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I know several people (mainly broke college kids) that have aging cars (read: beaters) that, while they have their share of issues, have motors that are on their last legs - losing compression, burning oil, maybe some smoking.

What are some ways they can extend the life of their motors or get more use from their car for the least amount of money?

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This has to be in a state that does not do emission testing, right? –  Mark Johnson Apr 2 '12 at 0:55
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2 Answers

  1. Do not use any product like SeaFoam. I have heard of it doing more harm than good on older cars. It breaks apart the dirt that is holding the seals together!
  2. If you are leaking oil, try using a thicker oil or adding something to it, there are many add-ins that work in different situations
  3. Take care of it, and don't drive it unnecessarily hard. That obviously is not going to be too amazing for it.
  4. If they want to start fixing it, do one small thing at a time that can be done pretty cheap. On my car I started with the fuel filter which was still the original OEM one. It was only $25 and made a huge difference in performance.
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I've switched from 5W30 to 10W30 to slow down leaks in the summer. It was OK by manufacturer specs. It did slow down the loss rate. –  Mark Johnson Apr 2 '12 at 0:54
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Being a broke college kid, and having driven, broken and fixed my own beaters, I know what you're asking.

Keeping your oil and water systems in good shape is the single most important thing when driving a beater. A good investment, although it is often seen as overkill, would be replacing the water-, and oil pumps.

Spark plugs can go a very long way by just cleaning them every couple of thousand km's, or when the car starts having trouble starting, if you're lazy.

Air filters also respond well to a couple of slaps, to get rid of all the dust gathered on in. Unless you find it drenched in oil, this doesn't need replacing all that often. A clean filter also helps along fuel consumption.

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Fill 'er up with oil and check the gas. –  Mark Johnson Apr 2 '12 at 0:56
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