3 Ways To Keep That Old, Embarrassing Car Chugging Along

If you want to save as much money as possible on your vehicle expenditures, don’t buy that next car until you absolutely have to. From the frugal perspective, you’re always better off investing in your current car’s well-being rather than dumping payments into its replacement.

The Free Financial Advisor offers these pointers for keeping an older car from giving up the ghost:

* Find a mechanic you trust. This is the key to all your savings plans, because you’ll need to be confident in the legitimacy of your maintenance investments. Take friends’ recommendations and be willing to try a number of different suitors until you’re comfortable.

* Change your fluids and filters. Routine, preventative maintenance will max out the life of your parts and keep everything running smoothly. You may think you’re succeeding in the short term by disregarding your manual’s maintenance recommendations, but you may be causing more problems in the long run.

* Check your hoses. We’re not mechanical experts, but leaks and spills shouldn’t be ignored. Pop open the engine and make sure there’s nothing glaringly frayed or busted, and if you’re not sure, have your trusted mechanic check things out.

5 Steps to Care For an Older Car [The Free Financial Advisor]


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  1. Marlin says:

    Easy one i told my customers when i was a tech. Open your owners manual and see what it says.
    I disagree with some Trans fluid time frames, I think every 30k is best. But for the most part that alone will keep the car/truck going good for a while.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I completely agree that it’s a good idea to drop the pan and change the filter and ATF fluid every 30,000 miles. Regardless of what the manual says, when I was a tech, I don’t think I ever saw OEM fluid in a car with 100,000 miles that didn’t smell burnt.

      My advice is to follow the manual, keep fluids topped off, and definitely don’t neglect maintenance that will render the vehicle inoperable. For me, the biggies are to change the timing belt (if the car has one) on schedule and change ATF fluid every 30,000 – 50,000 miles.

      In terms of a timing belt, also consider overall age, as well as mileage and be aware that some vehicles (especially Korean makes), requires very liberal change schedules. I don’t know if it’s still the case but many Hyundais required them to be changed every 60,000 miles.

      For ATF fluid, I’d also add that it’s a good idea to stick to pan drops and not to go through a forced fluid exchange. OEM and compatible aftermarket fluids are a good idea and definitely avoid any shop that uses generic fluid and additive packs, especially if you drive a Honda, Chrysler, or VW.

      • unpolloloco says:

        Most new Hyundais/Kias have timing chains now. It’s a pretty recent change though.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          That does seem to be a trend now — For a long time, it seemed like the Asian makers were sticking to belts, so they could eek out slighter better fuel economy.

          For Hyundai, is it all timing chains now for their small cars, or just the ones with the GEMA 2.0 and 2.4s?

      • sponica says:

        my mechanic told me with the escort I can hold off on the timing belt until it goes…doesn’t hurt the car, I just get stuck somewhere and the car rides a tow truck. it’s the unemployed person’s strategy to dealing with car repairs….don’t fix it until it absolutely has to be fixed

        although it prob has to be changed soon since the serpentine was about to go when I finally got that one changed

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          That’s the difference between an interference and a non-interference engine.

          You still need to be careful though. Timing belts give no warning when they break and when it goes, your car will lose all power and any system powered by the t-belt will stop.

          • sponica says:

            yeah, I’ve already experienced that once in my mom’s old escort….or it was the serpentine belt…can’t remember which belt. but I had enough inertia to get on the shoulder….

    • Dano says:

      Following the manufacturers maintenance schedule can do wonders for a car. I was also a technician/mechanic for Honda back in the day, and was amazed how many cars came in without regular maintenance done.

      My 02 VW Golf TDI has 281k miles on it, and runs better than when it was new. I do all the scheduled routine maintenance with the exception of the timing belt. For this I have a trusted mechanic who does this type of work day in and out, easier to pay to get it done right.

      I look forward to seeing if I can bypass the “scheduled overhaul” VW lists at 500k

  2. IT-Princess: I work in IT, you owe me $1 says:

    I wish I knew as much about cars as I do computers. I hate paying labor costs for my old car. I’m smart enough to learn, I just don’t have the passion or time. The only reason would be to save money.
    Now I need new tires. And my service engine light is on. And my 4WD is out. :(

    I’ve been thinking of it getting “stolen”.

    • Marlin says:

      Go to Autozone/Advance and get them to pull the engine code for free. Write down the number (should be like PO242). Post that on a car forum and many will help. Even if you don;t make the repair it will give you insight on maybe how much it will cost and also if the Tech is trying to rip you off.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Finding a mechanic you can trust would probably be a huge help. I completely agree with the other poster, OBD II codes and the internet can be your friend. For general car info, go to bobistheoilguy.com or cartalk.com. Depending on the make of your car, there are probably numerous dedicated forums of followers who can give advice.

