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My 2001 Chevrolet Prizm (a NUMMI) is about to hit 125,00 miles. I bought a little over 5 years ago, at which time it had ~79,000 miles on it. I bought it from a used car dealer that seemed to have put at least some money and time into maintenance.

Since then, I've done typical basic maintenance on it -- changed oil ~3k miles, got tires rotated, had serpentine belt replaced, etc. The car is still running okay, but is definitely beginning to show its age in terms of performance and general wear.

I know cars don't last forever, but I'd like to get at least 2-3 more years out of my Prizm. What maintenance items should I attend to in order to keep my high-mileage car running well?

Thanks!

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Who said you would only get about 2 or 3 more years out of it? If you're changing the oil and replacing the belts regularly, in all likelihood that engine will last another 5 or 10 years with ease. –  hillsons Mar 1 '13 at 7:19
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7 Answers 7

I'm not going to start an "oil change war" here :) re the change interval, but you should be fine with that. Good quality oil is more important than making sure the oil is changed every 2999 miles, as is a good quality oil filter. The best oil in the world isn't going to do much good if the oil filter doesn't do its job of removing particles.

I would also make sure I do the following on a regular basis:

  • Tune ups with new fuel + air filters, distributor caps and rotors if the car is so equipped and also new spark plugs. Don't spring for fancy spark plugs, just use the ones recommended by the manufacturer, check that the gaps are in spec and change them at the recommended intervals.
  • Don't forget to change the other fluids, too - brake fluid, coolant and transmission fluid (especially in an autobox) age. Brake fluid is also hygroscopic and should be changed every couple of years because (a) water in the brake fluid lowers its boiling point and (b) water in the fluid can cause corrosion in the braking system. Both can lead to unwelcome surprises.
  • Keep an eye and ear out for parts starting to go bad - changing a wheel bearing when it starts to make a noise is much cheaper compared to having to replace it once it lost half its rollers and has started welding itself to the hub...

Overall I think you might be overthinking this a little - 125k miles isn't that much for a modern car that's being looked after. You're doing less than 10k/year so if you keep up the maintenance it should last you much longer than another 20-30k unless the body dissolves first.

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Yeah, we're going to disagree on the oil... I'd rather have cheap oil changed more frequently than expensive oil that sits in there for longer periods of time. Oil filters don't catch everything. The more contaminents you remove, the better. Unless the car doesn't get too many miles, the oil stability just doesn't come into play. –  Brian Knoblauch Dec 5 '11 at 21:33
    
+1 for distributor caps :) –  BigHomie Apr 3 at 13:44
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You're doing the biggest one already, the 3000 mile oil changes.

Other than that, step up frequency of inspection of steering/suspension components as balljoint, etc will start needing more attention. Also, take the time to occasionally check the wheel liner areas and bottom of the car for rust. If you catch it before it rusts all the way through you can treat it, paint it, and re-undercoat it. Can gain you several more years of good use just for the cost of a little time and a few supplies!

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In all honesty the manufacturers recommended maintenance is key. They tell when, and what to do. If you bought the car used, look at the mileage applicable and do all the maintenance you think was not done. The next time, you should be where they want you to be, and continue. Oil changes at 3000 miles is a money making myth. BMW uses synthetic and has their cars tell the owner to come in every 15,000 miles, so be mindful of the oil you use.

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Probably not a bad idea to replace the brake fluid after 10 years. Even though it is not really suggested by most automakers, brake fluid is hygroscopic and can gather moisture after all that time and rust out brake system components. If you are careful you can just gravity bleed the system, look up your wheel bleed order, loosen a screw and allow about 4oz to drain. Make sure the master cyl is always filled with fluid and you should have no issues with air.

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We actually changed brake fluid very regularly. I think brake fluid should be changed every year. –  FossilizedCarlos Dec 9 '11 at 6:42
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One not mentioned yet, lubrication!

After 125,000 the grease/lube applied to various joints and bearings is probably not doing much good anymore.

A service manual for your vehicle should cover the details, there may be points on your vehicle where grease is injected into parts through fittings, other places will be sprayed or may need to be opened and re-lubed.

The car isn't going to fall to pieces without this being done, but you will start getting more noises and some items like bearings could wear out sooner.

Also replacement of rubber bushings can help firm various components back up.

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My local Honda dealer says that brake fluid should be changed when moisture content is 3% and over.

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I used website called Driverside.com and they tell me what to do based on car model/Year since they are tied up with manufacturer manual. Also, you can keep track of all your maintenance done in the past so you do not have to remember. I am really bad at remembering such thing for all of my car. this site have saved me ....

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