Tag Archive | "preventive auto maintenance"

Hit the Road, Jack … and Jill!

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‘fess up.  Sometimes you’re dumbfounded concerning the simplest of tasks.  Heck, we all are, particularly when it comes to our cars.  But remember the adage, “Knowledge is power.”  Being informed about the workings of your vehicle puts the power in your hands instead of a mechanic’s.  It can reduce the cost of maintenance and even improve your safety.  “How?” you ask.  Well, friends, read on!


Be sure to keep a tire gauge in your glove compartment, and use it. Without the proper amount of air in your tires, you’re inviting trouble.  An over-inflated tire can produce an uncomfortable ride because the tires don’t contact the road properly. Over-inflation can also cause uneven wearing of the tire treads, a situation that could earn you a flat as you ride over a pothole.

However, an under-inflated tire can also provoke a flat because it makes the tire thinner.  And, it won’t give you the proper traction on the road.

Tires keep you rolling, so make sure that you check the tread on a regular basis for any uneven wear.  Uneven wear can mean that you need to rotate your tires.

And by all means, whether you learn this from a friend, a relative, or a teacher in “Auto Shop,” know how to change a flat safely on your own.  Always make sure that there is a spare tire, a lug wrench, and a can of WD-40 in your trunk — the latter, in case the lug nuts have gone rusty.  And please don’t forget to have a jack on hand; jacks can be unique to the make of your vehicle.

Oil Changes

To keep your car in tip-top shape, you need to schedule regular oil changes.  I knew someone who ruined the engine or a perfectly good SUV, just because he kept putting off changing his oil!  The distance traveled between oil changes — anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 miles — depends on a lot of variants, including who you ask or what your owner’s manual advises.

Take into consideration the age of your car and the condition of the engine.  If your car is older and tends to burn oil, you’ll need to change the oil more frequently.  If you drive on dirt roads or unpaved areas, change the oil sooner than later, because it get dirtier faster and dirty equals less effective oil.  Don’t forget to replace the oil filter as well.  Oil is critical to a car’s operation as it keeps the engine parts lubricated.  The cost of changing your oil will be a lot less costly than replacing your engine — as the owner of that SUV found out!

Between changes, check the level of oil with a dipstick.  If you change the oil yourself, make sure that after each quart, you wait a minute until it settles. Only when the oil settles can you properly assess how much is really needed.  I’ve seen people add three to four quarts of oil to their car, which costs almost as much as an oil change done by a mechanic!

Another factor is learning what type of oil is best for your car.  Some folks drive their cars for years without a clue as to the type of oil to use.  The other day, while in the store, I overheard a woman shopper asking a male customer what kind of oil she should use.  He did not seem very certain, yet she took his word for it!  Different models of cars have different requirements and believe it or not, the weather also determines the type of oil.  A lighter weight oil should be used in the winter and a heavier weight in the summer, due to the heat. 

Brake Fluid & Transmission Fluid

Another very important liquid is brake fluid, because good brakes can mean the difference between safety and disaster.  Your brake fluid receptacle should be at least three-quarters full.  Do not add brake fluid when it is raining, unless you are in a garage or other shelter, because the rain might dilute it.

Next is transmission fluid.  If you have an automatic transmission, leave the engine running when you add the fluid, and take precautions so that you don’t get caught in the fan belt.  Make sure that you are not wearing loose clothing when bending over the engine.  For instance, long, flowing sleeves should be rolled up and ties and jewelry should be removed.  For a manual transmission, keep the engine off.


Make sure your car always has coolant, so that the vehicle will not overheat and leave you stranded.  Before touching the radiator, ensure that it is cool enough to touch.  Do not remove the radiator cap unless it’s cool, because it’s pressurized and could give you a nasty burn.  To replace coolant, the general rule of thumb is 50 percent water and 50 percent coolant.  Read the instructions on the container so that you’ll know whether it’s premixed or needs mixing.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

Since it’s imperative to have a clear view of the road in any type of weather, keep   your windshield receptacle full of wiper fluid.  This is more important during the winter, as the roads can spew up salt that makes your windshield dirty.  Also, be sure that the wipers are in good working condition.

The Owner’s Manual

As self-explanatory as this may seem, I’m going to say it anyway.  Your owner’s manual will instruct you in locating the proper receptacles for the various automotive fluids.  The manual should also enlighten you concerning the correct tire pressure, the type of oil, and other important factors in maintaining your car.

Lights, Gasoline, Flares & Common Sense

Make sure that your lights are working along with the turn signals.  Before setting off on a long journey, fill up the gas tank.  When you get down to a quarter of a tank, start looking for a gas station so that you can fill ‘er up again.

It’s a good idea to keep a flare or an orange triangle in your car, just in case you get stranded on an uncertain patch of roadway. 

The Bottom Line

Our cars are lifelines of sorts.  They convey us to our jobs, our children’s schools and afterschool activities, grocery stores, doctors’ appointments, and numerous other vital resources and events.  While there are many functions we can’t perform as we lack the knowledge of auto technicians, the tasks indicated above are simple.  Most of us cannot afford to buy new cars on a frequent basis.  But by taking good care of the cars we now drive, they will provide us with more years of service.  Good luck and happy trails! 

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