With David Muhlbaum, Kiplinger’s online editor and resident car expert
Knowing how to take care of your car can prolong its life and save you money.
David Muhlbaum is the online editor for Kiplinger magazine, covering business forecasting and taxes along with the unusual subject of car maintenance for which, as he says, his degree in American literature qualified him not one bit.
Your car manual and your mechanic are your 2 best friends…for the first 100,000 miles.
David’s advice for keeping your car running in optimal condition for the first 100,000 miles is simple: pay attention to the maintenance schedule as stated in your car’s manual and find a good mechanic.
Very close to or just after hitting the 100,000 mark, David encourages you to check the health of the timing belt and related parts which, if not attended to in time, can result in a multi-thousand-dollar replacement bill.
Getting to that second 100,000 miles.
After your car exceeds 100,000 miles, your manual won’t be of much help, so that’s the time your trusted mechanic and your diligence will pay off if you want to ride your vehicle all the way to the 200,000-mile marker. During this phase, David says it’s imperative to be proactive with your own maintenance schedule and, this being the technology age, there’s usually a Youtube video to answer and help diagnose any issue you might have.
Make a checklist and check often.
Monitoring your car’s condition is somewhat like knowing your own body: Your car has a certain sound, a certain feel, so any change should be a red flag to take notice, and David says to use your senses as a guide:
Do you hear a rattle?
Do you see a stain from underneath when you pull out?
Is there a strange smell coming from the engine?
Are your lights including turn signals working?
Paying attention to these warning signs can save you time and money.
How and when to change the oil.
Contrary to the standard concept of changing the oil every 3,000 miles, David explains it’s more important to do so according to the instructions in your owner’s manual
And although we’re hardly talking about whether to use extra-virgin olive oil from Italy or Spain for your salad, the decision between using synthetic (which is better, but more expensive) or standard oil will most likely be determined by price. The important thing is to remember to stay on schedule with your oil changes.
Say “no” to short trips.
David explains “That fuel contains water and some of that water will get into your car’s oil and exhaust system every time the engine runs. On a longer trip, the car’s engine gets hot and burns that unburnt fuel and other contaminants out of the oil, out of the engine, out of the exhaust. That’s a good thing that it’s gone”
So no “stop and go” jaunts if you want to extend the life of your car.
If 50 is the new 30 in our youth-oriented culture, then David Muhlbaum sees no reason why 200,000 can’t be the new 100,000 for the life of your car.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: David Muhlbaum has written for the Dow Jones Newswires, America Online, Market Watch and is now online editor for Kiplinger magazine. He also writes about cars and car maintenance and as he said for which his degree in American Literature from Middlebury College qualifies him not one bit. I said, “Who better to help us get your car to two hundred thousand miles or more.” Welcome back to the show, David.
David Muhlbaum: A pleasure to be here. Would it help if I told you my word was wheel?
Steve Pomeranz: Was wheel? No, I didn’t know that. That really was your first word? Wow.
David Muhlbaum: According to my parents.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, I think that that establishes you as an expert. The average age of cars on the road today is higher than ever. It’s over eleven years old. Once you hit that milestone of a hundred thousand miles, I think the trick is, how do you get another hundred thousand miles out of it. Take us through some ways that we can attempt to do this.
David Muhlbaum: Sure, of course, regular maintenance is no surprise. That’s the key point. Looking at that owner’s manual, knowing that maintenance schedule, and following it. One big thing for many cars around a hundred-thousand-mile mark or a little bit before is that the timing belt and some associated parts often need to be replaced. That’s a really critical one, because on many cars if the timing belt goes, it’s pretty much the end of the engine. What was a thousand-dollar maintenance is a multi-thousand-dollar replacement.
Steve Pomeranz: Regular maintenance is extremely important and in the early years you’re saying it’s the timing belt. When you get past a hundred thousand miles it seems to me there’s going to be some other … How many parts does an engine really have? It’s thousands right?
David Muhlbaum: Thousands but you don’t have to replace every one of them, thankfully. A lot of car maintenance schedules that I just referred to, a lot of times once they get past a hundred or a hundred fifty thousand miles it’s sort of like shampoo, lather, rinse, repeat. You might just have, “Oh, look, oil change again. Oil change again.” The fact is after a hundred thousand miles certain things are going to need to be replaced. You with your mechanic might want to take a proactive look and think, “You know this wasn’t specified on the maintenance schedule, but maybe we want to do it, just in case.”
Steve Pomeranz: What is the benefit of having, building your own maintenance schedule with a certified mechanic because I think after a certain amount of miles the car manual doesn’t really address it anymore.
David Muhlbaum: Right, you want to find someone you trust because Lord knows there’s enough service desks out there selling stuff that you don’t need. One of the gems of the internet is that there’s a car forum out there for just about every car on the planet. With a little help from what a friend of mine refers to as, “YouTube You” you can find out a whole lot about what people who have your car, think are the important things to address. Then bring those up with your mechanic.
Steve Pomeranz: You’re right that you want to use your senses. Your sense of sight. Your sense of sound and smell. In what ways would you use your senses to anticipate or to recognize certain problems you may be having?
David Muhlbaum: Many people say, “Oh well, I’m not a car guy or girl. I don’t really think about these things.” You still have, you’ve got a nose, you’ve got eyes, you’ve got ears. What you want to use those for is to know what the baselines are and look for something that is uncommon, out of place.
