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Car Maintenance Tips

By Insurance.com Posted : 07/17/2006

We invest a great deal of money into our vehicles, and apart from a house, a car might be the most expensive item that we will buy.

Keeping your vehicle running smoothly can save you money in repairs and maintenance, and will be safer for you and your family.

We recommend that you always use a certified and qualified mechanic or technician to service your car – this ensures the best possible results, and can help maintain your vehicle's warranty. However, there are some things you can do to keep your car running smoothly.

Safety Basics

  • Please refer to your owner's manual before you start any maintenance, as it will contain vital information specific to your vehicle.
  • Have the right tools for the job. It can be dangerous for both you and your vehicle if you try to use the wrong tools.
  • Know how to handle chemicals. Oil and gasoline are dangerous materials, and should never touch your skin.
  • If you're cleaning any part of your engine at home, keep a drainage pan under the engine to capture any residue and follow local ordinances regarding disposal of engine oil and related liquids.
  • Parking brake should be on, and the gearshift should be in park.
  • Do not work on a hot engine!
  • If you're not sure about any aspect of a repair or maintenance procedure, please consult a professional mechanic or technician.

Things to keep an eye on...

Air Filter
Air filters steadily build up with dirt and dust, making sure that it doesn't get into your engine. Eventually, your air filter will get blocked (if it does, your "Check Engine" light may come on), reducing performance. If the filter is only slightly dirty (it will appear slightly discolored), you can give it a quick clean by tapping it, bottom side down, against a hard surface.

Check your connections to make sure they are not corroded, and keep the casing of the battery clean. Cracks or bulges indicate that you might need to replace the battery. If you find corrosion on the terminals, you can try to clean it carefully with a mixture of baking soda and water, and a stiff (non-metal bristled) brush. Rinse the terminals with clean water, and make sure you're catching the run off in a tray.

Windshield Wipers
Properly working wiper blades are an essential part of safe driving. Make sure they are clean and intact. You can clean the blades using a mild detergent and a paper towel. If the blades look worn, they are fairly easy to replace. You can either replace the rubber blade or the entire arm.

Before you check fluid levels, make sure the car is on a level surface. Checking the levels of your vehicles various fluids can be a great way of ensuring your vehicle's health. Make sure that the caps are clean and free of dirt and debris before opening them to check levels – you don't want anything getting into the fluids. Windshield washing fluid is easy to replace, and you should always carry spare washer fluid in your trunk. Don't fill the reservoir all the way during cold weather, just in case it freezes. Other fluids, such as engine coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid, should be checked and replaced by a professional.

Oil change
Oil protects and lubricates the moving parts of your engine. It breaks down over time, because of the heat and pressure involved in protecting the engine, and because it picks up dirt, dust and other particles. Depending upon driving conditions, oil and oil filters should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. City driving (with lots of stops and starts), driving in dusty areas, very hot or very cold climates, or regularly carrying heavy loads, wears your oil out faster than highway driving in temperate areas.

Make sure your tires are correctly inflated. Not only will this help maintain the life of your tires, it can keep your gas mileage up, and is safer too. Keep an eye on your tread, and make sure you have the correct amount. Don't let your tires wear down too far, as this can be dangerous. In most states, 2/32 of an inch is usually the legal limit, but you should try to replace your tires before then. You may be familiar with the "penny" method of checking your tread depth (if you can see all of Lincoln's head, replace your tires) but a tire tread gauge (available from any auto parts store) is more accurate.

Tire rotation
Rotating your tires helps prolong their life. Your mechanic will have the equipment to rotate your tires easily and quickly. You can do this yourself if you have the time and equipment, though a professional mechanic will be able to check alignment and rebalance your wheels if necessary.

Most cars have a "serpentine belt" that drives the various pumps and engine accessories, along with a "timing belt" that runs the engine itself. These belts will wear out eventually, or will get loose over time. You can check for wear and tear on your belts, but it's a good idea to have a professional handle the actual replacement. If you see deep cracks in the belts, that's a sign that they need changed. They are inexpensive to replace, but a damaged or broken belt could strand you on the side of the road and damage your engine.

Your brakes are essential to your safety on the road (and the safety of other drivers), so we recommend that you always get them changed professionally. If you notice screeching or grinding noises when you brake, or feel your steering wheel "wobble" when braking, take your car in to have the brakes checked as soon as possible. Those are just two of the warning signs that mean you may need new brakes.

Be Proactive...

Environmental Concerns
A well maintained car not only saves you money on repairs, it can help the environment. Properly tuned and looked-after, a vehicle will use less gas, less oil and less energy, while producing less pollution than a badly maintained vehicle.

A Class Act
Many community colleges run classes on basic car maintenance. Even if you never intend to service your car yourself, it can still be helpful to know more about your car. Remember, before you try any of these tips, make sure to consult your owner's manual, and if you have any doubts, consult a professional.

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