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What maintenance should I do on my low-mileage 2001 car?

My cousin stopped driving – for health reasons – and gave me his 2001 Pontiac Sunfire 2.2 with only 22,000 kilometres on it. I immediately changed the oil, brake fluid and engine coolant and today the vehicle has 40,000 kilometres on it, but still runs like new. What maintenance should I perform? The owner's manual isn't clear regarding transmission fluid. It suggests changing the fluid at 80,000 kilometres if harsh driving conditions exist. The car sat in an underground parking garage for extended periods, hence the low mileage. Are the original tires safe and should I change the transmission fluid? – Phil

There should be plenty of trouble-free years and kilometres left in that car and, while it might be wise to change the transmission fluid as a precaution, you should first change the tires.

Tires are a perishable item. They may not exhibit any visual signs of aging and there are no tests to determine their life, but as a rule of thumb, they have a life expectancy of six to eight years in normal use.

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Advances in technology and anti-aging ingredients mean they may last and look good longer, but the chemistry involved breaks down and the tread loses its effectiveness after a certain amount of time.

Atmospheric conditions, geography, the method of storage and type and frequency of use are all factors when dealing with tire age. Exposure to bright sun and heat, infrequent use and improper inflation all accelerate the aging process.

Chrysler and Ford recommend that tires installed as original equipment be replaced after six years of use. The British Rubber Manufacturers Association says that unused tires should not be put in service if more than six years old. It says "poor storage and infrequent use accelerate the aging process" and that while perfect conditions may allow a tire to attain a life expectancy of 10 years, those conditions rarely exist.

The Japan Tire Manufacturers Association encourages inspection after five years and replacement, regardless of appearance, after 10 years. Manufacturers of high-performance vehicles running tires rated for sustained high speeds are adamant that tires be replaced after six years – maximum.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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