Tips & Links
Today's cars need regular, preventive maintenance. If you want your car to last as long as the payments, turn to the maintenance instructions in your owner's manual and read them carefully.
Pay particular attention to those that discuss oil change intervals. Generally they differentiate between "normal" and "severe" driving conditions. Since fewer than 25 percent of the cars on the road qualify under the "normal" category, it is generally recommended that cars have an oil and filter change every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever occurs first.
Engine coolant and transmission fluid should also be changed regularly to ensure a long life for your car. Change engine coolant every two years with a mixture of 50 percent coolant and 50 percent water to give the best cold weather protection and heat dissipation ability in hot weather.
The life of the transmission fluid is basically determined by how hot the fluid has been during operation. However, since there is no real way for you to know this, an easy way to check is by pulling the transmission dipstick. If the fluid is brown instead of red and has a putrid odor, it needs to be changed as soon as possible. In any event, it is a good habit to change this fluid every two years or 24,000 miles.
The high temperatures under the hood take their toll on components such as fan belts, radiator/heater hoses, fuel lines and vacuum hoses. One of the main causes of mechanical breakdown is failure of these components. It is a good idea to have the belts and hoses replaced every two years.
It is also important to pay attention to the car's tires. Have the wheel alignment and tire balance checked once a year and rotate the tires every 6,000 miles. Check the air pressure and examine the tires once a week. If there are unusual wear patterns, have a professional check the alignment, suspension components and tire balance.
Another critical component is the battery. Although the average life of most batteries is three and one-half years, many are not replaced until the first cold morning when the car doesn't start. Why not replace the battery before this happens. This is what preventive maintenance is all about.
You may think that preventive maintenance is expensive. In the long run, reactionary maintenance could be much more expensive in terms of money, inconvenience and abnormal wear on your vehicle. It is much less expensive to look at, check and replace components before failure than it is to drive your vehicle until it drops. Give preventive maintenance a try - it will be worthwhile.
The price of gasoline does not appear to be going down anytime soon. Although there's very little we can do about it, we can control our overall costs of consuming it. The obvious approach would be to drive less, but is that practical? Because driving is a necessity, we must find ways to operate our cars more efficiently.
Tire pressure. Tires lose about 1 psi per month and 1 psi for every 10 degree drop in temperature. One tire underinflated by 2 psi will result in a 1% drop in fuel economy. Frequently underinflated tires can cause up to a 6% loss. Vehicle manufacturers put labels with the correct pressure on the car (door jamb, glove box, or gas cap lid). If the label suggests a range of pressures, use the higher value to adjust your tire pressure at least once a month.
Motor oil. Changing the oil is good for engine life and also can increase fuel economy by as much as 3%. Some oils contain additives that reduce friction and therefore increase fuel economy. Look for the Energy Conserving API label when selecting your oil. I suggest changing it every 3000 miles.
Driving habits. Nearly 50% of the energy needed to power your car goes to acceleration. Anticipating traffic conditions can help increase fuel economy by 5-10%. Each time you brake, you use that much more energy to get going again. I'm not saying you shouldn't use your brack, of course, but if you avoid tailgating, you may be able to coast more and save fuel.
Vehicle maintenance. Change air filters regularly. A clogged air filter can reduce fuel economy by up to 10%. Engine operating temperature is also important for fuel efficiency. Your car's computer is set to increase fuel mixture during the warm-up cycle. If the thermostat is defective, your computer will think the engine is always warming up and keep the fuel mixture high. Also, you'll let your car idle longer to get warm in the cold months. This combination can be devastating to fuel economy. Have a certified technician check to see if your cooling system is operating properly. Keeping your engine properly tuned is also important. The ability of the spark plugs to ignite the fuel is directly related to the amount of fuel used to create the needed power. Refer to the owner's maintenance manual for the prescribed service schedule for your car.
Trip planning. You can save wear and tear on you and your car by combining errands. Also, remove unneeded weight from your vehicle. It could be reducing your fuel economy by 1-2%.