Want to lower your repair costs? Then make your car’s parts last longer.

No one enjoys paying for car repairs. For most of us, shelling out for an unexpected repair ranks right up there with emergency dental treatment or getting old fibre glass out of the loft.

So, if there are any ways to lessen the pain, we’re all for it. And there’s such a lot of pain to reduce: according to one estimate, the average UK driver can expect to pay out £27,716 on repairs over their years of car ownership.

Apart from getting someone else (like your employer) to pay for car repairs, there are three main ways of keeping the bills down:

  1. Buy a reliable vehicle. We’ll be covering this in another article.
  2. Find a garage that offers high quality services at really reasonable prices (shameless plug: like WVS, for example!)
  3. Extend the lifespan of the parts that tend to wear out. This is the one we will focus on.

Karma and car mechanics

According to the concept of karma, your kindness to others is repayed by the universe, ultimately benefiting you.

And according to car mechanics (including ours), a little kindness to your car’s components will also be repaid, benefiting your wallet. In some cases, just a little mechanical sympathy is enough to extend their useful lifespan for years.

Let’s look at five examples:

1. Coddle your clutch

Clutch replacements are among the top ten repair costs over a vehicle’s lifespan. They are also a great example of where good driver habits can really make a difference.

Starting with the obvious, continually launching your car from the traffic lights (especially with high revs) is begging for a quick clutch replacement. And as generations of car-modders have learned, tuning your engine for more torque or power is a surefire clutch-killer.

However, there are plenty of less extreme habits that your clutch hates. Riding the clutch, changing gear slowly (hello learner drivers!), driving in too high a gear can all reliably accelerate clutch wear.

Probably the hardest clutch-unfriendly behaviour to avoid is sitting in traffic (or at a red light) in gear with the clutch depressed. Whenever it’s practical, try to put the car into neutral and apply the brake.

2. Put a brake on brake wear

Brake pads and discs are not the most expensive items on this list, but they are among the most frequently replaced. Again, however, they are parts whose lifespan is largely dependent on driver behaviour.

Avoiding unnecessary braking through anticipation and speed reduction can add thousands of miles to the useful life of brake pads. In fact, as a general strategy, defensive driving  is much gentler on expensive brake pads and discs.

Not familiar with defensive driving? Let Rick August PhD, explain it.

3. Don’t ignore the cambelt

The cambelt is a simple, cheap bit of kit that nevertheless performs a vital job. The goal with the cambelt is to avoid it breaking — which will result in much greater expenses. If the cambelt fails when you’re driving, you might end up with damaged valves, pistons, cylinder head or camshaft. All of these are costly to fix.

The most important thing you can do to avoid all this financial pain is to get the cambelt replaced according to the manufacturer’s schedule. This is typically between 60,000 and 90,000 miles — the figure should be listed in your manual.

Without getting too paranoid, you should also be watchful for signs of cambelt wear. These can include unfamiliar noises (such as a fast paced ticking), engine misfires, rough idling or even oil leaks. Any signs like these shouldn’t be ignored — as soon as possible, get your car to a good garage for further investigation.

Other than that, there isn’t much you can do to make your cambelt last longer. Like many components, it doesn’t like extremes of temperature, so maybe garaging your car may help a little.

4. Don’t blow a gasket

The head gasket is another relatively cheap bit of kit that does a crucial job. Replacing it is labour-intensive, and therefore expensive. What’s worse, a failed head gasket can result in damage to other costly components, such as cylinder heads.

Apart from poor design (the gasket in the K-series engine used in MGs and Rovers was notoriously dodgy), preserving the head gasket is all about managing heat. Keeping your coolant system in good order — including checking on coolant levels — will keep your head gasket happy.

You can also show your head gasket some kindness by letting the engine warm up before putting your foot down. Exposing a cold engine to high revs puts a lot of thermal stress on the head gasket, increasing its chances of failure.

5. Don’t assault your battery

OK, so technically a battery is a replacement rather than a repair, but it’s still a significant maintenance cost. And we think that now is a great time to mention it, given that current conditions (winter, national lockdown) may be conspiring to shorten your battery’s lifespan.

Firstly, there’s the problem of flat batteries. If you’re not using the car very much, it’s all too easy to let the battery go flat. Leaving the battery almost or completely discharged for any length of time can really reduce its lifespan. If you have a voltmeter, give the battery an occasional check. If it drops below 12.5 volts, it’s ready to be recharged.

Secondly, try to avoid very short journeys. These will only worsen the problem by draining the battery more than recharging it. And yes, we know that’s easier said than done during lockdown!

Plus…get your car regularly serviced

If we could pick just one thing which would extend the life of your car’s components, it would be getting the car serviced regularly by a trained technician.

If you can find a specialist in your marque, so much the better, as he/she will know exactly what to look for. In many cases, they will be able to spot problems before they become more serious (and expensive).

The WVS blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising in all the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.