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NerdWallet: Can you make your car last 200,000 miles? You can, and you should

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

You typically change cars every few years, but with economic uncertainty looming, you’re thinking you should look for ways to save money.

Look no further than that car already in your driveway.

Keeping your car running longer, and avoiding a car payment and higher insurance premiums, could be a financial life preserver during the coming years. Your car is up to the task — these days cars can last for 200,000 miles or more, says David Bennett, AAA’s manager of repair systems.

“It really comes down to the maintenance and care for the vehicle — and maybe a little bit of luck,” Bennett says.

But pushing your car to 100,000 miles and beyond requires a different mind-set, too. Your goal: Keep the car feeling new as long as possible and learn how to deal with the aches and pains and charms of a not-new vehicle.

Also see: The new world of car-buying: Remote negotiation, home delivery and no-touch test drives

Bennett recommends following your vehicle’s maintenance schedule and building a relationship with a repair facility or mechanic you trust.

Here are other the steps experts recommend to keep your car humming for a long, long time:

Understand required maintenance

Modern cars have computer systems to track how many miles you’ve driven and illuminate a light — often an icon of a wrench — on your gauge cluster when service is needed, Bennett explains. This light most often illuminates when you need an oil and filter change and tire rotation.

See: The road to riches is this simple: Drive a crappy car

But at longer intervals, more maintenance is needed, which can be costly. Rather than blindly accepting the recommendations of a dealership service adviser, who often tacks on extra repair items, find out exactly what’s required by reviewing your maintenance schedule.

Easier than cracking the owner’s manual, which is confusing to many car owners, is checking your car’s required maintenance on the CarMD Garage, says David Rich, the company’s technical director. Not only will this help you budget for maintenance but the information will “allow you to speak with confidence to a mechanic.”

Keep up on fluids and wear items

In addition to oil and filter changes, Bennett says, other fluids need changing at regular intervals, especially as your car motors past the 100,000-mile mark. Brake, power steering and transmission fluids, as well as coolant, should be changed on schedule. However, carmakers are stretching those fluid replacement intervals in modern cars.

It’s also smart to ask your mechanic to keep an eye on brake pad thickness, says Bennett. If you get enough warning about a required brake service, you can budget for it ahead of time. Then, get it done next time you come in for an oil change. Rotating your tires regularly will make sure the tread wears evenly and postpone the need for expensive tire replacement.

Get ahead of a breakdown

Maintenance is cheaper than repairs. So don’t let developing mechanical problems go unaddressed, says Rich.

Innova Electronics, CarMD’s sister company, sells an inexpensive device that plugs into your car’s computer, via the onboard diagnostics port, and wirelessly sends alerts to your smartphone when service is needed. CarMD and Innova use data from 500 million vehicle inspections to predict what might go wrong with your car.

“Predictive diagnostics,” Rich says, is a “forward view of problems that could come up in the next 15,000 miles of driving.” Early inspection and replacement of a key component “could keep you from being stranded by the side of the road.”

Do the little things yourself

A great way to save money, and time, is to perform some basic maintenance tasks.

For example, changing the windshield wipers takes only a few minutes and is an important safety feature. Another easy task is replacing the cabin air filter. Two minutes on YouTube can turn up a step-by-step video showing you how. Innova’s site has online DIY videos, rated by difficulty level, and connects with Amazon to help you buy the right parts.

Keep your car looking young

If you’re going to keep your car a long time, you’ll want it to age gracefully. This will be a boost to your morale and will motivate you to give it the care it deserves. Here’s what Bennett recommends to keep the exterior fresh:

  • Give it a bath. Even during the winter, rinse off your car regularly to prevent paint wear, and remember to spray the undercarriage, too. Remove bugs, tree sap and bird poop that can eat through the paint.
  • Wax on. Yes, there’s a clear-coat layer, but even that needs protection with a twice-a-year wax job.
  • Care for the armor. Touch-up paint is inexpensive and, properly applied, can prevent a paint chip from starting a rust spot.
  • See clearly. Some insurance companies will pay for a replacement of a windshield that is cracked or chipped. This is important for proper visibility, but the windshield also adds to the structural integrity of the car.

Inside, you’ll need to:

  • Catch spills early. Wipe up spills as soon as they happen or they’ll become harder to remove. Avoid strong cleaners, such as bleach, that could damage the fabric.
  • Shampoo seats and carpets. Steam cleaning, or even a DIY shampoo, will make your car smell and look newer.
  • Vacuum often. This is a small step with big results. Buying an inexpensive car vacuum makes it easier to spot-clean your car and saves money in the long run. You’ll be glad you took the extra effort each time you slide into the driver’s seat.
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Philip Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: articles@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AutoReed.