Going that extra mile

Going that extra mile

Americans are choosing maintenance and repairs over purchasing new vehicles

By Jennifer Hadley 02/12/2009

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I’m all for stimulating the economy. Go economy! Three cheers for the economy! Indeed, I’m more than happy to do my meager part to help in this effort by going out to eat, seeing movies and shopping (to the pathetic extent I can afford to). But I’m neither willing nor able to help out the economy by purchasing a new car, and from the looks of things, I’m not alone.

Last week’s report showing that car sales in January were at their worst levels since 1982 seems to point to a trend in consumers holding onto their cars longer. Instead of trading up — as we Californians especially were wont to do every few years — industry experts (I’m not claiming to be one myself) predict that most Americans will opt to hold onto their current cars longer, choosing maintenance and repairs over purchasing new vehicles.

As I will certainly be holding onto the Xterra for at least the next several years, I decided I had better make sure I’m doing everything I can to keep that baby running. The only problem with this is that I have absolutely no knowledge of how cars work, even though I was a moderately successful car salesperson many years ago. Scary, right? So, I turned to my favorite source of car advice, brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of “Car Talk” (10 a.m. Sundays on NPR). These guys definitely seem to know what they’re talking about, and they make me laugh to boot, something I think we all need these days, almost as much as California needs need an economic miracle.

Sure enough, when I went to the “Car Talk” Web site, cartalk.com, right there on the homepage is a link to 14 tips for keeping your car running forever. Most of the tips were pretty obvious, even to a simpleton like me (change your oil regularly, take care of problems when they arise, pay attention to warning lights, have regular maintenance done and drive your car gently). Two were just plain ridiculous: (Find a mechanic you trust? Puh-leaze. I’ve got sucker written all over me. Don’t drive? Hello, this is Southern California!). But there were several tips I found pretty insightful.

Tom and Ray (aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers) advise against making unneeded short trips. Apparently the car never gets properly warmed up, so it doesn’t operate at its optimum level. There’s a technical explanation on the site as to why this is, but frankly, I don’t care. To me, this just means that if I can’t walk to the store for my lottery ticket, I’ll just have to forgo it that day.

The second tip that hadn’t occurred to me was to unload extra weight from my car. Apparently the extra weight puts pressure on the engine, much as extra weight puts stress on human organs. So I guess that means I shouldn’t be driving around with a dining room table in my back seat. Got it. Unfortunately for me, Tom and Ray also suggest that I could remove the unused ski rack affixed to the top of the Xterra, reducing drag. But there’s just no way I’m about to about to open that can of worms; I figure I’ll just lose five pounds instead.

The last tip that I hadn’t considered was to discuss my long-term plans with my mechanic — meaning that since I plan to drive this car until my dying days, I should let my mechanic know. Tom and Ray think that if your mechanic knows you plan to keep the car for the long haul, they’ll spend more time looking at the big picture, rather than just the task at hand, like changing the oil. I’m not sure I buy this, but maybe I will attempt to hold such a discussion — should I ever actually find my very own mechanic.

So there you have it: My grand plan to keep my car running forever. Or at the very least keep it running until one of those lotto tickets pays off, in which case I’ll hire a driver immediately. That way, I’ll be able to fully enjoy listening to Car Talk every Sunday without being distracted by other drivers, or trying to remember where I’m going … which, incidentally, will be out to eat or shop, or maybe even to buy a new car to help stimulate our economy.

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com.

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