How to Maintain an Old Car
By: Good2GoPublished: October 6, 2014
Whether your car has been passed down through generations, or you just went to an auto auction with $500 and a prayer, your old car will need plenty of T.L.C. Not sure if your car is “old?” If it is pre-2000, then it’s definitely there. So how can you keep your old car running like new? We’ll walk you through some simple tips to help you maintain your car for years to come.
Fluids and Filters
There are many fluids that go into your vehicle, and all are important in their own way. We’re talking about more than just oil, gas and wiper fluid. You will also need to consider your brakes and transmission. Each of these fluids is relatively easy to drain, fill, and top off, so there is no reason not to have these done on a regular basis – especially for an older vehicle.
Oil changes should be like clockwork. Your car manual should give you an idea of how often you should change your oil. Some drivers are very adamant about changing their oil every 3,000 miles; other cars can go a tad bit longer, but exceeding 6,000 miles is asking for trouble.
In addition to oil changes is the need to change the transmission fluid. Often neglected, the transmission does just as much work as the engine, but since it is enclosed, it won’t need to be changed as often. Most car manuals recommend changing the transmission fluid every 20,000 miles. Keep in mind that automatic transmissions are easier to change than manual ones if you are thinking of doing this yourself.
When changing either of these fluids, their filters should be checked as well. For oil filters, it is usually every other oil change unless your oil tends to run dirty, then you may need to change it every oil change. Transmission filters on the other hand should be changed every 20,000 or so miles, around the same time you’d change the fluid. Brakes and brake fluids should be checked every oil change. If you notice leaking or hardening of brake lines, that means it’s time to replace the lines and change the fluids. If nothing else, change the brake pads once a year and flush the fluids every 30,000 miles.
Air, Fuel, and Spark
These three parts are what come together to ignite the car engine. Air filters ensure that the air flowing into your engine is nice and clean by keeping debris out, but in doing so it can get pretty dirty. You’ll know it’s time to change the air filter by simply looking at it. If it looks like it was used as a dryer lint catcher, then it’s time to replace it. Since they aren’t too expensive, don’t hesitate to buy a new one as it could lead to worst problems if you don’t.
Sparks and the wire set are the next side of this trinity. Replacing these parts isn’t very expensive and is easy enough to do by yourself. Just be mindful not to apply too much force or you’ll crack the spark plug, or could strip the threads on an aluminum engine block.
While putting gas in the car may be easy enough to remember, drivers tend to neglect the fuel filter. This small part filters out the grime from the gasoline that is deposited from the fuel tank. When the filter becomes too clogged, the fuel pump has to work harder to push fuel through it, resulting in the pump burning out early, and your car not running. Replacing your filter every other year should keep you in the clear.
Tires can be expensive, but neglecting to replace or rotate them is more than just frugal, it’s downright dangerous. Tires should always be properly inflated, and rotated every oil change. If the tread is worn down, you know it’s time for a new set of tires. $400 may seem like a lot for a new set, but that will give you that extra braking power. It’s also better than paying your deductible and having to file police reports because you rear-ended the driver in front of you due to lack of traction. Save yourself the headache and bite the bullet for now.
Tie Rods, Steering Racks and Suspension
If your car wobbles or pulls to one side when braking, your tie rods and steering racks could be causing the trouble. These parts usually need to be replaced once within a car’s lifetime. They tend to be very sturdy and can last a good 10 or more years with proper driving habits. Replacing them shouldn’t be too expensive either, but labor is definitely something that will drive up the cost. If you are feeling ambitious, it should be easy to find instruction using the “[Year] [Make] [Model] replace [Part]” formula to find DIY guides or even step-by-step videos for the tie rods.
Steering racks can be a little more difficult to replace, so it’s best to have a professional take a look and work on them. If you have relatively bumpy rides and you aren’t driving on a cobblestone road, suspension is definitely to blame there. These driving issues shouldn’t be too hard to diagnose, and if your ride isn’t as smooth as it should feel, then look into replacing shocks and struts.
Under the Hood
When checking under the hood of a car – old or new – keep an eye out for leaks. If your car is leaking and your air conditioner hasn’t been turned on, try to diagnose the problem immediately. If the fluid is green or orange, it’s usually coolant. If it’s dark brown or black it’s probably oil. Check for dry hoses and cracks, and fix them ASAP.
If your car is overheating pull over immediately, wait for the car to cool down and check the radiator for cracks. If there is no leak to be found, it could be the thermostat for the water pump, which isn’t too bad when you catch it before it fails. A replacement water pump may run you about $30, which is a lot cheaper than a brand new car.
While you’re under the hood, check the battery. Corrosion on battery posts is normal on older cars. If it gets too bad, you could see a drop in performance. Luckily, cleaning them is easy. Carefully disconnect the terminals and brush the battery posts with a mixture of baking soda and water. Once the foaming stops, scrub with a wire brush (an old toothbrush will do) and wipe with a cool, damp cloth. Lubricate the posts (you can use Vaseline) and reconnect the wires.
If your battery has a crack in it and it is leaking acid, it’s time for a new battery. If you also notice tears in the battery cables or clamps, you will need to replace these too.
Older cars can be complicated and can cause a great deal of grief if you don’t know how to fix certain issues. But with these tips, in addition to regular maintenance, you can keep your old car running like new.
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