You and Your Car: You Better Love the One You're With.

12/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Remember those plans to pick out a nice new car this year? Chances are they went down in flames this month along with your IRA. We Americans have a passion bordering on entitlement for purchasing a new car every two or three years. Low monthly payments and easy financing have fueled that craving to the extent that this year was supposed to see 16+ million new cars sold.

That was then. This is now. The latest predictions are closer to 12 million new cars sold in 2008 and many people will have to forego the new ride. The reality has set in that whatever is in your garage now will likely be there next year too. As the song says, "if you can't love the one you want you had better love the one you're with!" Do not despair though; today's cars are built to last much longer than the vehicles of yore. The rusted out K car that haunted you through the '90s is not the ghost of Christmas future for your current ride. With some care, it can take you many more miles and can be managed very affordably.

First, decide if you can still afford the car you have. Are your monthly payments too much of a burden? Now is not a great time to be selling a car, but if you lease there is a useful website at that helps people get out of their leases when they become too much.

If you wanted to turn in your car for a hybrid, you can still keep your car and save the planet. Go to and purchase a carbon offset credit. They are cheap and more environmentally friendly than selling your older ride for a shiny Prius.

Assuming you can continue to afford the car you have, you must start becoming more proactive about owning and maintaining it. Since it may be a couple years before you are back in the market, you will need to get more mileage out of your car.

Let's face it, you were probably thinking that the squeaky brakes or the rattle that came after you hit the three-foot pothole at 70 mph were not big deals since the car was going back to the dealer in another six months. Wrong. They are not about to become someone else's concern. If you are going to get more out of your ride, you have to act before those nagging little problems become major ones. Cars are like anything else, and an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of after-market parts.

Do you know the service schedule for your car? Do you know when to change your oil or rotate your tires? Familiarize yourself with the owner's manual in your glove compartment and be proactive about servicing your car!

If you have specific repairs to do, research what they should cost before throwing yourself at the mercy of a mechanic. My own website allows you to run a "Pre Service Report" for your car which tells you what standard repairs and servicing should cost within your own town. It also tells you about all the mechanics who repair your kind of car and how they are rated and reviewed by others. Be proactive!

Also, be sure to save your maintenance records! It can actually increase the value of your car. You can store them on a site like DriverSide or just do it the old fashioned way and keep them in a binder.

In addition to servicing, you should pay attention to all the small things you can do yourself. Keep your tires properly inflated. Check fluids regularly. Keep your car clean and waxed and try to avoid parking it in the sun. You don't want the paint or the interior to give out before your engine does and preserving the cosmetic appearance of your vehicle increases its value.

Think a bit about how you drive. Do you race away from every stop sign like a former Investment Bank CEO leaving a congressional hearing? That puts incredible strain on the engine, especially if you haven't given the car time to warm up. How about idling for long periods of time? If you are going to sit for more than a few minutes, turn the engine off. Common sense is really all you need when thinking about how best to drive your car or truck.

To keep your car longer, you have to start thinking proactively with your vehicle. For more tips on how to extend the life of your car, courtesy of our editors, visit

Remember, with some care you can get much more out of your car. And don't be embarrassed. Used is the new new!