January is half over, but the year is still young; have you made your New Year’s resolution yet?
Relax. No need to hide the Twinkies and double fudge brownies, and I’m not talking about hitting the gym. We both know diets don’t really work, and besides, you bought a car so you wouldn’t have to get any exercise, right?
I’m talking about a New Year’s resolution you can actually keep—one that will keep your four-wheeled friend in shape, not you. After all, your car has to haul your butt around after you pound that Super-sized Big Mac extra value meal…with the Diet Coke, so help a motorized brother out. Do something good for your car, so it will continue to do good things for you.
You know that saying, “You have to look good to feel good?” The same is true of your car. If your car doesn’t look good on the outside, you’re quickly going to let it go to pot on the inside as well. With the exterior and interior looking like a rolling garbage bin, it won’t be long before that other resolution you didn’t make—saving money—will be blown as well, as you find yourself financing your mechanics boat payment.
Here’s some tips to start your car’s year off right, saving you from walking and leaving more funds for chips and dip.
Wash it: Wash your car at least once a week. Again after a storm, road trip, or having parked under a heavily bird populated tree. Remove debris with a gentle detergent quickly before it gets a foot hold and damages the paint.
Wax it: Wax your car at least every three months, every six weeks if you have a black car or live near the ocean or other harsh environment. Keeping the paint protected with quality wax keeps the paint more resilient to bird droppings and bug splats until you can get your car washed again.
Suck it up: While you are at the carwash, remove all the candy bar wrappers, fast food bags and soda cans so they can vacuum all the cookie crumbs and bits of lettuce and grated cheese from last week’s lunch on the run out of the interior as well.
Once your car is clean and shiny, you’ll remember why you bought it in the first place and have a renewed sense of pride in your Yugo, Sprint or Pacer. I’m willing to bet your dates don’t suddenly develop whooping cough and have to cancel when you pull up in your love chariot anymore, either—at least not until they see you get out of the car now.
Now that your shining ace-in-the-hole that makes you so desirable to the opposite sex is looking good again, let’s talk about keeping it operational, instead of a static museum piece.
Basic maintenance is the key to avoiding costly repair bills, leaving more money for barhopping and smoking—the other two resolutions you won’t keep this year.
Here’s what you need to do to help ensure you have enough cash on hand to slowly kill yourself in the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed:
Oil changes: They’re simple, they’re quick and they’re cheap. Keeping the life blood of your engine clean and viscous reduces engine wear; keeps things running cooler so hoses and gaskets last longer; and improves mileage. Transfusions are great for you and your car, just ask Keith Richards. Most manufacturers recommend an oil change every 7,500 to 10,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual to see what the correct interval is for your car, see a doctor about the recommended interval for having your own oil changed.
Tire Pressure: Unlike your uncle Herb the used car salesman, having your tires full of it is a good thing—full of air or nitrogen that it is. A properly inflated tire improves fuel economy and prevents them from over-heating and blowing out when under inflated and maintains proper traction when needed when not over inflated. Many modern cars come with built in tire pressure monitoring systems which don’t do a bit of good if you ignore them. Heed the warning, and if you your vehicle isn’t equipped with one, check it manually and check it regularly—once a week or every other fill up, whichever comes first. If your tires are filled with nitrogen instead of air, make sure you only add more nitrogen; the tire valve will be fitted with a green cap to help you spot the difference.
Stick to the maintenance schedule: As you get older things like mammograms and prostate exams become increasingly more important and the same holds true for your car. Replacing fan belts and timing belts when recommended can save you a ton of cash, a towing bill, and a lot of time sitting on the shoulder counting cars. If these items fail instead of being replaced at the specified odometer reading, the results can be catastrophic, requiring the whole engine being replaced instead of just the belt in some instances. Take your car in to your favorite… ok… least hated car doc so he can stick a finger up its tail pipe and make sure everything is working properly.
Six simple things you can do to change your life for the better this year, and they don’t even involve getting on a treadmill or installing padlocks on the fridge and giving the key to your dog to swallow to slow down how often you can access the cookie dough ice cream. Besides, isn’t it embarrassing to be following Fido around with a baggie and an empty ice cream cone, anyway?
Do these things and you’ll feel like you’re driving a new set of wheels without having to shell out a monthly car payment, you’ll be saving money on fuel and repair bills, and you can go to your grave knowing you completed at least one New Year’s resolution in your life. Congratulations. Treat yourself for your accomplishment and forget the cone—make it a sundae—you deserve it.
–by Vernon Heywood
Photos courtesy of Dawn Allynn and SXC