Vehicle Maintenance Tips

Besides our houses, our cars are the most expensive things we own in many situations, and they represent a substantial financial investment.

If you keep your vehicle running well, you will save money on maintenance and repairs while you keep yourself and your family safe.

It is recommended that you have your car’s maintenance done by a qualified, certified technician in order to get the best possible results. Also, you will keep your vehicle’s warranty valid. Beyond this, there are some basic maintenance steps that you should always do in order to keep your vehicle running at its best at all times.

Safety Basics

- Your owner's manual is the best source to use before starting any maintenance, because it will show you the specifics about your vehicle.

- Use the correct tools for whatever you are doing. Using the wrong tools will put you and your vehicle in danger.

- Understand the right way to use chemicals. Gasoline and oil should never touch your skin, as they are very dangerous.

- Always put a drainage pan under the engine when cleaning it at your home. This will capture the residue, which must be disposed of based on local laws regarding disposing of engine oil and other similar liquids.

- Put your gearshift in park, and put the parking brake on.

- Never work on an engine that's hot.

- Talk to a professional any time you are unsure about what to do when working on your vehicle.

Things to Keep an Eye On ...

Air Filter: Air filters keep dust and dirt from getting into your engine, and as a result they steadily get built up with grime. Over time, air filters can become blocked, which may cause the “Check Engine” light to come on, and this reduces performance. If your air filter is only slightly discolored, it means that it is only a little dirty, and you can clean it by tapping it on a hard surface with the bottom side down.

Battery: Keep the battery casing clean, and always check the connections for corrosion. If you see any bulges or cracks on the battery, you need to replace it. Baking soda mixed with water and a stiff non-metal brush is the best way to clean corrosion. When you are done, rinse the terminals with pure water and catch all of the excess in a tray to dispose of properly.

Windshield Wipers: You must have working windshield wipers to be a safe driver. They need to be in one piece and clean. Using mild detergent and a paper towel is the best way to clean your windshield wipers. You can easily replace blades that look worn. Either replace the blade itself or the entire arm when you notice wear.

Fluids: Checking your car's fluids is one of the most important things you can do to keep it driving as long as possible. Put your car on a level surface before checking the fluids. Before you open any of the caps, check to make sure that they are clean so that nothing falls into the engine's fluids. You can replace the windshield washing fluid easily, so make sure you always carry a bottle with you, but never fill the reservoir to the top when it is cold because it might freeze. Engine coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid need to be serviced by a professional.

Oil Change: Oil is essential because it both protects and lubricates anything in your engine that moves. However, the heat and pressure that are involved with the normal running of an engine cause oil to break down, and it also gets dirty from the dust, dirt, and particles in the engine. You should change your oil and your oil filter every 3,000 – 5,000 miles, depending on the driving conditions where you drive. If you drive in the city, in dusty areas, in drastically hot or cold climates, or if you regularly carry heavy things, your oil will wear out faster than if you drive on the highway in a moderate climate.

Tires: Having properly inflated tires will make your tires last longer, keep you safer, and cause you to get the best possible gas mileage. Also, watch your tread for wear. Having your tires worn down too far is dangerous, and against the law. Most states require you to have at least 2/23 of an inch of tread, but you will want to replace your tires before they get this low. You can use a penny to check the tread. If you can see all of Abe's head then the tread is too low. A tire tread gauge is more accurate, however.

Tire Rotation: Your tires will last longer if you rotate them. This is best done by a mechanic, because he will have the equipment needed to do the job easily. If you have the equipment and the time, you can do this job yourself, but using a professional mechanic will ensure that your tires are aligned and balanced when needed.

Belts: Most cars have a serpentine belt, which powers the engine accessories, and a timing belt, which is responsible for running the engine. These belts can loosen or wear out with time. You should have a professional replace the belts if you notice wear and tear on them. A deep crack is a good sign that the belt needs to be changed. They are cheap to fix, but if you do not fix them you could end up with expensive damage to your engine or a situation where you are stranded somewhere dangerous.

Brakes: Your brakes will keep you and everyone else on the road safe, so we do recommend you see a professional when they need to be changed. Screeching and grinding indicate that they need to be checked. Also, if you notice that your steering wheel shakes when you brake, have the brakes checked quickly. These are a couple of the warning signs that new brakes might be needed.

Be Proactive ...

Environmental Concerns: Keeping your car properly maintained will save you money and help the environment. Cars that have been tuned will use less oil, gas, and energy, while producing fewer pollutants.

A Class Act: You can probably find a class on basic car maintenance at your local community college. This can help you know more about your vehicle, even if you intend to always use professionals for your service needs. Always check the owner's manual before you do anything to maintain your car, and when in doubt, talk to a professional.