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Expert Mechanic's Advice on Preventative Maintenance

In today's economic climate, the cost of repairing your car or purchasing a new car is astronomical. Expert mechanics suggest the best way to prolong the life of your car and keep repair costs to a minimum is through preventative maintenance.

Preventative maintenance is like going for your yearly check-up at the doctor. It gives you and the professionals an opportunity to catch a problem before it turns into more serious damage. Ignoring symptoms like leaks, bald tires, or fumes will result in a more costly repair.

There are many benefits to maintaining your car, the most obvious being that it saves you money. The cost of parts and labor are tiny compared with the cost of extensive repair work due to neglect. Regular maintenance will also save your money at the pump, as most maintenance repairs increase your fuel economy. Another huge benefit to preventative maintenance is increasing driver (and passenger) safety.

When you don't regularly inspect your car, you risk engine failure or damage; poor handling, which can lead to accidents; and unexpected financial burdens from the cost of repairs. Some preventative checks and changes require new parts, but the cost of purchasing these parts or paying for a professional repair service is minute in comparison.

Though the benefits of preventative maintenance for your car seem like common sense, many people aren't aware of what preventative maintenance entails. So, to help you keep your car in top shape, here is some advice on preventative maintenance from expert mechanics.

Consult Your User Manual

Not all vehicles are created equal, and some need maintenance and repairs that others will not or the schedule for these repairs may be different. For example, your SUV's tire pressure may need to be checked more often than the tires of a hatchback. The best way to determine which repairs need to be done, and when, is to check with your car's user manual.

Your manual should have a checklist of regularly scheduled repairs that need to be performed for the make and model of your car. While there are many sources of information available that may make general recommendations for scheduled maintenance, such as rotating your tires every 6,000 miles, the most effective way to know what maintenance you need is to check your manual.

If you are driving a used car that didn't come with a manual, you can find replacement manuals online for your vehicle. However, when purchasing a used car, ensure you obtain a full history of maintenance and repairs so you know when to perform preventative maintenance.

Preventative Maintenance Checklist

Preventative maintenance is the most effective way of saving money on your car over the long term. By investing small amounts of time and money now, you will save yourself thousands of dollars in the future. Best of all, most preventative maintenance tasks can be done yourself, or, if you lack the mechanical knowledge, they can be done quickly and cheaply by a qualified mechanic.

Give Your Car a Regular General Check-up

Inspecting your car once a month gives you the opportunity to pay attention to your car. You should start where your car meets the road: your tires. Check the air pressure using an air pressure gauge. You should keep one in your car as part of an emergency essentials car kit, so you can check the pressure whenever necessary. You should also check the tread of your tires to ensure equal wear. Having well-inflated tires with a good grip on the road will increase the longevity of your tires and keep you safer on the road.

During your once-monthly inspection, check your lights to make sure the globes haven't burnt out and they are positioned properly. This should include your headlights, high beams, and brake lights. Pay attention to any unusual sounds such as rattling or squeaking. The earlier you catch these problems, the quicker and more affordable it will be to repair them.

Rotate and Balance Your Tires

Tires are the point of contact between the car and the road; this means it is extremely important to maintain the quality of your tires to stay safe and ensure your car performs optimally. After checking the air pressure and tire tread, you will need to check their alignment and consider having the tires rotated.

Rotating the tires ensures the tread on the tires wears evenly, while balancing the tires will ensure even weight distribution. This prolongs the life of your tires, boosts fuel economy, and helps your car ride smoother. The small cost of a tire rotation and balance service far outweighs the cost of replacing all of your tires at once.

When your mechanic rotates your tires, ask them to check the wheel alignment. Proper wheel alignment helps with the vehicle's handling, as well as preserves the life and performance of your tires.

Check Fluid Levels

Your car requires many different fluids and lubricants to keep it running smoothly, so it is important to check your fluid levels regularly. Your user manual will have information on when to check and change the fluids. Most fluids have a gauge or a dipstick to test the level, but, if you aren't confident that you can add or change the fluids, take your car to a mechanic.

Some of the important fluid levels to check are:

  • Coolant is an essential fluid to keep your car from overheating and damaging your engine. It is usually located in a transparent bottle next to the radiator, and you can check the level simply by looking at measurements on the side of the bottle.
  • Antifreeze is also part of the cooling system of the car, but also keeps your car's engine from freezing in the winter.
  • Wiper Fluid is used because you need more than just water to keep your windshield clean and clear. In summer, it is recommended you include a soap-based fluid for bugs and dust. In winter, you will need wiper fluid with antifreeze to stop your windows from frosting.
  • Power Steering Fluid creates the pressure necessary to drive the mechanical parts of your power steering system.

