There are two pretty simple things almost anyone can do – no tools required! – to keep almost any vehicle running reliably for many years after the warranty expires.
Don’t abuse it.
Easy – right? Surely. Yet, many people inadvertently fail to practice one – or both. In part, because many people don’t realize what they’re doing – or not doing.
3M Headlight Restorati... Buy New $12.85 (as of 10:45 EST - Details) Abuse, for instance. The word is harsh. It conjures thoughts of revving an engine to redline at cold start, with Wesson oil in the sump. Or neutral dropping an automatic transmission (a way of getting a not-powerful car to do a burnout… until the transmission breaks). But abuse also encompasses such things as neglecting to replace filters when necessary; failing to change out fluids other than the obvious ones (such as the brake fluid in the slave cylinder circuit in modern cars with manual transmissions), the use of other-than-specified lubricants; improper or incomplete service (such as changing an air filter but forgetting to clean the throttle body), driving around for a long time with the “check engine” light on, prolonged idling; frequent very short trips (the engine rarely runs long enough to reach normal operating temperature). Stuff like that.
More frequent (and attentive) maintenance is required to counteract the effects of such hard use … assuming you care about the useful life of you vehicle and would rather pay a bit more today rather than a lot more tomorrow.
Cosmetic care falls into the same category, incidentally. It’s abusive to not occasionally wash your vehicle. Everything from bird droppings to acid rain will – if left to sit – eat into the finish, leaving you with an ugly car. And – quite possibly – a prematurely rustycar. Washing – and at least occasionally waxing – the paint will help prevent both. In winter – if you live in an area where road salt is used – it’s smart policy to run the car through a car wash once a month or so. In particular, a car wash that has an underbody spray system to wash off the road salt that will otherwise accelerate the rusting out not just of the obvious stuff people talk about like the frame, but also things like brake and fuel lines and the mounting brackets they attach to. When those rust out, major headaches will ensue. (See here for an example.)
Next, use it.
Leaving a car to sit for long periods is not restful. In fact it can be as harmful to its health as overt abuse. In fact, it is a form of abuse to leave a car sitting for long periods – if not “prepped” to sit for long periods.Why is it harmful to your car’s health to just leave it sitting? Let’s count some of the ways:
Sticking brake calipers/deteriorated brake fluid/rusting-from-the-inside-out brake lines.
Contaminated engine oil (even if “fresh” when left to sit, it will become not-so-fresh after a few months of congealing in the crankase).
Dry-rotting – and soon, leaking – seals (engine, transmission).
Mice eating the wiring.