auto

Extending your car's life and your investment

But, for many, the best way to find a good mechanic is to talk to car-savvy friends and family. "Word of mouth is still the best way to find an honest mechanic," says Gary Searles, owner and operator of My Chauffeur, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-area transportation service. "Don't believe advertising."


This is also a good time to start keeping track of major maintenance you have done on your car.

Not only can it help keep you from missing important maintenance events for your car, but it can also save you money. Some mechanics may try to replace fluids and parts more often than is strictly necessary. Having some kind of record helps make you a smarter consumer.

30,000 to 59,999 miles:
Check spark plugs, air filter, coolant, brake shoes, pads and transmission fluid.
This is when most warranties begin to expire and the burden of major repairs shifts to the owner. An important milestone for nearly all cars is 36,000 miles. This is usually the last service a car gets before the general warranty runs out, so if there are any major repairs to get done, do them now.

If you haven't replaced your spark plugs yet, have them checked by that aforementioned trusted mechanic. If they do need to be replaced, save time and money by getting high-mileage, platinum plugs that can last up to three times longer than conventional plugs.

The engine's air filter and coolant should be replaced sometime this year. Your original brake pads and shoes will probably be close to worn-out as well. If your car is making a squealing sound during breaking, this is probably the case. Change them to avoid having to replace the brake rotors, a much more costly repair.

Also, ask your mechanic about replacing your transmission fluid. A car's transmission is one of the most expensive and complicated components to replace, and regular flushing and replacement of transmission fluid can help extend its life dramatically.

"I change mine every 25,000 miles," says Searles. "It's the reason a lot of my cars are on their original transmissions well past 100,000 miles."

60,000 to 89,999 miles:
Check brake pads and shoes, tires, transmission fluid and coolant.
If it's been 30,000 miles or more since your last set of brake pads and shoes, you'll probably hear that tell-tale squeal again soon. Before you replace them, though, just make sure that they're actually worn out. Sometimes a buildup of rust or dust can cause brakes to squeal even if there is still wear left on the pads and shoes. This is when having a good mechanic is essential, as a bad one might try to do unnecessary work.

If you haven't replaced your car's original tires, this may be the year. If you can stick a penny (Lincoln's head first) into the tire's grooves and see the top of Honest Abe's head, you need new tires. You can save money on a new set by shopping around online. Sites like TireRack.com and Sears.com offer an opportunity for consumers to compare prices and specs to find the best tires for their car. Tires sent from an online store can always be installed for a reasonable fee at a local shop. Just make sure they're the right size for your car.

Don't forget to replace your transmission fluid and coolant if you haven't done so recently.

Car owners often say they're taking their cars in for a "tuneup." This term is fairly general and it usually means changing spark plugs, installing a new filter, changing the PCV filter (a part of the ventilation system for the engine), and some parts of the distributor. If you opt to do this, it should be done every 60,000 miles.

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A better approach, though, is to take the manufacturer's recommendations for routine maintenance and do those jobs in the time frame suggested.

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