Americans are keeping their cars longer and are more likely to replace their car with a used model than in past years, according to a recent study by automotive research firm R.L. Polk & Co. in Southfield, Mich.
While driving an older car equals big savings by reducing or eliminating a car payment, it also means these owners need to stay on top of necessary repairs and scheduled maintenance, or it could mean costly repairs later or a serious accident that could require a new car altogether.
Check your owner's manual to learn the recommended car maintenance schedule for your car and put aside some money every month to ensure you have the dollars to perform it when required. In addition, keep an eye out for these four common issues and take care of them as soon as possible.
Leaky fluids. Check all of your car's essential fluids -- engine oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid -- by checking the dipstick or reservoir for each at least once a month. Look for telltale signs of a problem by scanning the ground under your car each morning as you drive away. Each of these fluids is essential for the operation of your car and could mean a loss of steering, shifting, braking or even an engine seizure if one of these fluids is too low. If you have a leak, get it diagnosed promptly by a reliable mechanic and, if you can't afford to get it repaired right away, ask if it's a repair you can put off for a bit without further damage by watching the fluid level and replenishing it regularly.
Worn or underinflated tires. Tires should be inspected for signs of wear and the pressure should be checked monthly. Tires naturally lose air pressure, and a loss of pressure -- even though the tire may not look flat -- means increased wear on the tire as well as reduced fuel economy. Worn or underinflated tires are more likely to cause a loss of control under slick driving conditions and also increase your chances of a blow out. Read the Bankrate feature, "Keeping your tires in shape," to learn how to determine the required air pressure and to check for wear. When your tires need replacement, do so promptly to save yourself the hassle of a flat tire or a serious accident.
Tired brakes. Like most car components, brakes wear out over time, so it's quite possible that you wouldn't notice your car has reduced braking power. Don't wait until you are in a panic situation where you must stop to learn you need new brakes. Check the brake fluid levels regularly and listen for a high-pitched squeaking noise as you brake. That's the sound of the brake indicators telling you it's time to spend the dollars to make sure you have proper stopping power.
Worn steering and suspension. Your car's suspension and steering components are keys to making your car perform the way you expect it. Steering that has gotten "lazy" over time, a car that seems to lean more in a turn or "bounce" more on a bumpy road are indicators of worn steering or suspension components. Postponing replacing these components will only lead to increased tire wear, resulting in the added expense of new tires as well as reduced traction, which could cause a costly collision.
Ask the adviserIf you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
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