Today's cars and trucks
demand much less attention than those of the yesteryear. In the old days,
a car's systems had to be fiddled with regularly just to keep the machine
from breaking down. But with the advent of fuel injection, advanced spark
plugs, and elaborate computer control systems, the traditional tune-up
is a thing of the past-- many new cars run for 100,000 miles without a
major tune-up. But there is a down side to these advances: high-tech engines
can intimidate would-be tinkerers, and since performance and fuel efficiency
decline so gradually, owners tend to avoid looking under the hood until
something goes wrong. They pay for this neglect in decreased mileage,
poor handling, and surprise breakdowns. This doesn't have to necessarily
be the case. A simple routine of preventive maintenance can forestall
many automotive woes, keeping you and your car safer and happier. The
amount of work your car needs depends on how hard you drive it-- most
owner's manuals list separate recommendations for normal and severe driving
conditions. But what is severe? Practically everything-- cars don't like
short trips, stop and go traffic, off-roading, hauling heavy loads, extreme
temperatures, humidity, dust, pollution...actually, more than 75 percent
of cars are driven under "severe" conditions. All this means
is that your car may need a little extra attention and more frequent maintenance.
The first step in establishing a car-care routine is to dig out the owner's
manual and read the maintenance recommendations. If your car is under
warranty, pay special attention to the minimum requirements needed to
keep the warranty in effect. An unexpected benefit of reading the manual:
schedule savvy makes you hard to rip off at the service shop.
Following are some
tips on establishing a basic maintenance routine. Remember, these are
just guidelines-- consult your owner's manual for specific instructions.
A tune-up is like a physical
for your car-- someone examines all the systems to make sure all the parts
are doing their jobs. During a tune-up, a technician will focus on the
spark plugs, which are a vital determinant of a vehicle's performance.
Worn or dirty plugs change the fuel/air mixture in the engine, which affects
gas mileage. Also, because of their central role in the engine, the condition
of the spark plugs can alert the technician to potential problems in other
parts of the car. Tune-up intervals vary from brand to brand, so check
the owner's manual to see how often your car needs this service.
Only a few square inches
of rubber connect your vehicle to the road. Therefore, the condition of
this rubber is crucial to your car's safety. Worn or deflated tires make
for bad mileage and dangerous driving. Check the tire pressure every week
(don't forget the spare!) and examine the wear patterns on the treads--
unusual patterns mean the tires need to be rotated. Rotate the tires every
6,000 miles to ensure even wear. Also have the wheel alignment and balance
checked once a year. If you follow these guidelines, steel-belted radial
tires should last for 70,000 miles.
Intimidated by a high-tech
engine? Get to know your car by checking the fluid levels. Even the most
mechanically disinclined person can look at a dipstick. Every month, check
the oil, radiator, battery, power steering, brake and transmission fluid,
and top off those that are low. (The owner's manual will tell you where
to find the dipsticks.) A few fluids need special attention:
The oil (and oil filter)
should be changed every three months or 3,000 miles.
Radiator fluid should
be replaced every two years. Use a solution of 50 % water and 50% antifreeze
to keep the radiator running smoothly in extreme temperatures.
- The transmission fluid
should be replaced about every two years. If the fluid is brown, not
red, and smells like a dead skunk, it's time for a change.
Some batteries require
fluid, some don't. Check to see if your battery is maintenance free.
If not, fill to recommended level with odorless tap water.
Belts, Hoses, and
These are more easy
maintenance tasks that you can do at home. Every month, poke around
under the hood and note any cracks, frays, leaks, or bulges in the belts
and hoses. These flaws indicate that the part will soon snap or rupture;
have faulty parts replaced as soon as possible. Belts and hoses will
wear out sooner or later, so to avoid the stress of a roadside emergency,
have them all replaced every two years. While you're at it, check the
windshield wipers for cracks and brittleness. Wipers should be replaced
each year; don't wait for them to start smearing or chattering before
you replace them.
Air Filter and Battery
Check the air filter
every two months, or when you change the oil. Replace it if it is clogged
or damaged. During your monthly maintenance routine, check the battery
for loose cables and corrosion. Scrub off any corrosion or dirt with
a wire brush. Batteries only last about three and a half years; when
your battery gets old, have it replaced before it dies. This will save
you from otherwise inevitable stress and expense. Although your high-tech
car probably won't complain if it's neglected, preventive maintenance
is just as important today as it was thirty years ago. Your car's elaborate
systems may be intimidating, but they're not invincible; don't let a
seemingly smooth performance lull you into neglecting regular maintenance.
These simple tasks will save you time, trouble and expense by decreasing
the chance of emergencies and major repairs and increasing your car's
fuel efficiency, lifespan, and dollar value.