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Car Maintenance Made Easy

Americans are holding on to their cars longer than ever. Keeping an older vehicle on the road is simple with these doable tips from the experts.

Though it pains me to admit this, I drive a 14-year-old minivan that has not looked spiffy since Clinton was president. It goes from 0 to 60 in about 10 minutes. The once-white exterior is now greenish gray, thanks to an algae-like life form that took up residence underneath the paint. On good days the inside smells like a wet dog. You don't want to know about bad days.

Still, it has two clear advantages over a new car: It's paid off and, well, it's paid off. Our goal is to keep this baby rolling until the wheels fall off or my 14-year-old son is old enough to terrorize other motorists, in which case he'll inherit it. (He has already stated his intention to paint the van jet black, sell it, and use that money to "get something better." As if.)

It turns out we're in good company. Due to the shaky economy, people are holding on to cars much longer than they did just two years ago, says John Nielsen, director of auto repair and buying for the Automobile Association of America (AAA). The average age of a passenger vehicle on U.S. roads is now 10.6 years, according to research firm R.L. Polk, and climbing steadily.

There's no secret to keeping an aging vehicle roadworthy. Maintenance is key, along with some TLC. These days you can even add aftermarket extras like an entertainment system or a rear-view camera to give the vehicle some of that "new car" feel, if not the smell. But first off, start with the basics.