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Book review

As you will probably have noticed, this site is written very much from a UK perspective.  But the Bangernomics principle has its supporters in other parts of the world, particularly in the United States, where there is a growing backlash against throw-away consumerism and the marketing hype of the car manufacturers.

A little while ago I was contacted by an American, Kyle Busch.  A few years ago he paid $2,600 for a six year old, one owner VW Jetta 1800.  Instead of replacing it after a couple of years, he kept driving it, and ten years on it just keeps running, now with 292,000 miles on the clock.  (Of course you might think that choosing a Jetta for this exercise is cheating - if he had bought a Fiat Strada the outcome might have been slightly different.)

Anyway, Kyle had the idea that plenty of people in the USA would benefit from doing what he had done, but lacked the knowledge to buy a decent car in the first place.  So he wrote a book:

"Drive the Best for the Price:  How to Buy a Used Automobile, Sport-Utility Vehicle, or Minivan and Save Money."

Kyle kindly sent me a copy of his book to review, and having sat down to read it at the weekend I have to say that it is a really good, sound guide for someone looking to buy a dependable used car without getting comprehensively stitched up by the vendor.  The book is geared towards the US market, and contains a lot of information which only applies to the States (such as where to find data on the reliability record of particular models - if we had that information over here, a certain Solihull-based manufacturer of large boxy vehicles would be in deep trouble).

However, the section on how to inspect and test-drive a used car  has universal application.  It is as thorough a guide as you will find (certainly much more comprehensive than anything I could ever be bothered to write for this website), clearly written and explains things in terms that even the mechanically ignorant will be able to understand.  There is also some useful stuff on bargaining techniques and a comprehensive four page checklist.

If you are new to the game of buying second-hand cars, lack confidence in your ability to appraise a used car, or if every used car you ever bought has turned out to be a total dog and you don't understand why, this book is well worth considering.

Drive the Best for the Price.... is available in print and e-book editions from 1stBooks Library (telephone 1-800-839-8640), or you can go to the website for further information.

To give you some idea of the book's contents, Kyle supplied a short article which I reproduce below.  Some of the tips may seem obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of cars, but there are plenty of people out there who only top up the oil when the oil pressure light comes on (my mother, for example), and they could save themselves an awful lot of money by following the guide below.....

Tips to make your vehicle go the distance

Adapted from "Drive the Best..." by Kyle Busch


If you are living on a budget, or even on an unlimited budget, you know how important it is to make the most of what you have.

Getting More Miles Out of Your Car

The following are some tips that will help you to get more miles out of your vehicle.

     -  First, consider, does your vehicle actually have the ability to run many miles without incurring costly repairs? An easy way to find out is to visit a public library to consult the frequency- of-repair information in the April magazine issue of Consumer Reports (a reference librarian can provide assistance if needed).  If the vehicle that you are driving has a reasonable repair history, it is worthwhile to drive it until your heart is content. However, if it has a very poor repair history, it might be time to consider buying another vehicle, one that has a good repair history, and one that is even more fuel efficient.

   -  Assuming that you want to extend the life of your vehicle, at the beginning of each month, have the engine oil level checked to make certain that it is at the full-level mark on the dipstick. Today's engines have extremely close tolerances thus making lubrication as important as ever. This is apparent when marque names such as Porsche and BMW are building engines with multiple oil pumps to insure engine lubrication regardless of if the vehicle is charging up a steep hill or thrown into a banked turn. Buy two liters of oil that are on sale and keep them in the boot. Then, if the engine needs oil, you will not get stuck paying three times what the oil should cost.

Note: Be certain to only use the type of oil and other fluids as specified in the vehicle owner's manual. If you need assistance to understand the owner's manual, visit the dealership that sells your make of vehicle, and write down the type of oil and other fluids to be used in your vehicle.

     -  Every three months (more often, however, if specified by your vehicle owner's manual), check (or have a service station attendant check) the tire pressure and the other fluids that include:   

a.. Transmission fluid

b.. Brake Fluid

c.. Power Steering Fluid

d.. Radiator Coolant (check the clear plastic bottle)

e.. Windshield washer fluid

Be certain to observe what the service station attendant does and ask questions, because you can likely check these items.  Note: There should be no cost to have these items checked.

