August 2010

How To Get Your Car To 200,000 Miles

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Photography by Anne

The little Chevy’s been a pretty good friend over four years. At slightly more than 50,000 miles, though, it’s showing signs of age. With some very minor bodywork and attention to a couple of interior trim issues, she’ll look good as new.

The really important thing is that, mechanically, the car is in excellent shape; the only repair I’ve had to make so far is a new set of front brake pads. Right now the ride is a little quirky because I need new tires, but other than that, it runs almost like new. I’d like to keep it that way for at least another 50,000 miles…maybe more.

It seems that I’m part of a trend that Sam Johnson of Beachside Tire & Auto observes at his shop. Customers who previously gave little thought to car maintenance, because they would just get a new car when things started wearing out, now look to Johnson for help in extending their vehicle’s life.

“They didn’t plan to keep the car that long, so they didn’t pay much attention to maintenance. I also see a lot of people buying their car off of a lease. They never intended to buy the car, so they didn’t bother to maintain it,” he said.

“It used to be that the average car owner would keep a vehicle for about five years or less,” said Michael Lane of Carolina BG, a supplier and consultant to Beachside. In fact, a 2009 R.L. Polk & Co. study shows the average length of ownership increasing in the U.S. from 4.08 years to 4.7 years between 2002 and 2008, and the trend is continuing.

People are cutting back, and buying a new car is off the table for a lot of folks. Even the pre-owned car is not as attractive an option as before. With so much penny pinching going on, increased demand is driving prices up, providing further impetus for motorists to squeeze more bang for the buck out of the car that they own now.

According to Johnson, getting up to 200,000 miles of use from your car is not as far-fetched as you think. All you need is a commitment to scheduled maintenance; but that doesn’t mean following the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.

“Those maintenance schedules are not written for specific climate and driving conditions,” said Lane. “Fluids break down due to heat cycles.” For example, if you drive in Pennsylvania, your car isn’t going to be subjected to the extreme heat and humidity and salty air that we have here in coastal South Carolina. Likewise, it gets a lot colder in the winter up there than it does down here. Manufacturers’ maintenance schedules do not account for those differences, he explained.

So, if you’re planning on keeping that car for a while, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. That doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself, but it does mean you have to start paying attention to your vehicle and taking pre-emptive maintenance measures. It’s a lot more affordable than the major repairs that you’ll face down the road if you don’t.

No matter how faithful you’ve been to 10-minute oil changes, you’re not doing enough to extend your car’s life. Yes, engine oil is critical, but there is much more to the story. Transmission, power steering, brake and differential fluids need to be checked regularly and replaced when necessary.

Sam Johnson displaying a broken timing belt. A timing belt keeps the camshaft and crankshaft in sync.

The problem with 10-minute oil changes is that they neglect the other fluids, brakes and other critical areas. “When we do an oil change here, we check the entire car. We’re qualified to tell you exactly what your car needs,” said Johnson. A Beachside oil change includes 40 inspection points.

You won’t replace these other fluids as often as engine oil, but they do eventually break down and lose their lubricating properties. When that happens, big problems follow that will cost big bucks to fix.

Beachside Tire & Auto is the only shop in the area to offer the BG Products Lifetime Protection Plan, which will help you avoid those major breakdowns and cover the repair costs if they do happen. Using the transmission as an example, here’s how it works:

A transmission fluid flush should be done first at 36,000 miles, then every 30,000 miles thereafter. So the average driver shooting for 100,000 miles should have three transmission flushes during the life of the vehicle.

On average, a domestic built front-wheel-drive transmission, if not properly maintained, is likely to fail at 70,000-90,000 miles. Depending on the car, the extent of the damage, who performs the service, and other factors, a transmission overhaul or replacement could cost from $1,300 to $2,000. Three transmission flushes would cost—at most—one third of that, and it would be spread over seven to eight years. Which would you rather do?

If you follow its scheduled service intervals, the protection plan will cover transmission repairs up to $2,000 if it does break down.

The protection plan is offered for transmission, driveline, brake, power steering, coolant, engine and fuel line systems. The only requirement is that you follow the service interval schedule for all systems and that you begin by 36,000 miles. However, if you begin after 36,000 but before 75,000 miles, you still qualify for 50 percent protection.

It’s like having a partner in your commitment to keeping your baby running like new for a lifetime. By the way, you also get 24-hour roadside assistance.

So what about my Chevy?

The Beachside crew looked it over and found that my fluids are all pretty healthy, and the rear brake pads are good, but getting close to needing replacement. This is good news, because I won’t have to pile anything on top of priority one: new tires.

Mine are completely shot. The treads are worn out and there are signs of dry rot; cracks or splits in the rubber caused by heat cycles and humidity. Dry rot can cause blowouts so you need to keep an eye out for it. To get the most mileage and safety out of your tires, maintain proper inflation, rotate regularly and keep the wheels aligned. This is especially important around here, because our roads develop a lot of ruts due to the soft roadbeds.

The cool factor tempts me to stick with my original equipment, Pirelli tires, but Johnson offered some shopping advice that just might have me on a set of Kumhos by the time you read this. Brands like Yokohama, Kumho and Hankook have been challenging and beating out the bigger name brands in performance and satisfaction surveys for some time. I found that Kumho’s equivalent tire rates higher than my Pirellis and costs about $10 less per tire.

Since none of my fluids are in critical need of replacement, I can make the rear brake pads my next priority. Having your brakes inspected regularly—when you’re having other maintenance performed—is important, because the only other way you’re going to know the pads are worn is when they start making awful noises. By then, the rotors may already be damaged, and it’s big bucks to replace those.

Once that’s done, I can turn my attention to the BG Protection Plan and get my fluid maintenance on track. Since I’m beyond 36,000 miles I’ll qualify for 50 percent coverage, and I have until 75,000 miles to get all of the systems covered. (If you are over 75,000 miles it’s not too late to start maintenance on your car. You won’t qualify for this protection plan – but these services should still be performed!) This way I can plan ahead and budget for the services, one-by-one, according to what the guys at Beachside tell me is most critical.

I’m off to 100,000 miles and beyond. Who’s coming with me?

Beachside Tire & Auto is located at 26-D Hunter Road. For information or an appointment, call (843) 342-7876.

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