Keeping a car running in top shape doesn’t have to be mission impossible. If you follow these basic maintenance rules, you may save thousands of dollars in repair bills and watch your vehicle’s odometer spin up to 150,000, even 200,000, reliable miles.
Just like you, your car likes to ease into the morning. First, make sure you start up your vehicle with the climate control, stereo, and headlights turned off. Leaving them on drains the battery faster and taxes the engine, says Tony Molla, vice president of industry affairs at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Also, don’t rev the engine. This doesn’t help warm the car up. Instead, revving can damage the engine and shorten its life. A worn out drivetrain can cost $5,000 or more.
Check Your Tires
Low air pressure causes tires to overheat and leads to excessive tread wear. Too much air pressure causes uneven wear. Either way, you could find yourself facing safety concerns and shelling out $400 or more for a new set of tires. Check or have a mechanic check your tire pressure at least once a month. If you hear them squealing while you’re turning corners at normal speed, pump them up, says Molla. Also, check your owner’s manual for information on scheduling tire rotation, which can extend the life of the set of tires and allow even wear.
Trust Your Senses
Your vehicle provides plenty of clues when it’s not functioning 100 percent. Just use your eyes, ears and nose. For example, look for drops of oil or coolant on the driveway, which indicate a leak.
If you hear squeaky brakes, you may need new brake pads. Ignore the sound and it may progress to chirping and grinding, an indication the metal rotor or drum is coming into contact with the metal brake pad’s backing plate.
Other sounds include:
• Whistling, which typically comes from worn belts, leaking gaskets or a bad clutch.
• Pinging from the engine, usually caused by gasoline with a lower octane rating than recommended.
The smell of gasoline is exhaust caused by a leaky fuel system or manifold. A burned-toast smell often signals an electrical short and burning insulation.
Don’t Act Like a Jack Rabbit
Fast starts as well as quick or incomplete stops put enormous stress on all parts of your vehicle, including brakes, tires, shock absorbers, transmission and the engine. This kind of driving also increases your risk of accidents and wreaks havoc on gas mileage.
Stop and Think
Don’t ask your transmission to do the work of your brakes when you back out of a driveway or parking space. Shifting into drive while the car is still moving in reverse damages the internal moving parts. Come to a complete stop, or you could find yourself staring at a $1,000 repair bill. If you do enough damage, you might need a new transmission, which could run $3,000 or more.
Gauge the Gas
Who hasn’t avoided filling up until the needle on the fuel gauge is on empty? Even if everyone does it, it’s a bad idea, says Molla. Dirt and sediment build up in your gas tank over time. When the tank gets too low, the junk can gunk up your fuel system, clogging the fuel filter and damaging the fuel injectors. That could cost you several hundred dollars. Molla says to keep at least a quarter tank of fuel in your vehicle at all times.
Don’t Ride the Clutch
Simple strategies can extend the life of the clutch to more than 100,000 miles. When sitting in traffic, shift the transmission into neutral and keep your foot off the clutch. To avoid rolling backwards while on a hill, use your emergency brake instead of your clutch.
Get Regular Checkups
Today, the general automotive industry rule is to change oil every 3,000 (if you drive in stop-and-go city conditions) to 7,500 miles (if you cruise the open road.) Also, have a mechanic inspect your vehicle’s brakes every six months to a year, check gaskets and belts regularly and make sure wiper blades, headlights and turn signals are in working order.
Pay Attention to Warning Lights
Ignoring warnings, such as an oil light or a temperature gauge in the red zone, can lead to disastrous results. “Address a problem immediately,” Molla advises. “Any delay can result in additional problems and increased repair costs.”
Reprinted from U.25, a young adult publication produced by USAA, a financial services company committed to serving members of the military and their families since 1922.