Why is it so important to keep the fluids at their full-level marks? Because the fluids lubricate moving parts to reduce friction, heat, and wear. Therefore, if a part wears because of a lack of fluid, providing all the fluid in future will not repair the damaged part. The idea is to not let the part get damaged at all. Remember to have these fluids checked before you go and upon returning from a trip.

     -  If you drive 16,000 km (10,000 miles) or more per year, have the engine oil and oil filter changed every 4,800 to 5,600 km (3,000 to 3,500 miles) or about every four months. If you drive 9,600 km (6,000 miles) or less per year, have the engine oil and oil filter changed at the beginning of spring and near the end of fall. Condensation (water) will build-up in the oil of a car that is sitting, therefore, even if the vehicle is only driven a few thousand kilometers per year, the oil should be changed in the spring and in the fall. An easy way to remember oil changes is to mark a new calendar at the beginning of a year with "oil change" reminders (i.e., March,  July, and November or May and November).

Note: Some service stations run specials in the newspaper for oil changes (i.e., $10.99 - $13.99). However, make certain that the station is reputable. Some service stations have been known to skip changing the oil or to do part of the job by changing the oil but not the oil filter. Consider using a black marker to put an X on the oil filter after an oil change. When the next oil change has been completed, a newly installed filter should not be marked with an X.

     -  Before the cold of winter sets in, have a service station attendant check the antifreeze in the clear plastic coolant bottle with a hydrometer (a device that takes a sample of antifreeze and specifies how cold the temperature can become before the antifreeze freezes). The antifreeze in your vehicle should be able to withstand (i.e., not freeze) temperatures of at least 17 Celsius (30 degrees) "below the coldest" winter temperature in your area.                   

Why is it important for the antifreeze not to freeze during the winter? Because frozen antifreeze can crack an engine's block which could result in possibly thousands of dollars for the repair.

Note: There should be no cost to have the antifreeze checked with a hydrometer. If the antifreeze in your vehicle is too weak, have additional antifreeze added to the coolant bottle. Antifreeze can be purchased at many department stores. Purchase the type of antifreeze as specified in the vehicle owner's manual (i.e., usually type that is suitable for "aluminum and all types of metals" that are used today's engines).

     -  If you drive over 16,000 km (10,000 miles) per year, have the engine air filter changed once a year in the spring. If you drive about 9,600 km (6,000 miles) or less per year, have the engine air filter changed once every two years. Note: Discount stores sometimes run sales on vehicle air filters. If necessary, ask the clerk who works in the auto department to help you to look up the number (remember to write it down for future reference) of the correct air filter for your specific vehicle (take the vehicle owner's manual with you into the store to reference the size of the engine, but be certain that you do not forget it and thus leave the store without it).

     -  In the spring and the fall give the vehicle a thorough wash, tar removal, and wax. When washing the vehicle in-between the seasonal waxes, use a car wash product that is safe for clear coat and waxed finishes.

     -  Basic vehicle maintenance is an ongoing process. The secret to making it "easy" and keeping a vehicle= "looking great" involves two components. First, maintaining regular vehicle involvement and second, only doing a little at a time.

Each week throughout the year (in addition to the maintenance suggested above) take only about 10-15 minutes to focus on a small aspect of the vehicle. For example, one week wash the windows. The next week, vacuum the carpet, and the following week, treat the dash and the door panels etc., etc. After about three months, one of the "small jobs" will be ready to be repeated. However, the vehicle will never be in rough shape. Doing a "small but thorough" job on one specific aspect of the vehicle each week, requires very little time or energy. Having a vehicle that continually "looks great" makes it worthwhile.

The tips provided above are the most basic maintenance requirements that will help your vehicle to run longer. Note: Refer to the vehicle owner's manual for the additional maintenance required on your vehicle.  Basic vehicle maintenance involves a minimal investment of time and money, but it can provide major benefits in vehicle performance and lower repair costs. Additionally, your vehicle will be in better condition when it becomes time to sell.


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