      Having a general idea of what’s going on can make a huge difference when talking to a mechanic.

    • Chmeeee says:

      Always check online tire prices on Tire Rack or Discount Tire. Remember there is no need to buy the OEM tire, they’re usually overpriced and overrated. Find a tire with good ratings (Tire Rack is great for this) for the conditions you drive in. If you don’t want to buy online, many times the local places will match the price (plus install fees of course).

      Also, don’t fall for the trap of needing a new alignment with new tires. You only need an alignment if it was already out. If the car steers straight and the tires wear evenly, then aligning it is just flushing your money.

      • DJ Charlie says:

        Depends on the vehicle, actually. Tire Rack wants nearly $900 for tires for the Lady. Sam’s club: $479. Same brand, too! So shop around!

        • Chmeeee says:

          That’s a crazy cost differential, I’ve never seen anybody beat Tire Rack by more than 5 or 10 percent. Are you sure that’s same brand, model #, and size?

          Maybe I need to start shopping at Sam’s.

          • DJ Charlie says:

            Exact same. Part of the problem is I need a heavy-duty tire. But Tire Rack blew me away with that price.

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              I can definitely commiserate. For our work vehicles, we always go for high end mud M/T tires, which easily run $300 – $400 each. There’s a lot of profit in selling those tires and local shops are usually bending over backwards for those contracts.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I like to use TireRack for the reviews. Their prices are pretty good but when mounting and balancing is factored in, the price differential isn’t that much different than local places around here.

            I’m also a big fan of Cooper and Toyo tires, which TireRack doesn’t carry.

    • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

      As another IT person (who is also subsequently owed $1), if you want to learn the easy way, and it’s within your means, get the service manual for your car. Mine has been absolutely awesome for the 9+ years I’ve had my car. From fully blown-apart diagrams of all multi-component parts, all components (and many assemblies) cross-referenced with a part number, down to full troubleshooting guides that reads like a script: “Customer states no AC, 1. test this, 2. test that, 3. multimeter here, 4. tweak that, etc etc etc”

      There’s no guesswork involved. But I’m super jealous of those who have a knack for it, since I had to do a lot of reading and visualizing before I figured a lot of it out… and everything I know about “cars” is really everything I know about MY car.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        It seems like compared to IT work, most auto maintenance is pretty straightforward.

        • IT-Princess: I work in IT, you owe me $1 says:

          Really? Because what scares me is the effects of doing it wrong. Though I rarely, if ever, make mistakes at work, even if I did, it is not a life and death situation.
          I have to pay someone to put my tires on. I could read and do it myself, but I imagine that I’ll be driving down the road and they all just fly off.
          Cars… scare me.
          I know if I think of it in computer terms, everything has a place, it needs certain maintenance, and there is a very specific reason to what does what, I just don’t rely on my computer for the safety of my son and I. So I just can’t see myself getting to that comfortable level of not getting ripped off.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I’m the complete opposite. I’m more scared of my computer than I am of my car. Everyone keeps telling me I need to root my phone or put aftermarket firmware on my router. All of the warnings about bricking the devices have deterred me from doing it. I have installed new harddrives and RAM but I’m super paranoid about bending the tiny pins or static shock frying a chip.

            The car stuff just seems easier to me.

          • kobresia says:

            Cars are just another type of voodoo, with a professional technician class who understand them, while the inner workings remain a mystery to the masses, who prefer it that way. In other words, exactly like IT.

            The truth is, as long as you are conscientious and pay attention to detail, it’s every bit as easy to work on a car as work on a computer, you just need bigger tools. The “risk of doing something wrong” is the same thing that keeps people from simple computer upgrades or troubleshooting such as replacing memory modules. But the truth is, there’s negligible risk if you have the basic knowledge.

            The absolute basics are to familiarize yourself with the new & used appearance and aroma of each fluid:
            –Engine oil
            –Automatic transmission fluid (automatic transmissions and some transfer cases)
            –Hypoid gear oil (manual transmissions and differentials)
            –Engine coolant
            –Brake Fluid
            –Power steering fluid
            The only real ways you’re going to screw something up really, really seriously is to drain the wrong fluid, overfill something, or refill with the wrong fluid. And of course, once you know the right way to do the maintenance, it’s super easy.

            As for changing wheels, just get a wire brush to clean off the dirt from the surfaces that clamp together, and if you’re worried, get a big torque wrench to help answer the question of whether the lugs are tight enough.

