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Auto Repair and the Art of Preventative Maintenance
Regular preventive maintenance is one of the single most important things you can do as a car owner to keep your vehicle ‘healthy’ and save money on future auto repairs. Anyone who has ever invested a lot of time or money fixing an automobile will reiterate: Do not ignore preventive maintenance. Basics, like changing the oil, checking the tire pressure, and getting routine inspections, are the equivalent of getting regular checkups at the doctor.
Preventive maintenance ensures the longevity of your car or truck and gives the experts a chance to catch any serious auto repairs before they worsen—looking out for your safety and your bottom line. The following list of preventative maintenance tips are easy to follow and can help to eliminate or significantly reduce future auto repairs:
1. Read your owner’s manual.
Pay attention to your owner’s manual. It contains your regular maintenance schedule (something which varies widely, depending on the vehicle) and important information about your filters, any drive or timing belts, and more. Your owner’s manual will also tell you whether or not you’re using the right type of oil and fuel (That’s really a thing? Yes. Just trust us.)
2. Do your own inspection.
You don’t have to be a mechanic to perform a basic inspection. If your vehicle is already having issues, we recommend that you seek out professionals; however, if you aren’t experiencing any problems, a periodic once-over can be enough to catch anything that looks abnormal and might cause future complications. Check the following:
- Make sure all your lights are working.
- Check the air pressure in your tires every month or so (use a cheap tire air pressure gauge and keep it in your glove compartment). Listen for any strange sounds, inside and out, for each tire.
- Make sure your tires have enough tread. You can use the ‘penny test’ or check the wear indicators on the tire treads.
3. Learn to check your vehicle’s fluids.
You may never choose to learn how to change your vehicle’s antifreeze, power steering, coolant, or even wiper fluid (seriously, don’t let someone charge you to change the wiper fluid), you should at least learn how to check these fluid levels. Most cars and trucks have gauges or dipsticks you can use to check and compare levels. Even if your owner’s manual doesn’t have much to say about checking your vehicle’s transmission fluid or antifreeze, don’t be afraid to pop the hood and see if you can find where they are housed. If you’re running low, add more or get the fluid changed. Most importantly, never ignore a leak.
4. Get timing and serpentine belts replaced when necessary.
The recommended mileage at which your timing belt and serpentine belt should be replaced varies. Your owner’s manual will offer numbers specific to your type of vehicle. If you can’t find the manual, look around online. You’ll probably find the actual recommendation for your car or truck. Use this number as a guideline, and ask your mechanic to inspect the belts when it draws close to the recommended mileage. If the belts are still in good shape, don’t bother, but if they are worn out, get them replaced before they fail. Failed or damaged belts can harm other accessories, ultimately making repairs even more expensive.
5. Check your vehicle’s oil and get it changed regularly.
Whether your vehicle has a dipstick or an electronic gauge, you should know how to check your oil. Knowing the difference between clean oil and muddy, murky oil will save you a great deal of money on unnecessary oil changes and gives you a way to tell if something is wrong with your engine (e.g. the oil looks terrible but you just had it changed). It’s hard to make a universal recommendation for how frequently you should change your oil, but the answer is (not surprisingly) in your owner’s manual. The 3,000-mile ‘rule’ is actually a myth—for most vehicles, it can be as high as 10,000 miles (depending on the oil your vehicle calls for).
6. Check your vehicle’s battery and clean the contacts (if needed).
Today, most car batteries don’t require much in the way of maintenance; however, you should know where yours is in order to check it for leaks and ensure it’s free from mineral deposits and other buildup on the contacts. If there is buildup, clean it off with a battery cleaning brush. While you’re at it, you might also want to consider purchasing a cheap battery tester or jump starter.
7. Replace windshield wipers when the view gets streaky.
Don’t wait until you can barely see through your windshield to replace wipers. They are inexpensive and easy to install. Visibility is important to your safety and the safety of your passengers.
8. Replace your vehicle’s cabin air filter.
Replacing a cabin air filter is probably one of the easiest things you can do to keep your car comfortable. Most vehicles make the cabin air filter easily accessible, and replacing it is as easy as opening a box. You can find the proper filter at any auto parts store. While it may not be critical to your car’s operation, it is easy to install, it makes the ride more pleasant, and it is a repair you’ll never have to pay someone else to do.
9. Replace your vehicle’s engine air filter.
Depending on the vehicle you have, getting to your vehicle’s engine air filter may be a little trickier. Nevertheless, replacing it regularly is important. Your owner’s manual will give you a mileage estimate for how frequently you should replace your engine air filter, but if you can reach it, check it. If it’s dirty, replace it. If you drive more than average, especially in stop-and-go traffic or have a long commute, your engine air filter may get dirtier faster than someone who drives open roads or drives less frequently.
10. Get tires rotated and balanced, in addition to getting your alignment checked.
Your owner’s manual will tell you how often to do each of these things—all vital maintenance to ensure your tires wear evenly and your car drives smoothly. You can make your tires last much longer by getting them rotated and balanced. Furthermore, your vehicle’s alignment is just as important. If you’re fighting your car to keep it straight, that’s a clear indication that your vehicle has an issue with alignment—a problem that is easily corrected.
11. Change your vehicle’s spark plugs.
Excess buildup and wear and tear can affect spark plugs and consequently, your engine. An inefficient engine not only wastes fuel, but also increases the likelihood of a breakdown. While checking and replacing spark plugs yourself is an option, you may want to leave it up to the experts. Get them checked regularly: For most standard copper spark plugs and vehicles, that’s around 30,000 miles (but again, it varies based on your vehicle); however, some iridium plugs can last up to 100,000 miles.
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