By CRISTIN REECE
We’re not getting any younger, and according to a couple of recent surveys, neither are our cars.
Data collected by automotive market research firm R.L. Polk & Co. and Experian Automotive’s first quarter 2012 Vehicles in Operation Analysis both reported earlier this month the average age of the 240.5 million cars and light trucks being driven in the U.S. rose to 10.8 years last year from 10.4 in the year before.
The average age of passenger cars rose to 11.1 years from 11 years at the end of June 2011, Polk said. The average age of pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles rose to 10.4 years from 10.1. Overall, average vehicle age has increased an entire year since 2006 and almost two years since 2000.
Analysts blame the recent recession for country’s aging fleet of transportation, but manufacturers attribute the auto industry’s ever-advancing technology and quality control for allowing them to build vehicles which operate at peak efficiency longer.
“Some of them do seem to last longer,” said Brian Owens, owner of J&B Auto and Truck service in Palestine. “We’re seeing a lot of mid to late ’90s models. Even cars made in the early 2000s don’t seem that old but that’s still 10 years or more. I think a lot of people just don’t want to pay that new-car price, especially for pick ups.”
Local auto technician Bubba Bankston, with Shaver Auto Sales and Service in Palestine, agrees with both reasons and adds one more to the list.
“For the most part, people drive what they like,” Bankston said. “Some people just like some of the older cars better. And certainly the economy plays a part in it — it’s usually cheaper to repair one than it is to buy a new one.”
Experian’s report stated, while not the best news for the new auto dealers, the change does give the aftermarket sector an opportunity to flourish.
“There are still plenty of people manufacturing aftermarket mechanical parts,” Bankston said. “So getting parts usually isn’t a problem.”
Sid Vance, vice president of Vance Bros. Auto Supply in Palestine, added, “I just ordered some parts for a ’57 model. Basic parts, like water pumps, alternators and stuff, are easy to find. Some of the older vehicles’ body parts — even up into some of the ’80s models — are getting harder to come by.”
Want to get more mileage out of your vehicle? Local automotive experts said it’s only a matter of maintenance.
“Just do regular maintenance — oil changes and the like — and take care of small problems before they become big problems,” Owens said.
Both Owens and Vance recommended adding certain chemical treatments to a vehicle’s fuel, like Lucas Oil Sea Foam or Techron fuel additive.
“The fuel these days just isn’t good for the engines,” Vance said. “The ethanol just eats a motor up.”
The website www.carcare.org, lists its top 10 tips for extending the life of any vehicle.
• Drive gently. While this may be the hardest thing to do for your car, it’s something that will pay huge dividends over the life of the vehicle. Adjusting your driving style to minimize wear and tear on your ride can not only give you a few more years of happy motoring, but it can also save you cash in repairs and replacement parts. It might take some of the fun out of driving, but accelerating gently from stop lights and stop signs, avoiding abrupt braking and completing smooth, non-aggressive turns all play a part in keeping your car in one piece and save you gasoline, too.
• Keep up with fluid changes. Checking on your vehicle’s fluids is paramount to its longevity. While some fluids like brake fluid, clutch fluid and coolant may not require attention as often as oil or transmission fluid, they’re just as important. Mark one day on your calendar each month to make sure all of your fluids are topped off. It’s quick, easy and can save you some serious repair dollars down the line. Of course, remember to change those fluids when your service manual requires it, too.
• Know what weather does to your car. Do what you can to protect your car from all types of weather. While a garage is the ideal storage solution for your investment, other options exist to protect your vehicle from the sun’s UV rays, drastic temperature changes, water and salt. Look into inexpensive options like car covers. Small steps like those can go a long way to preserve the appearance and head off rust before it can get started, saving you repair costs and keeping the resale value of your car high.
• Clean the interior. Excess dirt and grime can act like sand paper, creating unnecessary abrasion that can wear down upholstery and carpeting. Purchase a good set of floor mats if your vehicle didn’t come with them and vacuum your car on a regular basis. Keeping things tidy inside can keep you aware of problem spots inside, too, allowing you to get them repaired before they grow worse.
• Maintain the paint job. Your vehicle’s paint job primary job is to protect the car’s sheet metal from corrosion. Touch up any and all nicks before rust can get started and always make sure to wax your vehicle with a high quality product at least twice a year. Doing so will protect the vehicles clear coat and save the paint from fading over time. Also, be sure to use a recommended car wash solution. Paying extra for the good stuff now will come back to you in the form of resale value later.
• Flush the engine and top it up with mileage-appropriate fluids. As a vehicle ages, carbon deposits and grime form inside of the engine no matter how well you maintain it. Using a product like Sea Foam engine restorer or BG44K as recommended on the packaging can keep build up in check, improve fuel economy and restore lost power. Also, be sure use the appropriate fluids for your vehicle’s age and use high-mileage oil as your car grows older.
• Check on your tires and wheels. If your tires have worn unevenly or your wheels are unbalanced, vibration can cause excess stress on suspension components. Excess stress means extra trips to the mechanic and a hefty bill. Taking the time to keep your wheels clean can alert you to bent or damaged wheels and uneven tread, once again helping you to correct the problem before things get out of hand.
• Schedule checkups twice a year with a mechanic you trust. Regardless of how well you think you know your vehicle, a well-trained, trustworthy mechanic can spot things ahead of time that you might miss. Taking the time to schedule a check up with a good mechanic twice a year may seem obsessive, but preventative maintenance at the hands of a qualified professional is cheap insurance. Also, keep all the documentation; being able to provide a potential buyer with all of your service records is a major buying incentive.
• Address minor problems early. It’s easy to hear a strange noise in your vehicle and hope it just goes away. Unfortunately, there aren’t any cars out there that can heal themselves, at least not yet. Don’t put off minor maintenance or easy repair work. Doing so can lead to larger problems and larger repair bills in the end. Bite the bullet, fix what’s wrong and your car will last a lot longer.
• Be aware of new sounds and vibrations. No matter how embarrassing it may be to stand in front of a perfect stranger and make funny noises, it is worth it. Effectively relaying what you’ve experienced in your vehicle to your mechanic is an essential tool to keeping it on the road. The more your service center knows about the problem, the more likely they are to fix it right the first time and for less labor costs. Be sure to tell the mechanic as much as you can about the problem, including details like speed, what direction you are turning, the temperature outside and the time of day. It may sound strange, but all of those details can help your mechanic assess the situation and set it right without expensive exploratory work.