Going the extra miles

Going the extra miles

CHAMPAIGN — You should look this good with 247,000 miles on you.

Steve Mechling has three vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them, and they run great.

His 1999 GMC pickup doesn't look like it came from a different millennium.

"This thing looks brand new," he says, and he's not full of hot air.

Even under the hood, the truck is spotless thanks to regular maintenance tasks — a tight oil change schedule among them.

A member of Illini Car Collectors, the retired University of Illinois police officer takes his vehicle collecting very, very seriously.

How many of them does he have?

"Oh, 22 or 24," Mechling says. "I'm slowly thinning the herd."

What does Mechling usually get around in?

His 2004 Chevrolet Astrovan has 222,000 miles on it, with just a little bit of rust. Mechling had an Astrovan before that rusted through, but has only a spot of oxidation.

"I bought it from the original owner, who put 160,000 on it," Mechling says.

"He took very good care of it," Mechling said. "He went to warmer climates in winter, got it out of winter driving. The day I bought it, I went to a place to undercoat it. I've had it 11 years, still no sign of corrosion."

The third high-mileage vehicle: a 1979 Chevy, 232,000 miles, "the last vehicle I bought brand new."

"I always buy used now, prices are just too high," he says.

Two Labradors are part of his security system.

Aaron Finley of Homer really tops them out.

"I do trucks. Lots of miles on them. 450,000, 300,000, 275,000, 150,000 and my pretty truck only has 80,000 on it. They are just getting broken in good," he says.

Finley is no amateur. He's shop foreman at CUMTD, and has a transmission shop in Homer.

"Give them service when they need it and keep watching over them. Most people will drive them until they break, when you should want to keep them from breaking," Finley says.

There's no room for malingers in his family. His son has a '98 Dodge with about 250,000 and his wife has an '06 Dodge with 300,000.

Those vehicles are red, white and blue, "great for patriotic holidays."

Nor does he pamper a vehicle: Finley competes in both truck and tractor pulls.

Mechling's 1999 GMC came to him used but spotless.

In fact, it was very used.

"I bought it from a very good friend," Mechling says. "He bought it brand-new. At the time, he lived in Mahomet and drove it to O'Hare Airport, a 300-mile round trip, three or four days a week

"Highway driving is easier on a truck than driving in town," says the friend, Craig Davidson, who now lives in Danville.

Mechling remembers that he fell in love with the GMC's four-wheel drive when Davidson pulled him out of a snow-covered driveway. He had to buy it.

That worked out well for Davidson,

"My wife asked, 'Are you really going to keep that car?'"

David said he had trouble trying to sell it when potential owners heard about the miles on it.

"But Steve knows how long vehicles can last if they're really well taken care of," Davidson says.

Mechling knows Davidson's penchant for perfection."He is meticulous. Among other things, he changed the oil every 3,000 miles, even though he always uses synthetic. He's totally overboard," Mechling says.

Davidson says he tries to take care of every system.

"I change all the fluids, such as the transmission, but not just that. It means changing brake fluid; it's susceptible to absorbing water," Davidson say.

Mechling has had the former Davidson GMC for six or seven years, he says, and time has not dimmed its glory.

"Most cars rot around here because of all the salt on the road," Mechling says.

When he designed his Danville home, Davidson had a special place planned to be sodium-free.

"I had a drain put in the garage so I can always hose it down and get the salt off it," Davidson said.

By the way, Mechling doesn't just love trucks. He was instrumental in getting the University of Illinois to purchase motorcycles for its police force.

Tips for getting the most out of your car

Even if you're a low-mileage driver, the experts say ...

Change the oil and check the fluids

As a general rule, check your oil each month and change it as directed by your owner's manual. If you don't drive that frequently, you can likely go a bit longer. Oil isn't the only fluid your car needs. Around the time you change your oil, remember to check your power-steering, automatic transmission, wiper and brake fluids.

Check tire pressure

Underinflated tires are three times more likely to cause a serious accident than their properly pumped counterparts. Use a pressure gauge to test them at least once a month.

Test the lights

Flip on your headlights, tail lights, brake lights and turn signals while your car is parked and make sure each one is working. Aside from being a safety hazard, a broken bulb might get you a ticket. Take your car to an expert who can determine whether it's the bulb or the fuse.

Don't ignore that light

Occasionally your car's Check Engine light goes on despite no obvious signs of trouble. If there isn't a convenient time to have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic, the tendency is to continue driving without having it checked. It can lead to more expensive issues down the road.

Watch for an overheating engine

Your car's engine gets very hot while it is running, so it requires a cooling system to avoid overheating. Sometimes that cooling system can fail to do its job. If your engine begins overheating, stop immediately, turn off the ignition and call for a tow. Driving with an overheating engine can lead to the need for extensive and expensive repairs

Sources: Esurance, Pep Boys, carcare.org.

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