Maintenance Tips for Old Cars: Avoid Costly Expenses

Updated on July 27, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Thanks to his technical background, Glenn Stok is skilled at solving technological problems, which has helped him save money on car repairs.

Your old car can last many rewarding years when you take care of it properly.
Your old car can last many rewarding years when you take care of it properly. | Source

Treating one's car well with proper maintenance will lead to a rewarding long-term ownership, saving the expense of buying a new vehicle sooner than necessary.

I’ll tell you how I am keeping my 18-year-old car running as good as new, and how it's good enough to last me another 100,000 miles.

Vehicles have been built a lot better in the last 20 years than they have been in prior decades. More people are holding on to their old cars longer than ever. This may be due to the economy and the job situation, but that's all the more reason to hold on to your old car.

Benefits Of Maintaining Your Old Car

Your car's user manual gives you a schedule for maintaining certain things. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. This helps prolong the useful years of your car. Here is a short list:

  • Change oil and oil filter routinely.
  • Keep all fluids filled properly. This may be included with oil changes.
  • Replace spark plugs.
  • Replace coolant.
  • Check brake fluid.
  • Rotate tires as recommended by the tire manufacturer.
  • Check tire pressure of all tires once a month an before long trips.
  • Don't forget the spare tire or donut; check its pressure too.
  • Other maintenance as needed per recommended schedule.

I have well over 100,000 miles already on my car. In the next section I'll explain what I recently had done to be sure I'd get another 100,000 miles out of it.

Change Engine Timing Belt After 100,000 Miles

The timing belt or chain connects the crankshaft to the camshaft. It controls the timing of the valves in an internal combustion engine.

There are two types of engines: interference and non-interference. I have a car with an interference engine. If my timing belt should break while driving, the engine will be damaged and will need to be replaced. That's costly!

Vehicles that don’t have an interference engine will not suffer much damage when the timing belt breaks. It will just stop running. The car will still need to be towed, but the repair would require just the replacement of the timing belt, not a whole new engine.

Check out your owner’s manual to see which type of engine you have. If you have an interference engine and you have reached 100,000 miles, then you should get the timing belt replaced before it breaks. If you don't have an interference engine, you still should plan to get the timing belt changed, unless you look forward to being towed someday, possibly at an inconvenient time.

I decided it was time to get it done and I brought my car to my local auto shop to avoid taking chances of blowing my engine.

How to Save on Labor

You can save future expenditures on labor by having several things done at the same time the timing belt is changed. I asked the mechanic to do all the following along with the timing belt:

  • Change all the belts
  • Change the water pump
  • Flush the cooling system

This will save money in the long run. Since they have to remove all the belts anyway to get to the timing belt, there is no extra labor charge for putting on new belts. One of them may be nearly ready to break some day, and they are not expensive if done along with the rest of the job.

If I needed the belt that powers the AC compressor later on, then I'd pay the costly labor again. Therefore, I may as well have all new belts now.

The same logic goes for the water pump. It would be costly to change the water pump if it ever should break down. While the timing belt is being changed, the labor is already included.

Finally, it's only logical to have the cooling system flushed since they have to drain it to change the pump. There's no extra charge to do it along with the timing belt and water pump replacement.

Things You Can Do Yourself

  • Change wipers when they are worn.
  • Vacuum the interior and clean leather and vinyl with a proper cleanser.
  • Maintain proper tire inflation (keep a handle gauge in your glove box).
  • Don't forget to check the pressure in the spare tire (donut).
  • Check all lights (inside and out) to be sure none are burnt out.

Use a Tankful of High-Octane Gas Once a Year

Once a year fill up a full tank with high-octane gas. This will clean out gunk from pistons and from the catalytic converter. These are two of the most costly things to repair and replace. Keeping them free of build-up helps keep the car running clean and more efficiently.

I have personal proof. My check engine light came on seven years ago. My mechanic said it was my catalytic converter and it would cost $650 to replace.

I picked up a low-cost diagnostic scanner to read the check-engine trouble codes in the car's computer. I saw that he was telling me the truth. However, instead of having it replaced, I filled up with a tank of high-test gas.

The check engine light never came back on and it's already been seven years since then with no problems. Of course the catalytic converter may in fact be damaged, and if it is you need a new one, but in some cases it’s just filled with gunk and high-octane gas cleans that out.

For More Comfort, Replace the Cabin Air Filter

Not many people know that the passenger cabin of many cars has an air filter. This gets dirty after several years and needs to be replaced.

You can find replacement cabin air filters that are even better than the standard ones installed in new cars. Some car manufacturers provide paper filters as a standard, but I suggest getting carbon filters when you replace them. I bought mine made by FRAM.

FRAM brand Car Cabin Air Filter
FRAM brand Car Cabin Air Filter | Source

Replacing the cabin filter is a little tedious, but it's a job you can do yourself. With some cars there are a lot of screws and snaps to remove to get to the filter.

I did a Google search to find a YouTube video showing how to change the cabin filter in my car. You can find a "do-it-yourself" video for just about any make vehicle. Just do a Google search for "YouTube changing cabin air filter" and include your make of car.

Pick up the correct replacement filter for your particular car at any local auto parts store. You can also find the right one for your car on Amazon. Then follow the YouTube video instructions that you found with your search.

My Personal Experience Changing the Cabin Filter

It took me an hour. I had to go back and view the video a second time while I was doing it.

Besides the screws, my car had a lot of snaps that hold the dash in place, but every car is different. I had to pull hard after removing the screws to get the dash dislodged from the snaps.

Then when I put it all back together I forgot to replace a brace that goes across under the dash. I had to undo it all again to put the brace back in. Therefore, I suggest that you pay close attention to the video that deals with your car. Watch it a few times before you start.

