How can I make my car last 20 years?

Quick Answers

To make your car last 20 years, the most important things are:

  • Follow the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual – don’t skip oil changes, tune-ups, etc.
  • Use high quality fluids like oil, coolant, transmission fluid.
  • Fix small problems before they become big ones.
  • Keep it clean inside and out to prevent corrosion.
  • Drive gently – avoid jackrabbit starts and hard braking.
  • Keep it garaged or covered when not in use.
  • Inspect hoses, belts, tires, brakes regularly.
  • Consider having a professional detail it once a year.
  • Repair dings, chips, scratches in the paint to prevent rust.
  • Replace worn parts like shocks, tie rod ends before they fail.

Following the recommended maintenance and being vigilant about fixing even minor issues will give you the best chance at keeping your car running for 20 years or more. Modern cars are built quite well and can last a long time if properly cared for.

How Often Should You Change the Oil?

One of the most important maintenance tasks to keep your car lasting for 20 years is regular oil changes. Here are some tips:

  • Always follow the oil change interval recommended in your owner’s manual.
  • For most modern cars this is every 5,000-10,000 miles or 6 months-1 year.
  • Synthetic oil can allow for longer change intervals of 7,500-10,000 miles.
  • Short trips and stop-and-go driving will require more frequent changes.
  • Use the oil viscosity and rating listed in your manual for your climate.
  • Higher mileage vehicles may need changes more often than specified.
  • Be sure to replace the oil filter each time the oil is changed.
  • Check oil level regularly and top off if needed between changes.

Sticking diligently to the factory recommended oil change schedule is your best bet for hitting the 20 year mark. Don’t skimp on oil changes to save money or you risk engine wear and damage down the road.

What Type of Oil Should I Use?

Using the right motor oil will help your engine stay protected and last for years:

  • For most cars, a standard conventional oil is sufficient, look for the API “Donut” with the proper rating.
  • Full synthetic oil provides the most protection and can improve fuel economy.
  • Synthetic blend oils are a compromise between full synthetic and conventional.
  • Use the viscosity grade specified in your owner’s manual – i.e. 5W-30, 10W-40 etc.
  • Oils with the API SN Plus rating meet the newest gasoline engine standards.
  • Look for oils that say “Resource Conserving” for improved fuel economy.
  • Premium brands like Mobil 1, Castrol, Shell and Valvoline are good choices.
  • Avoid discount brands whose quality may be suspect – don’t risk it.

Using the manufacturer recommended motor oil will give you the best reliability and performance over the years. It’s not worth chancing engine damage by using a lesser oil to save a few dollars.

How Can I Tell If My Oil Needs Changing?

Here are signs that your oil has broken down and it’s time for a change:

  • The oil has become dark black and opaque – it should be honey colored when fresh.
  • The oil smells burnt or pungent – a sign of excess heat breaking it down.
  • There is sludge or contaminants visible on the dipstick.
  • The oil level on the dipstick is going down – sign of oil burning.
  • The engine starts making odd noises like ticking or rattling.
  • You’ve reached the mileage or time interval for changes listed in the manual.
  • The check oil light comes on while the engine is running.

Oil change intervals aren’t just an arbitrary number – old oil actually degrades and provides decreased protection for your engine over time and miles. Stick to the recommended intervals and your car will last for the long haul.

Should I Use Synthetic Oil?

Synthetic oil offers advantages over conventional oil that can prolong engine life:

  • Full synthetic flows better when cold providing faster protection at startup.
  • It maintains viscosity and resists breakdown better at high temperatures.
  • Synthetics have lower volatility meaning less gets burned off.
  • Containers detergents to keep engine internals very clean.
  • Unlikely to form sludge that can clog small passages.
  • Synthetic change intervals can be extended up to 10,000 miles.
  • Helps turbocharged and high performance engines last longer.
  • Improves fuel economy compared to regular oil.

The drawbacks of synthetic oil are the higher cost and potential seal swelling issues on very high mileage engines. Overall, synthetic oils are recommended for their ability to optimize engine performance and longevity. The extra cost is worth it over 20 years.

What’s the Best Oil Filter?

Don’t neglect the oil filter when doing an oil change, a good quality filter is key:

  • Use the factory oil filter or equivalent – don’t go cheap here.
  • OEM filters are engineered to precise specifications for your engine.
  • Aftermarket brands like Purolator, Fram and Wix also make top filters.
  • A good filter has a steel case for durability and pressure resistance.
  • Make sure the gasket seals properly or oil can leak.
  • The filter should have ample capacity – at least 28 grams of media.
  • Change the filter every time you change the oil – no exceptions.

Pay close attention when changing the filter – improper installation can cause leaks or oil pressure problems. Tighten it just enough by hand – no tools are needed.

How Can I Prolong My Transmission?

The transmission is often the most expensive component to replace, so you want to care for it:

  • Use the transmission fluid specified in your owner’s manual.
  • Change fluid and filter according to maintenance schedule – around 50,000 miles.
  • If using a transmission shop, verify they use a new filter.
  • Consider annual drain-and-refill of fluid instead of complete flush changes.
  • Watch for leaks and repair promptly to prevent damage.
  • Tight spots or gear slippage indicate worn transmission – fix early.
  • Listen for odd noises in neutral or shifting between gears.
  • Install an auxiliary transmission cooler if towing or heavy load use.

Proper maintenance and avoidance of abuse will optimize the longevity of your automatic or manual transmission. Diagnose issues promptly to avoid catastrophic failures.

What Fluids Should I Check?

