Five Ways To Make Your Old Car Feel Like New

No one is buying a new car anymore, it seems. Unless you pay cash, no one's going to lend you any money, so keep your old car. Of course, I'm talking from the point of view of a repair shop, so keep the source in mind. Working at the front counter, I talk to customers often about their plans for their vehicle, how long they plan to keep it, what level of comittment they have to keeping it running. I ask these questions because it helps me recommend work to them based on our observations of the particular vehicle, our experience with similar vehicles, and the level of seriousness of their current problem(s). I have noticed over the past several years that the customers plans have extended from an average of 3 to 5 years, to well over 8 to 10 years and beyond. The question I've been hearing more and more often is "What can I do to make it ride better?", as people are moving beyond just wanting it to last without falling apart, but wanting to enjoy keeping their vehicle. Having seen lots of cars worth keeping well over 100,000 miles, as well as those whose owners have no choice but to keep them, we've compiled a list of ways to make that older car feel like it used to when it was new.

Change all the fluids, even those you forgot about

When was the last time you flushed your power steering fluid? Chances are, you didn't even know that was supposed to be done. Power steering fluid is petroleum based, with certain additives, and like any petroleum product will break down and lose effectiveness over time. Power steering parts include hoses, a pump, several seals, and many moving parts and metal parts and rubber parts, all of which rely on lubrication from the power steering fluid. Flush the power steering fluid and add some extra boost to it, such as Lucas Power Steering Tune-Up, to give your older system a little more help.

Flush your brake fluid - you should be doing this every other year anyway. Again, the system has a pump, hoses, seals, moving parts, metal parts and rubber parts, and all rely on lubrication and the presence of the fluid to function. Over time, the fluid becomes contaminated with air, rubber particles, metal particles, and loses its effectiveness, and we all know what that means. It's your BRAKES. Your BRAKES! The things that keep you from crashing into other things. Brake fluid is cheap, most places will flush it for around $70 including parts and labor, so put fresh fluid in your brake system every other year.

Then there are the things you already know about - your motor oil, your transmission oil, your antifreeze, your differential fluid. You should be doing that anyway, but definitely pay attention to your intervals even more closely when you hit 100K.

Straighten or replace your wheels

You have forgotten how your car used to ride. Gradually, over time, your wheels have taken a lot of shock and have shown the evidence of wear and tear. Alloy wheels are somewhat soft and will give in places, and balancing your tires often compensates for a good bit of that, but the subtle differences will all add up to a lower quality ride.

Call a service that straightens and welds wheels, and have them straighten and fix all the little ouchies and boo-boos on your wheels, then have your tires re-mounted and have everything balanced by a shop that does road force (rolling resistance) balancing. You won't believe the difference this will make in the quality of the ride and the comfort over all kinds of surfaces.

We recommend a local service that has has a mobile unit which will come to you and do the work while you are at work or home. Ask us at the front counter if you want their number.

De-odorize your air conditioning

I bet you didn't even know you could do this. Know what it is like, when you've come out of springtime, and you get that first shock of a hot day, and you turn your air conditioning on, and you get blasted with that smell of mold and chemicals? Yeah, it might give you a brief feeling of nostalgia, but you don't have to experience it that way. Find a place (us, or a detail shop) that does de-odorizing of the a/c system.

The vents, cabin air filter (if equipped), and vacuum system get cleaned, mold killed, and a pleasant smell emitted in its place. The drain tubes (bet you didn't know you had those, either) get unclogged (they are clogged, I promise), cleaned and disinfected, and deodorized. Want a cheap way to do it yourself? Find where your cabin air filter is, change it yourself, and spray it down with Febreeze before you put it in. Then start your air conditioning, and spray a disinfectant into your cabin air intake (usually located at the cowling) until you can smell the disinfectant in the cabin of your car.

You can also unclog the drain tubes yourself, you just need to find them. Wear rubber gloves for this, trust me. That buildup of mold, rust, outside contaminants, allergens, and other airborne ickiness is what gives your car that old-car smell. You can go a long way if you can de-odorize it by having it suck in fresher air into a fresher system.

Again, considering I'm writing to you from the front counter of a repair shop, we can do all this for you if you'd rather not deal with mold, dead bug parts, rotted leaves, and general icky poo that is waiting for you (and that you are now breathing every time your A/C is on). Just sayin'.

