Ever been stranded on the side of the road? Mechanical parts do wear out and fail, but breakdowns aren't inevitable. Prevent them by looking for parts that improve the vehicle's reliability. If you drive a ton of miles or just want the least possible down time, here's some upgrades that will keep you on the road longer.
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Oil catch can
Modern emissions systems include exhaust gas recirculation equipment. This runs a small tube from the exhaust to the intake manifold. While it helps emissions, the exhaust gasses can coat your intake valves in nastiness or contaminate the oil. You can't remove the EGR valve or you'll get a check-engine light and your mileage will suffer, so add an oil catch can instead. Catch cans act as a filter for the recirculated air and catch all the oil and other junk before it gets to the combustion chambers. All turbo and direct injection engines should get one for increased engine life.
Sure, you have an air filter in your vehicle now, but if it's the factory-paper junk filter, how well is it actually working? With a performance air filter, you get several benefits. First, performance air filters often screen out small particles that a paper air filter could never block, which means fewer tiny particles in your engine. Some versions allow more airflow, which can mean a slight increase in power and fuel economy. Plus, most performance filters are washable, meaning you won't have to buy another one for the life of the car.
As your engine heats up the circulating coolant, the liquid expands. A coolant system that was full when cold is now overflowing when hot. The old-timey solution is to run a hose to the ground, but that gets messy. If your ride is old school, get an overflow tank. Also called an expansion tank, the coolant overflow tank helps prevent a mess, or running low on coolant. Add a pressurized radiator cap, and you've got a system that shouldn't ever run out of coolant and overheat. Overflow tanks are often chromed, adding a touch of custom cool under the hood. Remember that the radiator cap is an important part of the cooling system—if you have an old one on your old ride, replace it with a pressurized cap.
Mud flaps seem a little simple here, but bear with us. This device hangs off the body panels right behind the tires. When you run over rocks, bolts, roadkill, or other random road debris, it impacts the mud flap instead of your paint. That's an affordable way to prevent the need for touch-up paint. Plus, many are no-drill, meaning you can use existing vehicle hardware and holes to install the mud flaps. On an older vehicle, small chrome mud flaps can look cool!
Modern transmissions are massively expensive, and excessive heat is their No. 1 enemy. A transmission cooler acts as a small radiator, cooling the hot fluid with ambient air before recirculating it back to the transmission. Different sizes and mounting options allow coolers to fit on everything from a Super Duty to a Saturn. They are way more affordable than a transmission rebuild and can be installed in as little as two hours with some basic tools. A transmission cooler is really a must-have item if you do any towing or haul any serious amounts of weight. If you're concerned about transmission temps and the unit's longevity, get a transmission temp gauge as part of your cooler package.
There's a lot of variety to vehicle batteries out there. Sure, your factory battery starts your vehicle just fine, but when it fades and ceases to work, upgrade with an AGM battery. Absorbed Glass Mat batteries are used in high-vibration situations because the layered internal design holds a charge even under pounding waves or extreme off-roading. It'll handle your grind to the office with ease.
Braided brake lines
Most factory brake lines are reinforced rubber components, designed to do the job as cheaply as possible. When they wear out, upgrade with a set of stainless-steel braided lines. The outer braided cover prevents the inner line from expanding under brake pressure, meaning more braking force gets transferred to the brake pad. It's a noticeable improvement in braking feel, for not much cash, and it lasts longer. Win-win-win is the best kind of upgrade. Braided-brake-line extensions are especially useful on a truck with a lift kit, as everything is going to have to be longer anyway to accommodate the extra ride height, and the braided steel will hold up under all kinds of off-road abuse.
Engine block heater
Starting a vehicle in cold weather is hard on the engine for a couple of reasons. The oil is cold and thick and takes a bit to travel throughout the engine's oil passages, plus startup is one of the most stressful events for any engine. Speed up the warmup with an engine block heater. It plugs into any electrical outlet where a heating element warms the block (and thus the oil and coolant), bringing the liquids closer to operating temp. They're under $100 for gas engines (diesel a bit more) but are priceless on brutally cold days.
Check out some other winter life hacks, too. They're especially useful for diesels, which can be a little hard to start in cold weather. Note: if you haven't considered a switch to synthetic oil, this might be the time. Along with enhanced engine protection, synthetic oil isn't as prone to thicken in cold weather or thin out at high temperatures.
Of course, the biggest bang for your buck in reliability comes from reading the manual and performing the scheduled maintenance on time. Any other tips on how to extend the life of a vehicle? Let us know, in the comments below.