I still have the 1989 solid metal GMC Sierra truck we bought in 1995 and it runs great mainly because it’s been kept well. My parents taught me it’s easier and less expensive to take care of equipment, furniture, clothing, shoes, etc. than it is to replace something. That goes for me as well; I’d much rather pay the money to stay well than get well. Wouldn’t you? Over the years taking care of it all ensures, with God’s good help, equipment will be in good working order for many years. That 1989 GMC Sierra truck is now considered a classic (more than 25 years old; antique vehicles are 50 years or older) and still runs like a top even though the steering wheel has more play than a room full of first graders. According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) the average American drives between thirteen-thousand and fourteen-thousand miles annually. One way I’ve saved money on that old truck is to put “Farm Tags” on it which means it’s not registered with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and has no regular state license tags. However, farm trucks (I’ve seen farm tags on cars!) do have some restrictions: the vehicle can’t be driven more than 50 miles (unless written special permission is obtained from VDOT) and must be used for agricultural activities…transporting animals to/from market, transporting hay/straw bales, anything related to the farms operation, etc. A farm truck does not have to be insured but I find it’s a good practice to purchase insurance and, for an older vehicle, it’s reasonably affordable. At least, much more affordable than an accident! In Virginia the law states a farm vehicle doesn’t need to have an inspection sticker but it’s a good idea to, annually, go over the vehicle like it’s being inspected to ensure it’s road worthy. After all, it’s ultimately the safety of (my) life that’s in question and I want that vehicle to be as safe as possible. In fact, all my suggestions are designed to both increase fuel mileage and safety. There’s only one YOU, a vehicle can always be replaced.
These suggestions should help with fuel mileage, a big plus considering how costly gasoline and diesel are these days!
If at all possible, provide shelter for your vehicle. Not only does shelter keep your vehicle cleaner both outside and inside, it means you won’t have to scrape ice or snow in cold weather and it takes less time for the engine to warm. Less time for the engine to warm means fluids and fuel are coursing their way through your vehicle faster, helping with mileage costs. I keep window and upholstery wipes and use often as my dogs ride with me, muddy paws and all. I once ran my car through a car wash then drove to a car lot to peruse their selection and someone asked to buy my car while I was walking around. It made both sales and purchase a lot easier as the dealer didn’t have to work at re-selling my car. It’s almost impossible to keep a vehicle clean during bad weather but running it through a car wash (should you find one open) will remove winter road salts from the undercarriage and slow down rust.
Newer vehicles, since about early to mid 1990’s, have a fuel injection system, not a carburetor, so letting your vehicle warm up more than a minute or two is all that’s necessary. Some say even a one minute warm up isn’t necessary but that one minute allows me to give my vehicle a cursory inspection. I look at the tires, make sure the lights are working, check my mirrors, wash the windows outside (if necessary), wipe them inside and the plus side is a warm engine needs less fuel to operate. I also wipe off bird droppings, tree sap, tar from road maintenance and other dirt to prevent paint from being stripped.
In Virginia, as stated, we have state inspections but every time I pull up to a building that has windows, I check my lights…low, high, emergency lights and turn signals. It beats jumping in and out of the car to check and it’s better to fix a problem as soon as it’s identified. Law enforcement can give tickets for things that are easy fixes should you catch them in time.
To check tire tread use a a Lincoln penny inserted into the tread. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time, maybe past time, to replace your tires. I’m not a fan of re-treads and consider it good money wasted.
Check windshield wipers twice yearly and change them before you need to change them. I use Rain-X products all over my vehicles: Rain-X water repellent for outside windows, glass cleaner for both in/out side, Anti-Fog for inside windows (can also be used for bathroom mirrors), washer fluid in the under hood container. Using Rain-X on the outside means water, snow, sleet simply roll into a ball and slides down the window. Truth be told, I’ve almost run off the road watching this happen, it’s mesmerizing!
It’s been a wet, wet, WET winter with lots of snow, ice, icy rain, and rain and my blades certainly need to be checked, maybe replaced. Tomorrow I’ll go to my auto parts store and, if need be, will purchase but the men who work there will change them out for me. Yes, I do know how to change them out but it’s a free service, taking them seconds where I would spend fifteen minutes, probably let a little blood and maybe slip out a bad word.
