Basic Maintenance to Keep Your Car Running Smoothly and Trouble Free

In this article we’ll go over some simple and cheap yet vital maintenance tips to keep your car running well and to hopefully avoid costly repairs. All but one of these tasks can be performed by people who have basic “do-it-yourself” skills. If you do not wish to attempt any of these tasks, all of them can be done at a local garage or corporate chain stores, such as Pep Boys fairly cheaply.

Rotating your tires and checking tread depth- Rotating your tires will help keep tread wear even on your tires and increase the length of time and mileage you get out of your tires. Depending on what kind of car or light truck you drive, your tires may lose tread quicker in either the front or the back of the vehicle, so rotating your tires at set intervals can help spread the wear more evenly. To complete this task you simply need a jack and a lug-wrench. However, If you have access to a lift and an air wrench, it makes this job much easier. If you choose to have someone else take care of this you should be able to get your tires rotated for around 20 dollars. In fact, several chain stores offer lifetime (the tire’s lifetime) deals such as Wal-Mart, who offers lifetime rotation for $24.99. Most state’s inspection laws dictate that a tire is officially worn and unsafe when the tread is down to 2/32″. However, if you don’t want to hydroplane in wet weather or worry about blow outs I suggest you get new tires when your tires reach 4/32″ or less of tread depth. If you go to this link you can see how to measure your tire’s tread fairly accurately using US coins (in case you don’t have a proper tool to measure them).

Changing your oil and oil filter-This is an extremely important but often overlooked task that has a direct effect on how long and well your motor will run. There is probably no more important bit of maintenance when it comes to saving you from expensive repairs later in your car’s life. Your car’s oil loses it viscosity as time goes on and also gathers foreign particles as the oil filer gets dirty. Both of these events lead to wear and tear inside your engine. To change your own oil you will need a wrench that fits your oil pan’s drain bolt, an oil filter wrench, two small wheel ramps to elevate the front of your car and an oil catch/recycle container. If this seems like too much trouble, you can always to go to Jiffy Lube (or a similar competitor) for fairly cheap and quick oil and filter changes. These companies are always offering coupons in local papers and/or online as they are in fierce competition with each other, so keep your eyes open for a special or coupon in your area. For recommended intervals of oil changes consult your owner’s manual. However, if you frequently drive short distances, live in a hot climate or drive your car very aggressively, I recommend changing the oil and filter no less than every five thousand miles even if your manual says 7500 or 10,000 miles.

Checking your tire’s air pressure- All you need to perform this simple but important task is a tire pressure gauge which should cost you less than ten dollars and will last for years. First, you need to find out what your tire’s air pressure should be. Warning; it is not the pressure that is sometimes listed on the side of your tire. For your car’s correct pressure check your owner’s manual. If you don’t have the manual, check online for your make and model as it should be fairly easy to find. Driving heats your tires up which in turn raises the tire’s air pressure, so make sure when you test the pressure the car hasn’t been driven for a few hours. It is very important to get an accurate reading and to test the pressure at least once a month. If your pressure is too high it will cause the car to be bouncy and have poor traction, adversely affecting performance and safety. If your tire pressure is too low it will create too much friction causing excessive wear and tear, poor gas mileage and also affecting performance and safety, including the risk of having a blow out due to your tire spontaneously separating.

Changing your coolant- Coolant is the fluid in your radiator that absorbs heat to help keep your engine operating at a safe temperature. I do not recommend that you do this bit of maintenance by yourself. When it comes time to change your coolant, (unless you are a capable backyard mechanic) I recommend having your coolant flushed and changed by a professional. Coolant breaks down overtime and the anti-rust additives in it will eventually stop working. This will cause your vehicle’s cooling system which includes the radiator and the block of your engine to rust. Eventually this rust will clog up your radiator and heater causing your car to overheat, which may result in a blown motor and thousands of dollars in repair bills. In between your scheduled coolant changes periodically check the coolant level when the car is off and hasn’t been driven for several hours. If the coolant level is below the minimum line, add anti-freeze as needed. Be careful when pouring and storing anti-freeze as even a small amount of it can kill a dog or a cat. Unfortunately, household animals are attracted to the smell and taste of anti-freeze and will drink it if they get the chance.

Changing your air-filters- This is a very easy task and can be performed by anyone who has used a screwdriver or a pair of pliers.Most air filters can be changed by loosening two screws or bolts or even just unsnapping a few clips. Your air filter’s job is to stop debris such as paper, dust, leaves and other foreign objects from getting sucked into your car’s engine. If you drive around with a dirty and clogged air filter, your car will be starving for air and will start running rich (using more gas than necessary) resulting in poor gas mileage and a poorly running engine. If you really let it go and let your filter get seriously clogged, your car will even have trouble starting and eventually may not run at all. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended intervals between changes. In between scheduled changes you can periodically check to see if the filter is dirty and needs to be changed prematurely, especially if you live in a dusty and dry area such as southwestern states like Arizona, New Mexico etc…

So please remember, while you won’t immediately notice the effects of skipping oil changes and coolant flushes and the like, you will pay some serious money in the long run if you don’t properly maintain your vehicle. It’s like Ben Franklin wrote back in 1732 “a stitch in time, saves nine”. Although Mr.Franklin lived far before the advent of the automobile, this saying perfectly encapsulates how one should look at car maintenance. Just translate it to “a dollar spent in time, saves nine”.

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