Preparing for a long work commute: maintenance on current car

maintenance
fuel-economy

#1

I have a 2011 Ford Fusion SE, 2.5 L 4-cylinder, 120k miles. It’s in good condition; I keep up on oil and other fluids, and take it to the shop every year for a “check up” before winter. I bought it 2 years ago when it had approx. 92k miles. I’m the second owner. It was a fleet vehicle before I purchased it, and I was told that most of the mileage was from highway trips between cities.

It’s in good shape, but it’s gotten older as cars are wont to do. It has a little less power, makes a little more noise, shifts a little more harshly, etc, than it used to. In two weeks, I’m starting a new job that will mean commuting 800 miles a week, plus whatever other driving I’m doing. The drive is easy: large, flat freeways the entire way. What sorts of possible problems should I look out for, and what types of maintenance can I do now to make things easier down the road? I think I need to replace my spark plugs/wires, as I didn’t do that at 100k, but other than that, what would be a good idea?

Additionally, I may or may not end up moving closer at the end of the summer. If not, I’ll be looking for a new vehicle as the winter approaches (and maybe even if I don’t move, depending on how my Fusion copes with 10k miles over the summer). Any suggestions on good vehicles for northeast Ohio commuters would be welcome!


#2

For a year I commuted 103 miles each way (206/day) five days a week. I’ve never commuted less than 20 miles each way, and through most of my working life it was over 30 miles each way.

Keep the car well maintained, fix things when they break, make sure you have good wiper blades, tire tread, and windshield wash and you should be fine. You need do nothing special.

I’d recommend carrying a AAA card, a credit card, a cell phone, and a basic tool box. I never needed the tool box, but I have had to use the AAA card and the credit card due to extreme weather and unpredictable events. You cannot check into a hotel without a credit card, and that’s the safest decision in a bad storm.


#3

Just keep up with regular maintenance as per Ford’s owners manual for the Fusion. If the spark plugs are due, get new ones. I don’t think your Fusion has plug wires most Ford motors have COPs (coil on plug) and don’t need plug wires.

Your tires will simply wear out more often so keep an eye on tread depth and keep the tires properly inflated.

I’d recommend having the transmission fluid changed now, and again about every 50K miles. Don’t use a quick change oil place for this service since they use generic fluids. The proper fluid is important so either have Ford do the service or a good independent repair shop.

You can get a new car, but I have several approaching 200K miles that are running fine and don’t need frequent repairs. You can expect this car to be reliable for several more years and lots more miles.


#4

The engine is fairly low maintenance. It has coil over plug no plug wires, No timing Belt…etc. So for the engine I would be mindful of Oil maintenance and maybe some new spark plugs and an air filter. Not much in the way of traditional “tune up” parts apply here.

The weakest link IMHO is the transmission…sounds like an Auto? If so…Trans fluid change and or filter change if even uses a changeable filter. A lot of vehicles have no serviceable trans filter these days…something I am against but I digress…

Also the brakes…how are the pads? The rotors? If she brakes smoothly…then rotors are OK for now. Just check on the pads. Most people focus on how well they can go…rather than how well they can stop. You dont want to gain a sudden appreciation of how much you love your brakes by way of an impromptu road lesson in what happens when the Stoppers…well…Dont. Trust me on this.

Blackbird


#5

A vehicle inspection for most places is around $100.00, that might show what you need to do now or plan for the future.
As for vehicle recommendations that is a waste of time. I might like several vehicles but you might not. You are the one spending the money so you should do your own research.


#6

Thanks for the advice everyone. This car is my first since I got my first professional job, so I kind of don’t really have experience with cars that aren’t “good enough for a college student” type vehicles. The thought that it might last beyond 150k miles and still be reliable hadn’t really occurred to me.


#7

This should be a pretty reliable unit for you however… Its only 5 yrs old…whats the worry? Aside from simple preventive maintenance what more do you need? You cannot plan for every contingency and the vehicle hasnt failed you yet…Do you expect a failure due to some symptom? If not…drive the wheels off of it till it asks for attention. But oil changes and brakes are part of driving…in every vehicle.

Do the basics and or basic checks and go driving and put problems out of your head for now. You shouldn’t be expecting failures unless you currently have symptoms to suggest them.

Blackbird


#8

I’m admittedly paranoid: I’ve never commuted more like 20 minutes for work, and my last car, also a Ford, was always broken, despite all my best efforts.


#9

Chill…check the brake pad life remaining…change the oil… AND DRIVE BOY… Go git em

Worry is for the Weak…not the work Week. I just made that up haha

Blackbird


#10

I’d be a bit worried about the “little less power, makes a little more noise, shifts a little more harshly” bit. The plugs may take care of the first. A change in transmission fluid the last. More noise is normal as the sound insulation ages. Is the check engine light on?


