Low budget habits and wacky tricks I use to keep old cars alive longer


This is not a Radwood show.  Just a few serviced cars, living their lives, hanging out in an LA mall in 2019.

This is not a Radwood show. Just a few serviced cars, living their lives, hanging out in an LA mall in 2019.
Photo: Andrew P Collins

Over the years of driving old cars, I have developed certain habits, perhaps superstitions, which I am sure have helped keep my decrepit vehicles on the road. For the sake of everyone’s retirement age cars clinging to survival, I’m going to share some of my secrets with you unwashed morons.

If you doubt my credentials in automotive witchcraft and my dedication to preventing cars from retiring: Right now I have two vehicles with over 200,000 miles each (a third just behind!) And one that is just behind! is 45 years old. And they all run! Technically speaking, at least.

If you’ve managed to keep an archaic car running long enough to pay registration more than once, I guess you know the three most critical rules of automotive preservation:

  1. Perform all scheduled maintenance on time, including fluid changes in addition to engine oil;
  2. Repair function-related parts as soon as they break;
  3. Always drive carefully until the engine has reached normal operating temperature.

You also keep your eyes, ears, and nose open for unusual sights, sounds, and smells, respectively. Now is the time to level up.

Apply your parking brake before parking the car

An off-road pro once told me, in the cabin of a recent Range Rover, that I was parking on a steep hill, to “press the parking brake while it’s still running, then put it in the park ”. His explanation was that in this way the kinetic energy of the vehicle’s weight is transferred to the parking brake instead of its transmission.

Is it better? Well the brakes are a lot cheaper than trannies. Any opportunity to shift stress from one more expensive component to another less sound seems prudent, I guess.

In my experience, taking this step eliminates that big thud you might hear when you shift from P to D even on a moderate slope. Bad clunks. So, good parking brake trick. And that’s as technical as we’re going to get because I promised superstition here, not science. (I should do this more often.)

Turn off fans, air conditioning, radiators and heated seats before you begin

Starting a car takes a great deal of your battery power. Your heated seats, air conditioning, lights and other accessories are also part of it. Many modern vehicles have the circuitry to automatically turn off gas-guzzling subsystems while your car is started, but some do not. And even on those who might, like my 2005 Acura TL, I swear it starts faster if the ancillaries are off before I turn the key.

It’s like Star trek. Transfer all the power to the starter, Mr. La Forge!

Pay attention to the type of car that is in your rearview mirror

Driving a ’70s truck around today’s Los Angeles, along with everything from modest family cars to modern Porsches, taught me to appreciate the immense delta of stopping distances of different cars.

If I’m in traffic and there’s something like a brand new Benz behind me, I know I can relax a bit because even if this driver is texting (they are) they’ll have big brakes and collision avoidance technology to keep them from rear-end me. If, say, there’s an overwhelmed old Scion in my rearview mirror, and they are texting (they are), or I stop too suddenly, I’m more in danger of being hit.

Likewise, if you are in a situation where you need to change lanes in front of someone, try to wait until something with better brakes is behind you.

Watch blind spot warnings from other people in traffic

“If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you,” you may have seen sticker written on the back of a large platform. If you haven’t, that’s one thing. So if you can’t see a person’s face in the rearview mirror of their car, they probably can’t see you either. Unless they have some kind of blind spot monitoring system, which many modern cars do.

Swapping between the cars of my personal fleet and the new heat I am fortunate enough to have for the test drive, I realized how much of a godsend the blind spot warning lights really are. Those little rearview mirror lights might be the most useful modern technological perversion of the art of driving we’ve had in the past decade. Unfortunately, they are so good that you can have them outside from the habit of closely monitoring your surroundings.

I always try to drive in traffic like I’m invisible, but I used to peek in people’s mirrors for the blind spot warning lights to get a better idea of ​​where. ‘they may or may not change lanes in me. They usually look like a small orange or red dot in the corner of their mirror. This can be useful wherever people don’t like to use their turn signals. Who, let me guess, is your city.

Practice tactical parking

Choose parking spaces that present the least opportunity for you to be ringed by passers-by and other people parking. It is a classic of the car-dork.

Even if your car is a beater, the extra scratches and dents won’t make you feel any better.

Try not to turn the steering wheel all the way to one side or the other

In 2019, many “old cars” still have hydraulic steering. This means that there is a pump that pushes the fluid to translate your rotation of the steering wheel into the change of direction of the front wheels.

The more you turn it, the harder the pump has to work. Pumps with easier life last longer. Granted, this logic can be adapted to a lot of things (for example, if you don’t use the brakes you’ll never wear out your pads), but the steering tends to be fairly easy to understand mechanically; you probably don’t go to full lockout very often. And when steering is problematic, it tends to be hard to ignore. As in: it gets noisy.

Beware of insurance claims on an old car

We could probably start a research project dedicated to this question and study it in depth, but in short, if you have a car that is not old enough to be a “classic” but not new enough to be considered by the Most people for it is worth keeping comprehensive coverage, tread cautiously in the world of auto insurance.

Insurance companies will be quick to total an old car rather than repair it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some tried to reduce your coverage once your vehicle has reached a certain age as well.

My general advice would be to check how your old car is covered and, most importantly, to determine how it is valued. Sometimes a car may be worth more to you than your insurer and if it is, you should figure out how to fix it. before you need to make a claim.


I like old cars. And even if I hadn’t, I can’t afford any new material anyway. I also prefer not to spend a lot of money on maintenance, I am not really a great mechanic, so I usually have to go easy on my gear to make it last.

It has worked pretty well for me so far. Give it a shot. Don’t let good cars go to the first graves!


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