Get The Most Out Of Your Car

While it used to be common practice for drivers to trade in their cars for a new model every three to five years, today's cars are designed to last. With regular maintenance, many cars can now be driven for 200,000 miles or more.

But is it worth it to hold on to "old reliable" rather than trade up?

Yes. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, keeping a car for 225,000 miles over 15 years, rather than financing an identical model every five years, can save you even more than the purchase price.

Here are Consumer Reports' recommendations for keeping your car in good working order over the long haul:

Buy smart. Consult Consumer Reports' April Autos issue for comprehensive reliability ratings. The car you choose should come equipped with safety features that have performed well on government and insurance industry safety tests. Consumer Reports recommends: the Honda Civic, the Honda CR-V, the Lexus ES and the Toyota Highlander, among others.

Get regular service. Don't skimp on maintenance. You may think you're saving money by forgoing that oil change, but think again. Skipping even one routine oil change can result in engine wear, so stick to the schedule.

Be a car detective. Get in the habit of regularly popping the hood and checking for unusual sounds, sights or smells that may tip you off to problems. Look out for things like bulging hoses or cracked belts. If you're mechanically inclined, you may even be able to fix minor problems yourself with the help of the vehicle service manual.

Don't cheap out on parts. If you try to cut costs by buying used or off-brand parts, you may end up paying the price in the long run. You may inadvertently cause damage to the car by using parts or fluids that don't meet the specifications of the manufacturer. The lesson: Be extra careful if you buy off-brand.

Keep it clean. You'll be less tempted to trade up to a new model before it's time if you treat your current car with care.

Remember: regular washing and waxing can help preserve paint and stave off rust, which can put years on a car.

Copyright (c) 2007 MarketWatch, Inc.