7 Steps to Care for Your Clunker Car

Cash for Clunkers was a great government program for those who could afford a new car, but what about those of us who can barely afford the clunker we own? Our only real alternatives are to either fix big problems as they arise or perform preventative maintenance.

Preventative maintenance is much cheaper than waiting for your timing-belt to break and trash the entire engine. Experts recommend these seven steps to keep your clunker on the road as long as possible. 

1. Change the Oil and Filter: The most important step to car maintenance is changing your oil and filter every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, or whatever period is recommended in the owner's manual. WikiHow has an easy-to-follow guide to changing your own oil and filter.

2. Check the Tire Pressure: Perform a monthly air check, including the spare, to save on gas and get a better ride. 

3. Annual Tune-up: Tune-ups are the equivalent of an annual medical checkup. You'll want to have all systems looked at and make changes as neeeded.

4. Check Alignment: Check tire alignment at least once a year, preferably in the spring. Winter driving, in particular, is hard on your car's suspension and steering system. A wheel alignment will reduce tire wear, improve fuel economy and handling, and increase your safety and driving enjoyment.

5. Inspect Lights and Windshield Wipers: Lights and wipers play a major role in safe driving and require periodic replacement. Replace windshield wipers at least once a year to improve visibility and save wear on your windows.

6. Winterize: Prepare your car for freezing temperatures by checking the antifreeze level, replacing window-washer fluid with a winter mix, and checking tires for proper inflation and wear. This is the time bald tires should be replaced; not after you skid into a tree. Batteries older than 4-1/2 years old should be replaced.

7. Find a Good Mechanic: The good gentlemen of NPR Radio's Car Talk host a searchable site listing repair shops by zip code. Each shop is rated via an online survey and includes reviewer comments, to help you find an honest and cost-efficient mechanic. Car Talk also has a do-it-yourself matrix, recommending which repairs you can handle yourself and which ones truly require a mechanic.

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