Oil is the lifeblood of any vehicle so change the oil and filter every three to five thousand miles. Some manufactures say every five to seven thousand miles (especially with synthetic oil) but an oil and filter is less expensive than a new car so I change oil every three thousand miles. There are a lot of different oil brands and some folks swear by synthetic oil but my personal preference is Pennzoil mineral based oil. For cold weather a 5W (winter) -30 is, generally, better than a 10W-30 because the viscosity is thinner, helping the engine turn over more easily and circulates more rapidly thus helping with mileage as well. A thinner oil not only means a better cold start but better cold temperature performance. When my vehicles reach eighty-thousand miles I switch to Pennzoil High Mileage (HM) because it has more detergents to clean out engine sludge, keep pistons cleaner as well as other additives to reduce wear on moving engine parts. Friends who are auto mechanics and car geeks have cautioned me against going from Pennzoil HM (mineral based oil) to Pennzoil Platinum (PP) because PP is synthetic oil.
About every other oil change rotate your tires, especially if you’re driving rough roads. Invest in a decent tire gauge, learn how to use it and, if your vehicle doesn’t have a check tire pressure light, you should check every month. The inside of the car door should have tire pressure for both warm and cold weather driving and keeping correct tire pressure saves money at the gas pump and in tire replacement. Preventing a problem is less expensive and easier than fixing a problem, especially if a problem catches you with a flat tire.
At least twice a year park your vehicle on flat ground to check tire pressure, fluids (oil, power steering, brake, coolant, windshield washer, power steering). A reliable car geek, Gina M. told me “never flush the coolant, it’ll only cause major problems”. My research shows the coolant may be drained then added to but flushing is something I’ve never done and my vehicles systems are all working fine. I’m fairly religious about checking coolant fluids and use a good brand, not an off-store brand.
If you drive on dusty or dirt roads, change your air filter every fifteen thousand miles but check and if it’s filthy, change as needed. A dirty air filter means your engine works harder and can rob your vehicle of fuel mileage.
If you don’t have regular tune-ups, check spark plugs about every thirty-thousand miles and replace about every sixty-thousand miles.
The way you drive has a huge bearing on fuel consumption. Jack rabbit starts (screaming away from a traffic light or sign), slamming on brakes unnecessarily and other similar bad habits use more fuel and wear out parts faster. UPS drivers are taught to schedule their deliveries with all, or as many as possible, right hand urns as less fuel is consumed when one can turn right on red traffic lights. I also plan errands so the farthest is first; if a stop is forgotten, it can be slipped into my schedule with ease.
Safety tips: to find out about any recalls, find your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), found on driver’s side door, dashboard or top of engine, and visit the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) and type in your VIN. Any problems with vehicles are listed on the NHTSA site.
If you don’t have the vehicle manual or don’t feel like rifling through it, use the Edmunds site to enter year, make, model to find information about maintenance schedules, parts replacement, etc.
Keep maintenance receipts. It’ll help if there is a recall or there are problems with repairs done incorrectly or if you decide to sell your vehicle, you have proof it was well maintained. Using a window shade means your seats won’t be as sticky hot and your dash and upholstery will stay nicer longer.
Traditionally, papers such as insurance and registration were kept in the glove box but it’s safer to keep them in your wallet, keeping your address private. God forbid your vehicle be stolen and thieves have your address to use, sell or trade. For multiple vehicles, put all the papers in a copy machine and make a copy for each driver to keep in purse or wallet.
Buy both collision and liability insurance and speak to your agent, annually, to make sure your coverage is adequate. There are ne’re-do-well’s who “make a living” with insurance fraud.
What are some of your vehicle tips to increase fuel mileage and safety?
As always, you have to decide what’s right and cost effective for you and your vehicle. I’m not an expert and my suggestions are what’s worked for me and my vehicles. I’m still driving older vehicles: a 1967 cherry red Ford Mustang ragtop (which is for sale), my Dad’s 1969 Chevrolet truck and my “newest” vehicle, a 2009 Honda Element (around 90,000 miles) and I’m open to learning new tips and tricks.