Replace your struts/shocks and ball joints, front end bushings and related parts (as equipped)

Save up and take the plunge and do this all at once. I know, nothing is broken, I know, they seem fine, I know, it's expensive, but you won't believe what this will do for the way the car handles. Your safety, your comfort, and your love of the ride will improve. Tightening all these items up adds up big. You won't believe it the next time you get in the car and you find your stopping distance has SERIOUSLY decreased, you are stopping smoother and with less effort, and with less noise and rocking back and forth. You won't believe how gentle you can be on the accelerator pedal and have the car respond better than you ever remember. You won't believe how suddenly it seems like you have a tighter turning radius (you don't actually, it just feels so much smoother that you turn with more confidence), and the car throws you around less when you turn hard or turn at a faster speed. For less effort, and less wear and tear on all the moving parts, your car will stop better, accellerate better, turn better, and overall ride better.

Some vehicles are also equipped with what may be called sway bar links, stabilizer bar links, end links, rack bushings, and other cushion-y type small parts that all assist the vehicle in reducing side-to-side body roll in turns, add a little bit of cushioning and quicker recovery over bumps, and reduce front-end noise. You'll save on labor if you do those all at once.

For most vehicles equipped with struts, bushings, ball joints, and related parts, this repair will probably be around $1000. It varies by vehicle and how the vehicle was equipped. Stop by for a price quote on your particular vehicle. Again, this is tough to swallow, but you won't believe the difference if you are committing to keeping your car for the next several years.

Replace your catalytic converter(s), oxygen sensor(s), and muffler(s)

Again, do it all at once. I'll give you an example. I have an SUV with 4 oxygen sensors, 3 catalytic converters, 2 turtle doves, and one muffler. After having to constantly battle the check engine light starting somewhere around 100K, and fighting the diagnosis that I needed oxygen sensors, I put it off for a while. Sure, you can run an emissions system cleaning and keep putting it off. Or, you can just replace the oxygen sensors that your check engine light is whining about. But that won't solve your problem. Remember a couple of years ago when gas went up to $5 a gallon? And all the manufacturers started thinning the gas with ethanol? Well, many of our vehicles (my 10-year-old SUV included) were not designed to handle the ethanol and all the impurities present in the cheaper gas they are selling now. More non-gas stuff in your gasoline will not easily be burned by your pre-ethanol vehicle, unburnt stuff causes buildup, buildup will keep building up in your system, and as your catalytic converter(s) start to deteriorate, they start to break down, parts start to peel off, and travel downstream into your muffler where they remain trapped in the sound chambers. Forever. To clog the system.

No engine can have the power it once had if it is pushing out exhaust through narrowing pipes. Think about your heart and your arteries. No matter how hard your heart pumps, if your arteries are closing in, you won't get the benefit of strongly pumping blood. Same with your exhaust system.

Your engine wants to be powerful and efficient. Clog it up, and don't let the waste (exhaust) out, leave the exhaust to just putt-putt on out of there, and you lose power and efficiency. Your oxygen sensors will always read wrong because of the contamination of the backing up exhaust, and so the engine will always think the fuel flow is wrong, and will keep dumping fuel, and how you liking that when it's $5/gallon gas?

So, anyway, back to me. After fighting what I knew I should do for a year and a half, I took the plunge and replaced it all at once. Immediately, on my first trip, I saw a difference. I have a relative on the other side of the state. Usually I could leave my town on a full tank of gas, travel to his town, drive around a little, and be two-thirds of the way back before I needed to fill up for gas again. Right after giving my exhaust system all new oxygen sensors, catalytic converters and muffler, the very next trip I went to see him, drove around, went back home, and had a quarter of a tank of gas left in the tank when I got home. Since then, since I have been preaching this and showing customers the difference, the ones that have taken my advice have seen the same results. You just get a buildup in your exhaust system over time, it just makes sense, and cleaning it is not enough. Replace it and you will find your engine runs cooler, runs faster, runs better, is far more efficient, and you will save money.

(Kidding about the turtle doves. Has anyone even seen one before? But I meant it about the other stuff.)

While it is true that I have an interest in you keeping your car longer, I also want you to be happy with your car. The more you like it, the better that is for me. If I give you bad advice, you won't be back to see me, so I am careful about the advice I give. And if you are stuck with your car and have to keep it, you might as well enjoy the ride. These are the best ways I can think of, and that I can prove, will most improve your enjoyment of your older car.

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