Michael Mwai is arguably Kenya’s most prolific automotive consultant and motor journalist.
He was also the host of Autovault, Kenya’s first car TV show. He shares tips on how to extend the life of your car.
1. Reduce wear of brakes and tyres
Plan your journey. Look at the destination, look at the route you are taking and the time you will take to go there.
For example, if you are driving down the highway from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to town, you have an idea of where the roundabouts are.
It makes no sense to drive at 100km per hour and then come to a screeching halt, using your brakes to do that. If you plan your journey and use your gears to shift down, the wear and tear of the car will be less, specifically the brakes.
Instead of rushing and reducing speed urgently, reduce speed gradually. When you take off from a junction, increase speed gradually as well.
That reduces the cost of fuel and makes the tyres last, instead of wearing out in almost half the time that they should have.
Everything just works well and longer if you drive moderately and get to the speed you want to get to gradually, rather than urgently.
2. Bought a new car? Stick to your dealership
If your car is brand new, go to the dealer for parts and servicing. For instance, if you own a Toyota, go to the original Toyota dealership, because you have a warranty.
If you go to a roadside mechanic or a garage that is not certified, the warranty of the car will be voided.
If something else goes wrong later, for example the gear box malfunctions or something else, it cannot be replaced on warranty.
Stick with the dealer or appointed garages that are recognised by that dealer so that the workmanship is guaranteed.
If you go to a roadside mechanic, then you should be ready for the risk that he might put a non-genuine part which will cost you more in the long run.
You will need to replace it before its due time, since it will break down faster. A dealer will put genuine parts and give you a warranty for both the parts and the workmanship.
For example, if it is fitted badly at a dealership, they will fit it again for free. However, a mechanic will always tell you something else went wrong, that you need to buy another part and pay again for the labour.
A dealership might be more expensive, but they guarantee that if anything goes wrong, you are covered.
3. Tailor the service duration to the local conditions
You need to service your car regularly and as recommended by the manufacturer, but bearing in mind the condition of roads in Kenya.
If the car is supposed to be serviced after 15,000 kilometres, do it after 7,500 kilometers because of the dust, heat and road condition.
The dust gets into the engine and even if the air cleaner does its work, it might not do a very good job.
We also have an issue with the quality of fuel. Diesel cars are more sensitive than petrol cars, so you need to be very cautious when planning your service.
Late or foregone services cost you much more in the long run.
4. Change the oil dutifully
Change the oil as prescribed by the manufacturer.
If they specify after 5,000 kilometers, do it then. Also know the kind of oil your car uses, whether it is synthetic or not.
If you put non-synthetic oil in an engine that works with synthetic oil, it will act up. Every car comes with a manual that says what kind of oil you should put in it.
You need to put the right oil at the right intervals. There is no one-size-fits-all for cars.
There are also other fluids you need to take care of such as water, brake fluid, gearbox oil and engine oil. Some cars will have a locked or sealed gearbox so the fluid does not require any change.
For the rest of the fluids, you just have to check, you do not have to top up. For example, depending on the design of your vehicle, the power steering system might be electric or hydraulic.
If it is electric, there is no oil required but if it is hydraulic, you need to check the power steering fluid regularly and add fluid when necessary.
5. Self tyre checks
- Before every long journey, or every two to three months, you need to have your wheels balanced.
- Check rims. If you regularly use bad roads, the rims might get bent. You need to check that they are round, and if you feel any vibrations, check if they need balancing.
- Rotate the wheels every six months, meaning the front wheels go to the front and the front wheels go to the back, so that the wear is even.
- Check the tyre pressure every month and ensure they have the right amount of pressure every time.
- Do wheel alignment at least every four months. It could be more, depending on the roads you drive on, the type of tyres that you have and the mileage that you do.
6. Keep the engine clean
The engine needs to be kept clean because it helps you identify leaks and other issues that may emerge, especially if the car is old.
Ensure that the air filter and the pollen filter are replaced on time because the dust that settles on engines gets in through the filter.
7. Best to keep the fuel tank at a minimum of half
At the bottom of your fuel tanks are sediments and impurities that were picked up by fuelling at bad petrol stations.
So if you are using the fuel at the bottom of the tank, chances are that the engine will take in a lot of them and they will affect your injectors, and the car will not run properly.
Chances of something going wrong will increase especially in older cars that are not well filled, and any dust that may have gotten into the tank will then go into the system and destroy the engine. Always keep the fuel tank at half as a minimum.
If you ever went to a bad petrol station where the fuel was adulterated, at half you will be able to neutralise the effects of bad fuel as opposed to if you were running on empty.
8. A long road trip once in a while is beneficial
Hybrids are cars of the future.
That guarantees less engine strain on a car. However, currently, most engines need to occasionally run for long journeys so that they can burn all the impurities and certain chemicals from the fuel.
It helps to run the car to ideal temperature so that it completely warms up. Take the car out for a stretch every once in a while.
9. A stitch in time saves nine
There is a danger in keeping bad parts running in your car. If you don’t fix one part, it will affect another part.
For example, if your shock absorbers are not working, it will affect your suspension arms, which will affect your engine mounting, which will in turn affect your engine and then you will have no car. Listen to your car.
You need to know what your car should feel like when it is fine. If you buy a car while new and you service it properly, a car like a Toyota Prius can do a mileage of even 500,000 km before you ever have to do anything else to it.
If you are at the buying stage and looking for a long-lasting car, Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas and Mazdas are good bets.
They are cheaper to buy, are designed to be efficient and don’t incur too many running costs if you treat them right.
There is a misconception that European cars are expensive but they are not, since the parts last longer and so are cheaper to run.
They also don’t have as many after-market parts out there. They cost you more to buy but that is a one-off price as they will last much longer.
10. Don’t leave your car at the roadside garage
Installing new parts is one thing, but removing the old ones is another. Some people can destroy your vehicles when removing the bad parts.
If you go to a garage, especially a roadside garage, be there and watch them if you can, especially when they are removing the bolts.
When they are finished, check that there are no bolts left on the ground. Sometimes they don’t put all of them back, then tell you there was no need for it.
Never believe that, because no car manufacturer will put a bolt that was not needed in the first place. It will only bring you problems later.
11. Some cars can increase in value
The value of the car stays up if it is kept well, clean and polished.
Polish protects the outer coat of the car and keeps the colour nice, bright and shiny, which will helps you sell the car at a good price if you need to.
If you keep it for 25 years and it becomes a classic, then it is an asset. If it is older than that, it becomes even more valuable.
Of course this depends on the condition of the car, because they wither and die if you do not take care of them. It also depends on the model and make of the car.
Not all cars increase in value, but there are some which, once they are regarded as classic, you can re-sell it for many times the price that you bought it for.
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