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Keeping that old car? Avoid costly repairs

Published On: May 16 2011 02:32:37 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 27 2013 10:02:49 AM CDT
mechanic

iStockPhoto / sjlocke

In these tight economic times, it seems that millions of Americans have decided to keep on driving their used cars as a way to save money.

That is not a bad plan, assuming that old car can keep on going.

With more older, used cars on the road than since the early years of the Reagan Administration, it’s more important than ever to keep up on the maintenance of your vehicle and avoid costly repairs.

Simple checkups and regular maintenance can help you avoid repairs that can cost thousands of dollars and potentially be more than what the car is worth.

Fluids, fluids, fluids

According to Mark Larsen, a franchise training manager for Car X, there are three major parts of a car that can be the most costly to repair.

“Any major engine, transmission or trans axle/rear end repair are the most expensive, easily. Any major work like that, that’s where you’re spending the big bucks,” said Larsen.

With all three, the No. 1 thing that can do the most damage to both the car and your wallet is not changing the fluids on time. And a quick way to ruin the car completely is to ignore the warning lights that come on the dash.

“If the light is on, you need to shut the engine off now because you have no idea what kind of damage you could be doing,” said Larsen. “Either light -- the coolant light or engine oil light -- if either one of them come on, you better be pulling over and stopping what you’re doing.”

Engine

With the engine, the two fluids that need to be maintained are the oil and the engine coolant.

Most drivers know that changing the oil every 3,000 miles is important, but many probably are not aware of how often they will need to change the engine coolant. That is because there are so many different types of coolant and their lifespan can vary drastically.

“It depends on the coolant. If you still got green (fluid) in your car, which not many of them are, it's usually 24,000 miles,” said Larsen. “The rest of them, the long-life stuff, that’s anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 or 100,000, but it really depends on which coolant is in your car.”

Failure to change the coolant when needed can quickly ruin the engine.

“The problem is it becomes acidic and then it eats at your engine. It actually becomes acid and it starts eating at your head gaskets, engine components, all that stuff,” said Larsen. “It starts to eat the metal, the heads, the coolant intake.”

Transmission, rear end

You can keep on top of less-frequent maintenance by taking your car in regularly for an oil change. Any good auto shop has a checklist to inspect for you, including transmission fluid.

“With a transmission, it’s the same thing: You better keep the fluid changed,” said Larsen. “Heat -- like you see on the TV commercials -- heat and lack of lubrication is the No. 1 enemy of your transmission. Keep the filter in and the fluid changed, and make sure you are putting the right type of fluid in, because there are so many different types of transmission fluid.”

Most transmission fluids will last between 25,000 and 50,000. For an average priced car, a new transmission can cost from $1,800 to $2,200.

The rear end differential is another fluid that if not changed and maintained can cost you thousands of dollars. An important thing to know is that the lifespan of rear end fluid has been dropping.

“The viscosity of a lot of the differential fluids has really gone down, because when you reduce the viscosity or how thick it is then you get better gas mileage,” said Larsen.

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