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How to Make Your Car Last 200,000 Miles -- and Beyond

Last October, the odometer in Joe LoCicero's 1990 Honda Accord rolled past the 1 million-mile mark. He's a damage claims inspector who reportedly drives his Accord about 62,500 miles every year. Honda not only gave "Million Mile Joe" a new Accord, but organized a parade in his home town in Maine in honor of the milestone.

Not many of us will own a car long enough to drive it a million miles, since most of us drive our cars about 15,000 miles per year, according to AAA. But experts agree that basic maintenance can help you stretch your car to 200,000 miles and beyond.

Read Your Owner's Manual - and Follow it

Joe Malizia Sr., owner of Bel Air Fast Lube in Maryland, says the best thing you can do is read your owner's manual as soon as you bring your new car home, and find out what your car's maintenance schedule is, since keeping up with the recommended maintenance schedule can prolong your car's life significantly. It may seem like a hassle to have to visit your mechanic every few months, and some may lament the higher price of the premium gas that's recommended for their car. But following those simple directions can prevent unnecessary problems that will wear your car out prematurely.

John Lawlor, technical advisor at NPR's Car Talk, agrees, saying "the least-read book in the world is the owner's manual." He adds that not only is maintaining your oil and fluids important, but keeping your tires properly inflated to the owner's manual's specs is another important factor to keeping your car on the road. Though making regular visits to the mechanic for normal maintenance may seem like the expenses will add up quickly, you'll most often be saving yourself lots of money in expensive repairs down the road. Like Lawlor says, "It is the cheapskate who spends the most."

Get Personal With Your Car

Unless you're a gearhead, you probably won't know how to change your spark plugs, or what makes your electronic stability control system kick in. But knowing basics like how to check your oil level and paying attention to your car when something feels wrong could save you a big repair bill down the road, say both Malizia and Lawlor.

Malizia also says that it's very important to pay attention to your warning lights. Your vehicle's monitoring systems are there for a reason, and it's better to nip a problem in the bud rather than to let it escalate to catastrophic proportions that could keep you from reaching that 200,000-mile mark.

Lawlor says that one of the most important things you can do is keep your car clean. The paint on today's cars can be damaged by simple things like bird droppings, acid rain or sap. Always having a coat of wax on your car will prevent the paint from being damaged, which can keep the metal from rusting. Additionally, Lawlor says you should make sure you keep your interior clean. Dirt on your seats or dash can act like sandpaper, grinding into the surface every time you touch it.

Find a Mechanic You Can Trust

One of the best ways to ensure that your car is well taken-care of for the long haul is to find a mechanic you trust, Malizia says. We've all heard horror stories about garages charging unsuspecting customers for fictional "blinker fluid" problems, or going in to fix one problem and finding 15 more. But most technicians are honest and up-front, and building a relationship with a mechanic you trust will help you as you push your car past that 200,000-mile mark.

Lawlor suggests taking later-model cars to the dealership, especially if they're under warranty. The more recent the car's model year, the more complex it's likely to be, and dealership technicians undergo specific training so they know your car like the back of their hand. While the dealership is likely worth the money for newer models, Lawlor says that you'll be better off taking cars that are more than 10 years old to your local mom-and-pop repair shop. They'll know the basics of your car well enough to perform maintenance like changing the brake pads, but most won't charge you as much as a dealership might.

No matter how you take care of your car, accidents are bound to happen and mechanical failures may be beyond your control. Properly maintaining your car will keep it on the road longer and will get you a higher price when it's time to sell it or trade it in. Take it from Joe Malizia: The highest-mileage car he's seen in his shop is his own 1993 Ford Taurus SHO, which is still going strong after 19 years and 238,000 miles.

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