Check Your Oil

Oil is an essential part of maintaining the performance and longevity of your car. It prevents damage to the moving parts of your car, due to friction, and prevents the engine from overheating. However, over time, the oil can become contaminated and need to be changed before it can cause real damage to your car.

Most cars will have a dipstick or electronic gauge to help you check the oil levels, as well as the color and the consistency of the oil. Oil that is muddy or thick is contaminated and needs to be changed. However, it is best to change the oil before it reaches that point. Your user manual will have recommendations as to when you should schedule an oil change, and it will also suggest the most suitable type of oil for your engine.

Changing the oil can be a tricky and messy job if you haven't done it before, so it is a good idea to take your car to a qualified mechanic for a lube and oil change.

Check Drive Belts

Your drive belts connect the mechanical parts of your engine together, delivering power to the engine. Without the drive belts, your engine wouldn't work, so it is important to regularly check them for wear and tear. There are many different types of drive belts, but a few different drive belts you will need to check are:

  • The Timing Belt regulates the engine valves and pistons by connecting the crankshaft to the camshaft. If there is something wrong with the timing belt, you may notice a slapping sound from your engine.

  • The Serpentine Belt is a long belt that connects the crankshaft to the alternator, the compressor, and the water pump, among other things. Be aware of cracking or wear on the belt.

  • V-belts function in the same way as the serpentine belt. However, there are many of them connecting different engine parts to the crankshaft and they are usually present in older model cars.

Change Your Engine Air Filter

Your engine needs air to mix with gasoline to make the engine work, but, without the air filter, harmful debris can enter the engine and cause damage. The air filter catches pollen, dust, and debris, but, when the air filter becomes clogged, it can't perform its job efficiently, resulting in the engine becoming contaminated.

Changing your air filter will improve the performance and longevity of your car, but this routine maintenance task can often be overlooked because the air filter is not easily accessible. It is usually located in a black box inside the engine, and it generally doesn't get checked until it's too late.

Your manual will give you estimated times to change the air filter; however, it does depend on how much you drive and where. For example, frequently used rural vehicles will need to have their air filter changed more often than cars in urban areas.

The replacement parts for your air filter cost a fraction of the amount that repairs would cost if bugs or debris made their way into your engine. So, do your car and your wallet a favor and check your air filter regularly.

Check Your Battery

Most drivers won't realize their battery is dead until their car won't start. While jumper cables will give your battery enough life to get you to the nearest mechanic, checking your battery life is a preventative measure that will save you the time and hassle.

To check your battery, you will need a voltmeter. It is a cheap gadget that you can keep in your car with your jumper cables. You simply connect the voltmeter to the battery with the ignition off and then check the reading. A fully charged battery should have a reading of around 12.66V. If you notice that your battery is running low or is less than 12.45V, you can easily recharge your battery by driving the car for 15-20 minutes at around 40 mph.

Checking your battery may seem unnecessary, as most batteries require very little maintenance, but it is especially important for driving in cold weather and for people who do not use their car often. It also gives you the opportunity to check and clean the battery contacts and check for battery fluid leakage.

Check Your Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are essential for starting your engine. They provide the catalyst for the air and gasoline to ignite. It is important to regularly check your spark plugs for damage so your car starts reliably.

Spark plugs can become worn down or covered in buildup, which can prevent them from functioning properly. If you notice strange sounds when your car is idling, if your car has trouble accelerating, or if your fuel consumption has drastically increased, it may be a problem with your spark plugs.

Most user manuals recommend changing your spark plugs between 30,000 and 100,000 miles, but checking them regularly will help you catch any problems before they cause more costly damage.

When In Doubt, Talk to a Mechanic

Preventative maintenance is an important part of ensuring your car performs optimally, you stay safe on the road, and you save money on extensive repair work. It allows you to stop smaller car problems before they become more serious. Never ignore a problem, as it will only become worse over time and end up costing you more money.

There are many preventative checks and repairs you can do at home. Though the above list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good starting point for your preventative maintenance regimen. When performing preventative maintenance, always consult your user manual before attempting any inspections or repairs. If you are unsure about how to conduct routine maintenance, take your car to a reputable mechanic.

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