A tough economy makes anyone wince at the thought of getting a car loan for a new set of wheels. You can pass on that new purchase by keeping your old car longer, and save yourself extra cash in the process by improving your driving and maintenance habits.

Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense in a courtroom. It's also a costly mistake when it comes to maintaining your car. If you're not aware of some of these proven ways to save wear and tear on your vehicle, you'll find yourself in need of a car loan for a new set of wheels. Save yourself the headache by following some of these tips.

Empty is your enemy

Routine stops at the gas station are tedious and time-consuming, but they're also necessary. If you regularly run your car when there's less than a quarter of a tank of gas, you're using fuel from the bottom that may have sediment in it. The tiniest clog can cause major headaches, including a damaged fuel injector or the need for an entire fuel-system flush. A more cost-effective alternative is to keep your tank at least 25 percent full.

In the clutch

Abuse your car's transmission, and it will return the favor by whacking you in the wallet. If you own an automatic transmission, don't drop a car into drive when you're rolling. When backing out of a parking stall, for example, come to a complete stop, and then shift the car into drive. For a manual transmission, don't use the clutch as a braking mechanism on steep grades. Brakes are for stopping; transmissions are for switching gears.

Mind your maintenance

Many vehicles are equipped with maintenance indicators on their dashboards. Newer models include lights that tell you when an oil change or other type of maintenance is due. On older models, you'll have to keep an eye on your odometer and check your owner's manual. Pay strict attention to these regular maintenance check-ups. An ounce of prevention-or a few quarts of clean oil-can be worth several hundred dollars worth of a cure.

Start your engines-correctly

Turning on the car and revving the engine may make you feel like a tough guy, but it won't help your big wheels. The oil in your car hasn't had time to properly lubricate the engine if you rev it immediately after turning the key. Wait until the engine has warmed up. Also, be sure that your car stereo and air conditioner are off before starting a car. When they're on, your engine has to work harder to get started.

Good auto maintenance requires paying attention to your vehicle. Listen for any strange noises, and mind the manufacturer's recommended maintenance check-ups. Failure to do so will shorten the lifespan of your car, and prompt the need for a new loan. Keep your money in your pocket and your car on the road by driving smart and helping your car stay healthy.

Published on July 19, 2008