            Also, you should be checking the lugs periodically yourself, whether or not you changed the wheels out or had a shop do it; while most shops overtighten the lugs to “be on the safe side”, lugs may have loosened over time or due to wheel stud damage (which can and does happen when lugs are repeatedly overtorqued by shops cranking-up their pneumatic wrenches to be “on the safe side” as I mentioned above), and everyone has an oversight now and then & the shop might’ve forgotten to make a full-torque pass after just snugging the lugs up.

            I work on my own vehicles because I don’t trust most mechanics any more than I would trust Best Buy or a strip mall repair shop to touch my computer. I especially wouldn’t entrust my safety to just any mechanic, so I feel it’s very important to know what’s what so you can check their work and not be swindled into buying more blinker fluid.

            • IT-Princess: I work in IT, you owe me $1 says:

              Very detailed, thank you! I think at the very least I will bust out my owner’s manual and get to reading.
              I’ll be completely on my own soon and I definitely want to learn how to change a tire.
              I’ve never been a girly girl to rely on a man but when it comes to cars, I am lost. I do most of my basic handywork around my house, I know basic plumbing, can replace a toilet and bath fixtures and I’m not afraid of that stuff. (when there’s no electricity involved) and I am good at determining the source of a lot of problems.
              My uncle is my mechanic but I usually just drop my car off and don’t take the time to learn. My ex just put a spare tire on my car and I wasn’t around to watch him do it.
              Being self sufficient is very important to me but I guess I have been spoiled by always having a husband to take care of these things for the last 11 years.

              • kobresia says:

                If you’ve done plumbing work around the house, you’ll find car stuff to be no sweat. The most annoying thing (to me anyway) is the filth, which is easily mitigated by taking the car to the car wash before working on anything to blast off most of the dirt and grime, using flattened cardboard boxes as drop-sheets to catch spills or splatters, and by wearing disposable nitrile gloves, army-surplus coveralls, and a cap that I’ve trimmed most of the brim off.

                And as many others have said, the DIY auto parts stores are usually a huge help when it comes to everything from finding what you need to disposing of the old oil properly. You’re even less on-your-own with this stuff than you were when you learned about computers!

    • Gally says:

      As fellow IT, gotta recommend youtube and instructional auto forums. Learned how to change my oil, breaks, and tire sensors without issue.

    • human_shield says:

      Cars are a lot simpler than people thing. The hardest part is figuring out what is wrong. Nine times out of ten, all that is involved is taking off some bolts, replacing a part, and bolting it back in. If you can use a wrench at all, you should be able to do basic things like changing your oil and alternator.

  3. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Wait, so performing regular maintenance on your automobile actually extends its usuable lifetime?

    What a bizarre concept.

  4. TheBigWhiteWolf says:

    “We’re not mechanical experts‚Ķ” so you’re giving mechanical advice?

  5. Cat says:

    Whats worse?

    The “embarrassment” of DRIVING a noisy 20 year old rusty Toyota to work,
    The “embarrassment” of NOT DRIVING a shiny new BMW to work because it was repo’d from your driveway last night?

    • clippy2.0 says:

      that’s why my car alarm is a claymore. Suck it repo man!

    • zerogspacecow says:

      All of my rusty 20 year-old cars (Toyota included) broke down and left stranded on the side of the road within weeks or months. Even newer stuff (10 year old Honda for example) died on my fairly quickly, and ended up getting a few thousand dollars in repairs.

      A few months ago I just decided to screw the conventional wisdom of used cars, and bought new. The peace of mind is very nice.

      If I had bought new when I was 17, instead of buying a bunch of shitting cars and paying for a bunch of repairs, I would have had a better car for the past 6 years and would have spent less money.

      • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

        My car is 13 years old (bought new) and I have only spent $250 on a repairs. Other than new tires and often skipped maintenance, it’s been great. Very reliable.

  6. unpolloloco says:

    “In college, I was an oil changing fiend, but discovered too late about the little miracle called power steering fluid. I learned the uber-expensive way that this should be changed every time you change the car‚Äôs coolant. The transmission work I ended up eating? It cost me every cent and more that I‚Äôd been stashing away for a new computer. Ouch.”

    What? Power steering does not equal transmission…..

  7. DJ Charlie says:

    EXCUSE ME? Lady Macbeth may be getting on in years, but she’s still the best converted ambulance on the road today! “Embarrassing” indeed!

    And yes, I change the oil every 3,000 miles myself. Even using a wheelchair/cane to get around, it’s easier and cheaper than letting a garage do it for $40. Filters get changed every 3rd oil change, except for the oil filter, which is changed every time.

    Hoses are a bit of a sticky point though. The Lady needs a new fuel filler hose (runs from the gas cap to the tank), but they just don’t make them anymore to fit her. I found ONE online, and they want $200 for it. I’m taking my mechanic’s advice on this one (he’s VERY good), and replacing it with some hose from L:owes cut to the right length.

