Maintaining our old car

It’s been all bike, bike, bike here lately, which is great, but the good ol’ Corolla is feeling a bit neglected.  Since my car commute job ended, we’ve been back to pretty low mileage, which is also great, but using it less frequently also makes it easier to neglect . . .*

. . . which is how we ended up going over a year between oil changes.  Now, I’m completely on board with stretching the old “every three months or three thousand miles” to every six months or six thousand miles, but this was rather extreme, even for me, and it really doesn’t demonstrate good stewardship.

When we moved [almost] two years ago, the distance to our regular mechanic increased quite a bit.  I could no longer drop it off in the morning, walk or jog home, and return later when they called to say it was ready.  But finding a new, trusted mechanic?  Ugh!  Definitely a barrier to regular preventive maintenance.

I finally sucked it up and tried a new mechanic, one very close to our current location.  I warned them that it had been quite a while since my last oil change, then jogged the three blocks home to await their call.

Fortunately, everything looked good on our 12-year-old, 150k mile car!  Very good news, because I really dread the thought of finding a replacement — I’m hoping that day is a loooong way off.  (We’ll have more data later, as she’s due for her registration renewal in a couple of months, which means she’ll have to pass the safety and emissions inspections.)

The shop owner said the most important thing with an older car was checking the oil level regularly, and, if we do that, he’s not worried about us going six months between oil changes.  Score!

There WAS a slight hitch a few days after the oil change.  I was cleaning and loading the car for our camping trip, and, remembering my mom’s story of driving home from an oil change and discovering the mechanics had forgotten to put the plug back in the place where the oil goes (see, I know all about cars!), leaving her driving around with no oil, I decided I should go ahead and check the oil level.

All was well, until I attempted to close the hood, only to have it refuse to latch.  This has happened before, the result of an old and sticky latch/spring mechanism, and it usually requires just a bit of WD-40.  This time, I tried both WD-40 and lubricant with no luck.

I called my new mechanic and explained the situation.  He tried to help me troubleshoot over the phone, since he really didn’t want me driving to the shop with the hood unlatched, but no joy.

I drove to the shop very carefully (I wasn’t worried about covering the short distance at very low speeds), and one of the mechanics made time to look at it immediately.  In the end, it just needed more WD-40, a bit of a firmer hand, and some industrial grade lubricant.  In less than ten minutes, our car was once again highway-worthy, and they didn’t charge me for the work!  (I stopped by later to drop off a thank-you note and some cookies.)

*In an average week, we make at least one trip to my MIL’s (~25 miles RT).  Some weeks (the “good” weeks), that is the only car trip we make.  Other weeks we end up making that trip twice, or maybe a trip to my FIL’s, or some other miscellaneous outing.  Even with an occasional road trip to Iowa thrown into the mix, that still leaves us at well under six thousand miles per year, and well under the ~12k miles/year U.S. average.


  1. EcoCatLady says:

    Hooray for old cars! My little Honda turned 24 this year and she’s still goin’ strong – although I fear she’ll be needing a new transmission in the not too distant future. And I’ve done the year between oil changes thing too… only, get this. Last time I took it in for some work I asked them to do an oil change, but my mechanic (who is EXCELLENT and works exclusively on Hondas) said it didn’t need it! Anyhow, glad you’re back on the road again!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Your car makes ours look young! Our previous mechanic worked exclusively on Hondas and Toyotas, but if I continue to be happy with my new neighborhood place, proximity is going to win. It does seem that if you aren’t driving much, the oil wouldn’t get dirty, and thus wouldn’t need to be changed as quickly, though I guess I some point it might just start to break down?

      1. EcoCatLady says:

        Well… that’s what I thought, but he insisted it was OK. What do I know? Anyhow, I probably should get it changed a tad bit more often just to be safe!

        I’m quite fortunate in that my mechanic is pretty close by – about 4 miles, and it’s a fairly bikeable route between his shop and my house – well, if you don’t mind the killer hills! Of course there’s also a bus that goes practically from my door to his so I figure I’m set. Hope your neighborhood guy continues to work out for you – good mechanics are worth their weight in gold!

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