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Extend the life of your vehicle in 10 easy steps

As the economy continues to sputter and stall, how can you extend the life of your vehicle and steer clear of costly repairs? 10 Tips columnist Laura T. Coffey passes along smart car-maintenance advice from automotive expert Csaba Csere.

The economy is in the toilet, the job market is disheartening and many of us don’t have a lot of extra cash to spare. Under circumstances like these, how can you extend the life of your vehicle and steer clear of costly repairs?

Fortunately for all of us, Csaba Csere has plenty of smart advice to share in this arena. The former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine offered up the following suggestions to help motorists retain value for their wheels and avoid unexpected, high-dollar surprises.

1. Don’t let your owner’s manual sit neglected in your glove compartment. Instead, crack it open and spend a few minutes reviewing the recommended maintenance schedule for your particular vehicle. “Follow it religiously and use quality oil, fluids and parts,” Csere advised.

2. Don’t overwork a cold car. “You don’t need to engage in a lengthy warm-up, but drive moderately until the engine is approaching operating temperature,” Csere said.

3. Check out your “check engine” light. It’s quite common for drivers to ignore “check engine” lights when they turn on. People also can go into prolonged states of denial about strange noises and smells coming from their vehicles. Even if money is tight, it’s worth it to get these issues checked out by a reputable mechanic. “None of these things will go away by themselves, and a repair later is likely to be more expensive than a repair now,” Csere said.

4. Protect your car from the damaging effects of the sun. Whenever possible, park your vehicle in the shade or inside a garage. By making that extra effort, you’ll safeguard your car’s paint and interior.

5. Check your oil and coolant regularly. By doing this, you’ll find out about leaks sooner rather than later, and you’ll sidestep the problems that can be caused by low levels. As referenced in Tip No. 1, regular, timely oil changes can help you avoid costly repairs.

6. Check your tire pressure regularly. Proper tire inflation will help the tires handle better and last longer, and it will help you get the most out of a tank of gas. It’s also a good idea to have your tires checked for wear regularly.

7. Pay attention to the way you drive. Aggressive driving, hard stopping, accelerating to stops and riding the brakes or clutch can make almost everything on your vehicle wear out early and also can hurt your fuel economy.

8. Reduce the number of short trips you make. “Cold starts cause the most wear on your engine,” Csere noted. One way to avoid an unnecessary number of cold starts and save fuel at the same time is to run errands with efficiency. Try saving all your errands for one morning or afternoon and planning out your trip ahead of time. Consolidate drives to locations that are close to each other. If possible, park your car in one spot and walk when you get there.

9. Do you have a brand-new vehicle? If so, it’s a good idea to follow its break-in recommendations with care. “An oil change at 1,000 miles, whether recommended or not, is a good idea to make sure that any impurities left over from manufacturing don’t spend too much time in your engine,” Csere said.

10. Keep it clean. You’ll help your vehicle retain its value and appeal if you clean it regularly, both inside and out. “Sap, road tar and salt can all make your paint deteriorate more rapidly,” Csere noted. Regular waxing also can help your paint job hold up nicely and can stave off rust and other unsightly blemishes.