In addition to oil and transmission fluid, be diligent about checking these other fluids:

  • Coolant – Check overflow tank level monthly, change every 2-4 years.
  • Brake fluid – Check level in reservoir, change every 2-3 years.
  • Power steering fluid – Check dipstick, change when dirty.
  • Washer fluid – Keep full for cleaning and safety.
  • Fuel additives – Use fuel system cleaner and stabilizer periodically.
  • Differential gear oil – Check annually, change when dirty.

Letting these fluids get too low will cause rapid wear and failure of expensive parts. Reference the maintenance schedule for change intervals.

What Maintenance is Needed for 20 Years?

Here is a summary of the key maintenance needed for 20 year vehicle longevity:

Maintenance Item Interval
Oil and filter change 5,000 – 10,000 miles
Tune up – spark plugs, wires, caps, etc 60,000 – 100,000 miles
Air filter inspection/change Annually or 15,000 miles
Coolant flush 4-6 years
Transmission fluid/filter change 50,000 miles
Power steering flush 3 years
Brake fluid flush 2-3 years
Tires rotated/balanced Every 5,000 miles

Use this maintenance table as a guide for your specific vehicle. Severe use may require more frequent servicing of some items.

What Parts Wear Out?

These are the parts most likely to wear out and need replacement when keeping a car for 20 years:

  • Tires – Most last 30,000-50,000 miles
  • Brake pads and rotors – Replace pads often, rotors 60,000 miles
  • Shocks and struts – Life is 50,000-75,000 miles
  • Catalytic converter – Lasts up to 120,000 miles
  • Timing belt – Critical, replace at 60,000-90,000 mile interval
  • Hoses – Coolant and vacuum hoses age and crack eventually
  • U-joints – Grease regularly, replace if noisy or binding

Keep an eye on these parts and replace as necessary before failure. Catching wear early keeps costs down and avoids getting stranded.

How Can I Protect the Paint and Body?

Keeping your paint and body in excellent shape will keep rust at bay:

  • Wash regularly using the two bucket method – one for soapsuds, one for rinsing.
  • Wax the paint twice per year to protect from UV rays.
  • Inspect paint for chips and touch up as needed.
  • Check under car for rust – sand and paint to prevent spread.
  • Clean door jambs and underbody where dirt collects.
  • Store indoors or under a cover when possible.
  • Have acrylic sealant applied annually to protect painted surfaces.
  • Consider an annual professional detailing.

A well maintained exterior keeps your car looking great and stops rust that can shorten its life. Address any minor paint damage right away.

What Auto Repairs Should I Avoid Delaying?

Here are some important repairs that shouldn’t be postponed if you want maximum car longevity:

  • Leaking fluids – can lead to overheating or engine damage.
  • Steering and suspension noises – indicate worn parts like tie rods or ball joints.
  • Vibrations – from wheels, driveline etc signal potentially serious issues.
  • Brake problems – neglect invites caliper, pad or rotor damage.
  • Check engine light – emissions codes reveal problems needing attention.
  • Electrical gremlins – small issues can become major down the road.

Waiting to fix these common problems is asking for more significant (and costly) repairs later on. Be proactive to maximize your car’s longevity.

How Can I Stop Rust and Corrosion?

Rust shortens a vehicle’s life span significantly. Here is how to prevent it:

  • Wash regularly to remove corrosive salt, dirt and debris.
  • Touch up paint chips and scratches immediately.
  • Treat the underbody yearly with rustproofing sprays/coatings.
  • Check under floor mats for dampness from snow or leaks.
  • Replace deteriorating rubber parts like body seals and exhaust hangers.
  • Keep drain holes clear so water doesn’t pool.
  • Avoid using de-icers on paint and leaving snow packed in wheel wells.
  • Store in a dry garage, under a car cover, or parked on gravel.

Once rust sets in, it weakens metal and spreads quickly. Stay vigilant about prevention and treatment to gain more years before corrosion claims your car.

What Books And Records Should I Keep?

Keeping excellent maintenance records will help you keep your car running past the 20 year mark:

  • Owner’s manual – reference for recommended upkeep.
  • Receipts – provides proof the work was done properly.
  • Maintenance log – track oil changes, repairs, part replacements.
  • Shop invoices – documents service work details.
  • Mileage log – monitors business, personal and total miles.
  • Repair estimates – useful bargaining chip at shops.
  • Modifications – list upgrades, accessories added.
  • Fuel and trip log – monitors economy and usage.

Complete records allow spotting maintenance trends early and forecasting future needs. This helps maximize longevity for 20 years and beyond. Digitize your records for easy access anytime.

How Can I Find a Skilled Mechanic?

Having a trusted mechanic is key to keeping your car running for 20 years:

  • Get personal referrals from satisfied auto owners.
  • Look for ASE Blue Seal of Excellence recognition.
  • Find a mechanic who specializes in your vehicle make.
  • Dealerships often have the most technical training.
  • Ask about certification and recent training.
  • Inquire about their diagnostic resources and capabilities.
  • Review online reputation and Better Business Bureau.
  • A smaller independent shop may provide more personalized service.

Take time to thoroughly vet shops before taking your vehicle in for critical work. A great mechanic you can build long term trust with is invaluable.


It is certainly possible to get 20 years and more from your car if you are meticulous about maintenance, make repairs quickly, use quality parts and fluids, and take preventive steps to reduce wear and corrosion. Driving gently also contributes by reducing strain on components. By following the tips in this article, your car should reward you with decades of reliable transportation. Keeping up with the recommended maintenance schedule, addressing issues promptly, protecting the body and interior, and keeping records will maximize the lifespan and value of your vehicle. With some care and dedication, hitting that 20 year milestone is an achievable goal.

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