Dear Lifehacker, I have recently purchased a car that is 10 years old and has less than 90,000km on the clock. It runs beautifully and I'd like to try and keep it that way. Besides getting it serviced at regular intervals and not driving like a moron, do you have any tips for keeping it running smoothly? I've seen advertisements for the Hiclone and other engine adapters which apparently help improve efficiency. Are they really worth it, or are there specific gadgets that I should keep an eye out for? Thanks, Driven
When it comes to car reliability, the most important consideration usually centres around the initial purchasing decision. Simply put, some makes and models are more prone to engine trouble than others, especially without regular maintenance. What you want is a car with good fuel efficiency and low upkeep requirements -- in addition to giving you less hassle, this can also save you thousands of dollars over the lifespan of your vehicle.
If you're unsure about your car's reputation, pay a visit to some automobile forums and see what other owners think. If the general consensus is that it's a bit of a lemon, you might be better off selling it while it's still in good nick. You can check our expert's guide to buying and selling used cars here.
We also flung your question to Gizmodo's resident car guru Campbell Simpson. Here's what he had to say about general car upkeep, as well as the validity of so-called fuel extenders:
You're onto the right track -- a little bit of TLC goes a long way with cars, and as long as you drive with mechanical sympathy you're doing just about as much as you can to extend the service life of your car. Being smooth on the accelerator and brake, and the clutch if it's a manual, means you won't have to replace brake pads or other consumable components before their time. If your car is sitting around the 90,000km mark, it'll probably be due for a major service some time in the next year or two, and it's likely that service will include a timing belt change. This might cost a little bit more than you want to pay -- I shelled out around $1000 for the timing belt change on my Polo GTI at the 125,000km mark -- but it's a mandatory piece of preventative maintenance that stops your engine block from becoming an expensive paperweight. (Of course, your car might use a timing chain that never needs replacement, so read around the 'net for advice.) Don't fall prey to the marketing claims of the Hiclone or Firepower or any other allegedly-fuel-saving devices -- they're all snake oil. Look for an independent scientific test, and multiple peer reviews of that test, before you buy anything that makes outrageous claims about improving your car's fuel efficiency, especially when it claims a massive 20 per cent improvement from a piece of metal. I could go on for hours about why it's going to make precisely zero difference, but I'll just summarise with this -- yeah, right. One thing that might improve your fuel efficiency and engine performance, depending on the car, is a freer-flowing air filter, but even then the gains are marginal. A bottle of injector cleaner, upper engine cleaner or octane booster every 10,000km can help clear up or prevent carbon deposits that can slightly impact volumetric efficiency. Regular scheduled maintenance -- fresh oil and oil filter, new spark plugs and a quick check-over of your battery and electrical system -- is all you need to do. Honestly, the best thing you can do to improve your car's fuel efficiency is to pay attention to traffic when you're driving -- don't accelerate away from lights quickly, predict the flow of traffic so you can lift off the loud pedal and coast when possible, and don't ever accelerate towards a red light or a stop sign -- if you do that, you may as well be throwing money away. Take your time and spend a few seconds more on every trip, and you will save dollars in the long run.
If any petrol-head readers have additional engine maintenance tips of their own, let Driven know in the comments section below.
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