of keeping a car for so long.

"Our research shows if you hit 200,000 miles, which takes the average driver about 15 years, you could potentially save more than $30,000," Barth said.

First, you need to shop for a car you can live with long-term.

"Make sure it fits your lifestyle, and don't compromise on features, especially safety features like electronic stability control and a rear-view camera, if you can get it," Barth said.

And be sure you pick a vehicle with a reliable track record, like Manacher's Toyota Camry.

Then, stick to the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual. Missing even one oil change can contribute to premature engine wear.

"But don't waste money on maintenance you don't need," Barth said. "Many vehicles can go 10,000 miles versus 3,000 miles on an oil change."

Also, don't skimp on parts. Trying to save a couple of bucks on cheap parts and fluids could cost you in the long run.

And like Manacher, listen for any strange sounds and get small things fixed before they become a big problem.

"The car starts every day, and that's what you really want in a car," Manacher said. "You want to get in it and go. You don't want to worry about it."

No matter how well you care for your car, someday it will be time to part ways. Consumer Reports says if you are facing a repair that will cost more than the car is worth, or if your car starts to be unreliable with frequent repairs, it may be time to say goodbye.

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