Monday, August 10, 2009

Car Maintenance Basics For Everyone

By Ross Everett

Since I was a small child, I have had the importance of automotive maintenance drilled into my head. Now that I've reached adulthood, I appreciate the sound foundation I had in this discipline of critical importance. I cant imagine the time and money Ive saved and headaches Ive avoided. If you didnt have this background, and dont have a clue about how to maintain your car, dont despair. There are a number of simple car maintenance tasks that anyone can do even if you know nothing about how a car works.

--Wash your car regularly: Keeping the exterior clean may not be as important as taking care of what's under the hood, but it still has a number of practical upsides. A clean car looks better, of course, and its much more enjoyable to drive a clean car than a dirty car. More significantly, frequent washing will keep your headlights and windshield clean, as well as preventing rust and corrosion.

--Wash underneath your car: Washing the undercarriage of your car is a good idea in any case, and downright essential if you live where it snows a lot. The salt, sand and other chemicals used for snow removal collect underneath your vehicle and will cause rust damage faster than anything else. Even during the winter, its important to wash your car at least once a week paying special attention to the wheel wells and undercarriage.

--Wash your engine: Not only is your engine subject to the same 'threats' as the exterior and undercarriage of your car, it also collects crusty oil, battery acid and a variety of other contaminants. Keeping your engine clean will not only protect against corrosive damage, but will help your car run cooler and more efficiently. Wash your engine every time you wash your car, and let it idle before you start driving to allow it to dry completely.

--Clean your air filter and change it often: Change your air filter every time you change your oil filter. Some might argue that changing it so often is 'overkill' but filters are so cheap why not err on the side of caution? In between filter changes its a good idea to give your filter a good spray with a compressed air hose and blow out the filter chamber at the same time. The clean air will help your car's engine run cooler and more efficiently.

--Check and change your oil: Back in more civilized times, a full service gas station would check your oil every time you filled up. You should do the same. Change your oil frequently"at least every 5,000 miles and better still, every 3,000 miles. Change your filter when you change the oil or youre going to be pumping clean oil through a dirty filter which doesnt do you a bit of good. Oil changes are a pretty easy job even for those without much of a mechanical background, and drive thru oil change businesses are ubiquitous in any decent sized market. Most of these places do a decent job and charge a reasonable fee. Many also take care of several other of the maintenance tasks on this list.

--Check and top off other fluids: Change your anti-freeze/coolant annually, and check the coolant reservoir anytime youre under the hood to make sure that its full. It's also a good time to look for cracks or other damage. Check the transmission, brake and power-steering fluids frequently, and top off when necessary. If your car is going through a lot of these hydraulic fluids it indicates a leak or other mechanical issue and needs to be looked at as soon as possible.

--Check your air pressure and rotate your tires: Check your air pressure levels with a tire gauge at least once a week, keeping them filled to manufacturer specified levels. Also, don't forget about the spare. Rotate your tires every few months to insure even wear. Some automotive chains will do this free of charge if you're a regular customer, but even if you're not it's a lot easier for them to do with the car up on the rack than for you to do with a jack and jack stand. Simply checking the air pressure in your tires and rotating them periodically prevents countless problems and saves you a ton of money.

Emergency tools and equipment: The specifics of what you should have in your car for emergencies will depend on the type of driving you do and where you do it. Everyone should have the basics--a tire gauge, pliers (slip joint and needle nose), adjustable wrench, flat head and Phillips screwdriver. Buying quality tools will be more expensive up front but will save you money in the long run. Jumper cables aren't a bad thing to have, and a flashlight is also essential. If you live or travel somewhere it snows frequently, you'll also want to keep salt, sand, a small shovel and a blanket just in case you get snowbound and have to sleep in your vehicle. An emergency cellphone charger is also a good idea.

--Get an auto club membership: AAA is the best known and they offer a wide range of services but there are other options. If you have a credit card or gas card, youll probably be offered a membership through them. They should give you free towing, trip continuation insurance, lockout service, free maps, and some other bells and whistles. Some cellphone providers also offer roadside assistance memberships billed to your telephone. A growing number of car manufacturers also include lifetime roadside assistance, and not just luxury brands--Mini Cooper and Volkswagen offer new car buyers 24 hour roadside assistance free of charge. Even if you have to pay for it, it's well worth the money that youll pay for it every year. Keep in mind, however, that all roadside assistance companies aren't created equal--in a decent sized city you'll be fine but if you live or frequently travel in less populated areas you might want to stick to AAA or another major company. There's nothing more infuriating that learning that your auto club doesn't have providers in Mesquite, Nevada or Vernal, Utah.

These tips are all things that anyone can do, even without more than a basic knowledge of how a car works. Regular car maintenance will prolong the life of your vehicle and help maintain its value, provide a safer and more enjoyable driving experience and save you money in the process.

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