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11 tips to keep your car in top condition

Save money with maintenance and stay safe by knowing what to look for.

Being proactive in maintaining your car and driving safely can help you save a lot of money, but there are some things you shouldn’t DIY. Following a few simple instructions, both on the road and off, can keep you safer, your pocket healthier and your car in better shape.

Know the symptoms of a deteriorating car.

There are five main symptoms mechanics use to diagnose a car in deteriorating condition. Watch out for:

  • Leaks of any kind.
  • Ongoing unusual noises while driving.
  • Strange smells like fire, smoke or gasoline.
  • Changes in how your car handles.
  • Warning lights.

Don’t underestimate the power of wax.

Waxing your car can make a big difference, absorbing scratches that would otherwise eat at the paint and offering some protection from weathering. You don’t even need to use particularly expensive or high-end car wax to make a real improvement. Waxing will also keep your car shinier and can even help clean up clouded headlights.

Turn the lights on sooner.

Even in broad daylight, cars with lights on are less likely to be involved in accidents. Turn your headlights on during the day or at least as soon as it starts to get dark or cloudy to stay safer.

Don’t assume that handwashing is better.

This is one thing you don’t want to DIY, since a lot of people who handwash their cars end up scratching off the paint layers a little bit at a time. The right cleaning products can help prevent this, but not everyone has them and it’s not easy to tell what’s safe. Automated car washes are a better idea.

Find the right car insurance.

Car insurance is mandatory in most states, but just because you’re covered legally, that doesn’t mean your car is safe. Basic liability insurance is the cheapest option, but consider spending a little bit extra for collision and comprehensive coverage, especially if you have a newer car.

And don’t forget to check the deductible before signing a policy. If you can’t afford to pay the deductible after a crash, your insurance won’t be able to help.

Stick to the center lane.

The middle lane of a highway is typically the safest place to be. Most accidents happen in the outside lanes or when changing lanes. Keep in mind that every time you change lanes, you’re taking a little bit of a risk. Getting to the middle lane and staying there is the safest bet, even if traditional road rules say to stick to the right lane and only change lanes to pass.

Set your air conditioning to recirculate mode.

Opening car windows creates more drag and reduces efficiency, particularly at higher speeds. Non-recirculated AC uses a lot of energy on cooling and puts extra stress on your AC compressor, wearing it down faster.

The best bet is using the recirculating air conditioning mode that takes in and refreshes the already-cool air from inside the car. Press the button that shows a car with an arrow going in a circle to turn it on. This may not be ideal for long trips, as the reduced oxygen level in the car can cause fatigue.

Don’t idle.

Leaving your car running when you’re not driving it uses up gas and adds wear to your engine. Save on gas now and engine maintenance later by turning off your car when you’re sitting in it but not going anywhere.

Travel light when you can.

Every 100 pounds of extra weight can decrease your gas mileage by up to 2%, or more if it’s added to a roof rack. Over time, extra weigh can also put stress on your brakes, so habitually cleaning out your car and traveling light can save you plenty in the long run.

Don’t forget to maintain the interior.

Cleaning and conditioning your car interior a few times a year can extend its lifespan and give you a leg up when it comes to reselling. Standard cleaning products, such as leather conditioner for leather seats, are fine.

Fix glass cracks quickly.

Hairline cracks can spread quickly but are easy and cheap to fix while they’re still small. When they get too large, there’s no option other than replacing the entire windshield or window at a much greater cost. If you couldn’t afford a windshield fix, consider adding windshield and glass coverage to your car insurance policy.

Bottom line

A car is a big investment — and can be an even bigger liability. Picking the best insurance policy, being proactive in maintaining your vehicle and knowing when to DIY and when to call a professional can help you extend the life of your car and save money in the meantime.

Frequently asked questions about car maintenance

Image: Shutterstock

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