With new and used cars painfully expensive, it seems that Americans are holding on to their vehicles longer.

The average age of a passenger vehicle on the road has just hit a record 12½ years.

And no wonder now that the average monthly car payment for new vehicles hit $725 in the first quarter of 2023. Suddenly, for many, taking on that kind of new debt feels a lot worse than driving a new car feels good.

The useful life of cars is very subjective, but in general it keeps getting longer. A truck from the 1990s that’s been well maintained is going to be a lot more usefu lnow than a truck from the ’60s was in the ’90s.

As vehicles get better, their useful life gets longer. Still, wringing 12½ years out of a car is no small feat.

Most cars and trucks are built to last far longer than we can imagine.

And when all is said and done, the difference between a clunker and a cream puff is mainly the difference between how the owner has cared for it.

Want to improve your ability to squeeze every last mile out of that beauty sitting in your driveway, while you scrimp and save to have the money available to replace it when it’s taken its final mile? Treat that car like an investment.


Research by major car manufacturers reveals that neglect of routine service and maintenance is the No. 1 reason for major car repairs.

Routine maintenance doesn’t cost; it saves money, aggravation, frustration and lives.

Pay attention. Anticipate maintenance so you don’t have to pay for repairs.

Estimate, Estimate, Estimate

When you need a major repair, if at all possible, get three estimates before you proceed. Don’t only judge by the lowest price but judge by competence, ability, experience, equipment, and after-service care.

Be Loyal

When you find a good mechanic you trust, stick with him or her even if the prices are a bit higher.

All things being equal, you’ll save time, money and aggravation in the long run. Plus, your mechanic will get to know your car more intimately.

Keep It Clean

It’s true. A clean car — inside and out — lasts longer because you are routinely washing away gunk, grime and contaminants that cause corrosion.

A sparkling clean car makes you feel better. And when you feel better, you do better by taking better care of it. It’s called pride of ownership.

Read the Manual

The owner’s manual is your bible for making your car last longer. Read it. Know what to expect and how to head off trouble.

And be sure to keep it in the vehicle. Can’t find it? Search online. You should be able to find it, and when you do, print it out.

Keep It Covered

Statistically, we know that a garaged car lasts longest, a carport is the next best, and a car cover is close behind.

If you can’t garage, carport or cover your car, park under trees or any covering to protect it from the sun.

Take It Easy

Avoid jackrabbit starts and stops. This will save gas and conserve wear and tear on your brake linings, transmission and suspension.

In extremely slow or stop-and-go traffic, don’t ride the brake pedal. This wears out your brake linings prematurely and wastes fuel. It’s best to shift into a lower gear.

Get Fuel-ish

Avoid running your car with the tank low on gas. Keeping the tank low increases the chance that dirt, water and moisture will settle into your fuel system.

One government study pointed to these top three causes of car breakdowns while on the road: tire trouble, cooling system problems and running out of gas.

Change the Oil

Regular oil changes according to the manufacturer’s guidelines are the most important thing, dollar for dollar, you can do to protect your engine and make it last longer.

Err on the side of changing the oil too often than not often enough.

Weight Control

The more a car weighs, the harder the engine, transmission, brakes and suspension have to work.

While cars are designed to carry extra weight, over the long term any unnecessary strain will take miles off its life.

Don’t use the trunk for a mobile garage. Keep it as light as possible.

Follow these suggestions and you can look forward to doubling your car’s useful life.

Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living. Click here to email your questions to her at Ask Mary. The opinions expressed are her own.