Look under the car from time to time. Do you see a drip there on the floor that wasn’t there before? Does it smell funny or usually what people notice is, does it sound funny? Do I hear a rattle? When does the rattle happen? Does it happen when I shift into reverse? Does it happen when I push the brake, the gas et cetera? The better you are at paying attention to your car in those ways, the earlier you might find problems that could be expensive. The better you will be at explaining them or explaining what you’re experiencing to your mechanic.
Steve Pomeranz: You wrote in one of your articles that a good idea would be every time you pull out of a parking space is take a look behind and see whether there’s anything left on the ground there. If you suspect there is then maybe place some cardboard down. Let’s say you’re in your garage; drive your car on top of it and then you can see, perhaps, location-ally, where a drip might be occurring. That’s an easy thing to do and also do a pre-flight check at least once a week to make sure things are in order. Walk around your car. Have your kids step on the brake and see if the lights come one. These are typical things that we take a lot for granted. I think your sense of smell, right? If things smell funky or small a little burning when you pull out the dipstick, tell us a little about that.
David Muhlbaum: The dipstick I’m referring to is generally the automatic transmission dipstick. Fewer cars have that nowadays, more transmissions are sealed. However, you can tell something if you have one. My ten-year- old Toyota has this feature; it does have a dipstick for the automatic transmission. You can give that fluid a sniff. You can smell if it’s burned. You can actually look at it and see it’s color and condition. It could tell you something about whether it needs to be replaced.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay, that’s kind of smart. Smell, sound, sight. Be aware, listen if you start to hear a rattle or something that sounds unusual. Don’t turn the radio up to cover it. Actually pay attention. Pay attention.
I like this one too. Say no to short trips. Why is a short trip so bad for your car?
David Muhlbaum: Yes, this one is close to an obsession for me I think much to the chagrin of my wife, to whom I always say, “No, no, take the car that is warm.” Here’s the thing: Every time you turn on the car with a gas engine, you burn fuel. That fuel contains water and some of that water will get into your car’s oil and exhaust system every time the engine runs. On a longer trip, the car’s engine gets hot and it burns that unburnt fuel and other contaminants out of the oil, out of the engine, out of the exhaust. That’s a good thing that it’s gone. A short trip won’t do that and eventually that oil gets sludgy. Basically, it’s harder on a car to go lots of little short trips then a nice long car trip.
Steve Pomeranz: One example you used in your article is if you park your car outside of your garage overnight, then in the morning you want to move it into the garage. That’s really bad for your car to start it up, move it a few feet and turn it off, right?
David Muhlbaum: Right or to shuffle the order of the cars in the driveway or that sort of thing.
Steve Pomeranz: You also told the story about this person who only had three miles to go every day to work so he would take the extra-long route to get to work. I happen to think that’s a little over the top.
David Muhlbaum: That may be a little obsessive, but if you can combine your trips, you can think of a second place to stop or if you can delay a trip until you have multiple things together. That adds up, that can definitely make your car last longer.
Steve Pomeranz: I remember we were talking about getting a car over the one hundred-thousand-mile mark to the two-hundred-thousand-mile mark, so you’re going to have to be a bit obsessed anyway and really be paying attention because that’s a special accomplishment, right?
David Muhlbaum: Right. I think that if fifty is the new thirty then two hundred is the new one hundred or something like that.
Steve Pomeranz: All right. My guest is David Muhlbaum. He’s the online editor for Kiplinger magazine, and he writes about all things financial but one of his most favorite topics is the car business or how to maintain your car. That’s what we’re talking about. How to get your car to the two hundred-thousand-mile mark.
What about the use of oil? This is our last topic we’ll talk about in this segment. Should I be looking at regular oil or synthetic oil?
David Muhlbaum: Number one, you should be doing what your owner’s manual says. Changing the oil at the intervals according to your owner’s manual. Nothing gets people, at least, car heads, more fired up about which oil to use, but it’s a little bit like brushing your teeth. It’s not really so much the toothpaste; it’s that you do it at all; so change the oil.
Once we reach that level, more and more cars are specifying synthetic oil. Synthetic oil is no doubt better. The question is the price point. You’ll pay more than twice as much.
Steve Pomeranz: Is it worth it, especially if you’re changing every three thousand?
David Muhlbaum: First of all, I would not be changing every three thousand, that’s out of the ad campaign of certain service locations. I would just say follow what’s in the owner’s manual. It could be considerably higher, and some cars now have sensors that will tell you when to change the oil based on how many trips you’ve taken, how many short trips you’ve taken, for example.
Steve Pomeranz: I guess the question really is, if you’re using synthetic oil that’s twice as expensive, do you get to extend the time between oil changes?
David Muhlbaum: That comes down to the question of whose warranty do you trust? Most car makers will tell you to stay or will not just tell you, the warranty requires you to stay with the service interval that they’ve specified.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, having said that, is it worth—if I’m not going to save money by extending the change of oil—is it worth it to use synthetic versus standard oil? Quickly, your answer.
David Muhlbaum: I think so for peace of mind because you know it’s better and you can rely, if you choose to, on the warranty extended by your synthetic oil maker.
Steve Pomeranz: There you go. My guest, David Muhlbaum from Kiplinger.com. Talking about how to get that car from one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand miles, and to hear more about this and to hear the rest of the story, don’t forget to come to our website which is StevePomeranz.com that’s Pomeranz, StevePomeranz.com. Hey, David, thanks so much for joining me.
David Muhlbaum: My pleasure.