    And a tip they didn’t mention: Change your wiper blades every year or sooner! Trust me, that’s a lot cheaper than getting a scratch-free windshield!

    • Marlin says:

      3000miles is a old oil change number.
      most cars today can do 5000 or more on regular oil.

      • DJ Charlie says:

        And the Lady is an old vehicle. :) Trust me, at 3,000, that oil is BLACK and nasty.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        A lot of it just depends on the car. I’ve had some pretty bad OA results on my wife’s car between 3,000 – 4,000 miles. I usually change it every 3,000 miles (every 6 months) just for the peace of mind.

    • DrRonster says:

      I buy my synthetic oils and filters during specials and bring to walmart. Usually about $15-18 but I get a machine printed receipt. Because of that Warranty direct had to pay for a new transmission on my Camaro SS at 149,000 miles. Cant do it myself since I would have violated the contract with them. The extended warranties are scams if you dont read the fine print. Never had a claim denied.

  8. Jules Noctambule says:

    Wallis II, my 1992 Volvo 940 sedan, and Wallis III, my 1995 Volvo 940 wagon, have so far required less maintenance beyond the routine the whole time I’ve owned them than a friend’s bought-new Toyota has in the five years she’s owned it. I’ll keep my great MPG, low-maintenance ’embarrassing’ old cars until our mechanic runs out of old cars to use for parts.

  9. Thorzdad says:

    We have a 2001 Maxima 5-speed that is quickly approaching 400,000 miles. Regular oil and filter changes and replacing the occasional failed part keeps it rolling along.

  10. Don't Bother says:

    Lola, my 94 Toyota Corolla has seen better days, but as long as she keeps on going, I will take care of her : )

  11. Kestris says:

    Did all that and when we traded in our 17yr old Saturn, managed to still get $500 on tradein value, even though it wasn’t worth it.

    We got every bit out of that Saturn we could.

  12. Actionable Mango says:

    “From the frugal perspective, you’re always better off investing in your current car’s well-being rather than dumping payments into its replacement.”

    Completely not true. There are many scenarios where the cost of maintenance and repair is so high they are not worth doing because replacing the car with an equivalent used one is less expensive.

    • rambo76098 says:

      Very rare. Considering car payments can be $400/mo easy, it’s rare that a car breaks down so often that you’ll spend $4800/yr on repairs. If you do, then yes, it’s time for a new car.

      • wackydan says:

        Depends on what car you buy, and how much you put down.

        I just traded my 99 Dodge Dakota I owned since new, for 13+ years. Dependable truck… But between the lower ball joints, the clutch slave cylinder and clutch components itself, and a few other odds and ends, it would have cost me $2000 to make it right. Add to that the need for a more family friendly truck (four doors), and I decided it was time to buy a new one….Used ones were a very bad value for the money…. Seeing as used prices are so inflated these days.

        I ordered a brand new F-150 SuperCrew… gets the same MPG as my Dakota did, but with the V8 and not the V6 of the Dakota… My payments are $258 a month as I put down a massive down payment. I have piece of mind that I got a great deal, and this truck I’ll own for 15 years.

        Everyone’s financial calculation as to whether to buy new, used, or keep and maintain are based on far different criteria.

  13. ronbo97 says:

    Oil: Change it every 3K,despite what the owner’s manual says. Especially if your car has over 100K on the clock, or if you make lots of short trips (

  14. ronbo97 says:

    Oil: Change it every 3K,despite what the owner’s manual says. Especially if your car has over 100K on the clock, or if you make lots of short trips (less than 2 miles to work, for example) or live in a dusty part of the world. All that dirt, unspent fuel, etc. trapped in the oil has a corrosive effect on your valves and piston rings. Oil changes are cheap, especially if you do them yourself.

  15. BorkBorkBork says:

    Great timing on the article, as my 26-year old daily driver is in the shop. The past several months its been one thing after another. Three more months and it’s getting sold when I graduate. What happens after that is anybody’s guess, but I can’t afford this anymore (and I can’t afford newer).

  16. BurtReynolds says:

    I just spent $2200 on my 2000 Civic. About $800 of it was for true “wear” items like brakes and four new tires.

    The rest were things that kind of become wear items at 12 years and 181k. Torn steering rack boot. New muffler. One bad ball joint.

    With that said, it was the first money besides oil changes I’ve put into the car in a couple years.

  17. mydailydrunk says:

    191,000 on a 2002 Altima

    also, driving habits can make a huge difference

    no jack-rabbit starts, never redline the engine unless necessary for merging. Smooth and steady acceleration, anticipate traffic so you don’t have to jam on the brakes.