In my case, the filters were not really that dirty. I guess that's because I always have it set to "recycle" my cabin air. I prefer to do that rather than blowing in air from outside and sucking in the fumes from other vehicles.

After I changed the cabin filter, I discovered I could leave the internal air recycle off since getting fresh air from the outside is nice now. I no longer smell the street fumes because the new filters I put in are carbon filters, definitely much better than the old paper filters that came with the car.

By the way, I had to replace two filters. Some cars only have one, so check your car's user manual before you buy new ones.

I noticed nothing prevents you from putting the filters in backwards, so I paid close attention to the arrows showing the airflow direction. Don't make that mistake.

For Long-Lasting Beauty: Repair Scratches Before They Rust

Body scratches tend to appear almost by magic. People brush up against your car in parking lots. People open doors next to you and hit your car.

Even weather has a lot to do with it. Hail, road gravel, you name it. There are rough elements in the air that put blemishes in your car's surface.

I found that over time, these blemishes and scratches grow bigger and even rust. It's important to stop the spread of these rust spots. One way is to use nail polish, but this shows up when viewed at an angle.

I found that Quixx makes a great scratch remover kit that includes the right grade of sandpaper and the right paint for your make and model of car. It works well and keeps the outside looking clean and fresh. You can find it at your local vehicle parts store or on Amazon.

Quixx Paint Scratch Remover Kit
Quixx Paint Scratch Remover Kit

Proper Car Care is Rewarding

Instead of buying a new car, you can take care of your old car properly and have it last many rewarding years. Keep the money in the bank or make a nice investment that will grow while you enjoy many more years of value from your present car.

Questions & Answers

    (c) 2012 Glenn Stok


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      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        3 months ago from Long Island, NY

        Mark Werenczuk - Extended use of gasoline with too high octane might cause damage to older cars that don’t compensate for it, as you indicated. But those cars don’t have OBD monitoring systems anyway, so the issue is mute.

        With modern cars that have OBD, one tankfull will not cause harm since they have stabilizing mechanisms anyway.

        If the problem is a dirty catalytic converter, this method has worked for many. Driving with one tank of high octane gas has already helped me and several of my friends avoid needing to replace the catalytic converter.

      • profile image

        Mark Werenczuk 

        3 months ago

        I don’t think advocating putting a high octane gas into any car is a good idea. You should always use the gas specified in the owners’ manual. Higher octane gas has nothing special in it to clean the engine. It merely has a different concentration of oxygen. Modern cars have a mechanism for stabilizing the engine to eliminate knocking should the wrong octane gas be put in. However things like accelerating uphill or towing anything with the wrong octane gas in your car can damage your engine.

        In short, there is no benefit to putting more expensive gas in your car and possible negative effects.

      • profile image


        21 months ago

        Very interesting lots of good ideas @tips.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        2 years ago from Long Island, NY

        VitaClean - True, the 100,000 miles I mentioned is only the minimum safe distance to consider for getting the timing belt changed. But as you said, various manufacturers recommend different distances.

      • VitaClean profile image


        2 years ago from 47 Horseshoe Lane, Bromley Cross, Bolton. BL7 9RR

        This is a very interesting article, but I have to say that changing the timing belt is a manufacturers recommendation and is different for every vehicle, you should go off your owners manual to be on the safe side and avoid costly repairs

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        Loved this! I have a 91 honda civic, with 86k everyone tells me to get a new car. I love my car and no car payments :)

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Crystal Tatum - That $1,000 was well-spent I can assure you. Especially for the timing belt. It's amazing that you got so far past 100,000 miles without having a problem with the timing belt. But being over 200,000 miles was really pushing it. At least now you can feel secure that you're not going to have problems with your engine dying on you suddenly due to a timing belt break. You obviously take very good care of your car and you drive well too. That's why your car is in such great shape. Thanks for the vote up and sharing. Much appreciated.

      • Crystal Tatum profile image

        Crystal Tatum 

        5 years ago from Georgia

        My Honda has over 200,000 miles and I hope I get another 100,00! I just had my timing belt changed for the first time, and the mechanic was shocked at what good shape my car was in, although I've done little but basic maintenance. That being said, this year I've already spent about $1,000 in maintenance costs. But I'd rather do that than have a car payment. Good job on this hub, voting up and sharing.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        5 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Mary - Funny thing, I have a '98 Honda Accord. You are definitely doing the right things to keep it lasting a long time. Thanks for sharing my hub on FB. Much appreciated.

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        5 years ago from Florida

        I drive a 1997 Honda Accord with 130,000 miles. I remember my Daddy saying to always change the oil ever 3,000 miles and I do that. I am bothered that little pieces of plastic fall off the car, but I can handle that with super glue. I've done the timing belt already.

        Great Hub with good info. I voted this UP and will share with followers and on my FB page....I know my friends and family will like to learn about keeping their car a long time.

      • moonlake profile image


        5 years ago from America

        We have two older cars and we are trying to keep them running. We don't want car payments. Interesting hub full of good information.

      • Kate Mc Bride profile image

        Kate McBride 

        6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

        This hub is full of good advice. My car is 20 years old and I wouldn't change it for the world but it gets all necessary oil changes and the timing belt is also done. The way you drive a car has also a lot to do with how it runs as you say. Great advice and common sense in this hub;voted it up and useful.

      • Michael Tully profile image

        Michael Tully 

        6 years ago

        Excellent advice, Glenn, particularly the part about managing one's driving style. Too few people realize that the jackrabbit starts and brake-stomping stops put tremendous stress on suspension and drivetrain components. Very well written, and easy to read, too. Voted up, useful and interesting. Many thanks, and have a great day.


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