#11

No job is worth spending that many hours sitting in a car…Life is too short…


#12

I rented a Fusion a few years ago and found it impressive: solid, efficient, great headlights, comfortable for long drives, etc.

The single biggest factor, other than keeping up with maintenance and doing the occasional necessary unexpected repair, is the tires. What is their age, tread depth, evenness of wear? If you have, or especially if you approach next winter with questionable tires, a new set of good all-seasons will inspire confidence and make it feel almost new.


#13

I’d suggest the OP consider a AAA membership for more peace of mind. The car is fine and will last but a lot of miles per year increases tire problems on the road, etc. Also the car is 5 years old and most car batteries last about 5-7 years. So, if the car needs a new battery someday get it but don’t make that into “I need a new car”.

New tires, struts, brakes, batteries, serpentine belts; are all parts that simply wear out due to miles driven or age. Find a good mechanic you trust, budget some money for replacement and repairs, and have a rental car source in case you need it.


#14

Before I retired, my work car was a Saturn and my commute was 100 miles R/T. I put 275k miles on it, even taking a 6k mile road trip before selling it. I wasn’t as faithful to the maintenance schedule as I should have been, but I guess I was reasonably close.

I used the cheapest oil I could get, and the cheapest filters, pushed the intervals out to the limits, plus 10% sometimes. But I did use double platinum tipped spark plugs because they last so long (100k at least). I also used a universal long life antifreeze that I mixed 2:1 with distilled water, but I pushed the interval to 6 years instead of the recommended 5, and NEVER flushed the cooling system.

It had a manual transmission so I didn’t have to mess with ATF changes.

The two things I was anal about were brakes and tires. I did a brake fluid flush with each pad change, changed rotors also, lubed the floating pins, put on new brake hardware and used only quality ceramic pads.

For tires, only top rated all season or touring tires like the Bridgestone Turanza (when they were a good tire) and Michelin tires. I kept them inflated about 3 to 4 psi above the placard recommendation. The placard called for 32, I would inflate to 36, and I used a calibrated gauge with NIST certification.

The reason for the extra inflation is that for highway driving, the tires will run hotter than around town. The extra pressure helps the tires flex less and run a little cooler. I never had any trouble with them and they lasted me over 100k per set. But when ever I saw a vehicle on the side of the road, it was almost always due to tire trouble, so pay the most attention to your tires.


#15

Tires all good, matching?


#16

Get the battery tested, change the plugs, change th transmission fluid, and drive on. I drive about 100 miles a day commuting and do it in a car with almost 160,000 miles on it. If your auto insurer offers roadside assistance, it might be worth it. The cost is lower than AAA. Mine is, anyway. My commute is through a big metro area and I’m never too far from services. Good luck, and consider moving if you like the job. I’m too close to retirement and my wife has a job. I’m not moving. But you are just starting your career.


#17

If you have a AAA card, a cell phone, and a credit card that absolute worst possible thing that can happen (short of an accident) is that you end up getting a tow. And that isn’t the end of the world. It’s really just a temporary inconvenience.

As to the car making high mileage, as long as you maintain it and monitor its condition (fluids, tire tread, etc.) there’s no reason whatsoever that it cannot go another 100,000 miles. My personal best is 338,000 miles… until it got decommissioned by an errant Hyundai. My current car has 235,000 miles and still runs great. Modern cars can go a long way if kept maintained.

Sincere congratulations on your graduation and your new job. Best of luck with both.


#18

120 K miles in 5 years? hmmm … that’s about 24,000 miles per year. That’s good news; cars tend to last a long time when driven lots of miles at freeway speeds on smooth roads. So you’ve got a good chance of keeping this car for some time OP. I’d focus on keeping the oil and filter changed, coolant replaced, and transmission giving a proper service at least on the intervals suggested in the owners manual. The single best thing you can do for your car engine is to change the oil and filter, so if you want to go the extra mile, do that even more frequently than recommended by the owner’s manual.

It’s a little concerning you are experiencing loss of power at 5 years. Possibilities are the ignition, compression, air intake and fuel delivery systems, and the exhaust system. The number one priority is probably replacing the engine air filter. The other systems, when they fail, tend to produce diagnostic codes in the ECM memory, so it’s a good idea to have those checked periodically. There can be stored codes even with no check engine light.


#19

I can honestly say that commute time is THE first consideration I use if or when I am looking for a new career… If one job was 100K/yr with a 100 mile one way commute and another job was 75K with an under 25 mile commute…you can BET I would be driving lesser distance every time. I would barely consider the higher paying job honestly…and it wouldn’t trouble me for a single moment.

I’m funny that way. My personal time is worth FAR more than any job wants to pay me…I’ve held this opinion my entire life…and I still do. Its getting worse I think?

Blackbird


#20

The younger me could handle longer commutes, like 50 miles each way was not much of a problem. the older – I should say “old geezer” – me, long commutes are not happening no matter the enticement. Concur w/your opinion HOnda.