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Top 10 Tips for Keeping Your Car in Top Shape

For most of us, our car is our lifeblood. Okay, that may be a little overly dramatic, but we do depend on our cars for many things. And while we are inundated with claims of special products that will keep our cars on the road for near-eternity, there is no magic potion for getting the most out of our cars.

To follow a simple maintenance program, or not to follow a simple maintenance program?

The good news is that it is not terribly difficult to take care of your vehicle once you know some basic rules of maintenance. Following these rules can keep your car running far longer than you ever thought possible. While it can be tempting to try out the latest gimmick on the market, you are better off sticking with a simple maintenance schedule for your car.

Keeping It Simple

You have likely either heard of or known someone who owned a car with a ridiculous number of miles on it. You have also likely heard of or known someone (maybe you're that someone) who has had a car give out just after the 100,000 mile mark. The difference between both cars is more than just the make and model. It is often the case that the main difference is the consistency of the maintenance schedules. Fortunately, how well you maintain your car is well within your control.

There is no secret to getting the most out of your vehicle. By following a few simple steps, you can become one of those people whose cars seem to keep going and going, keeping your repair bills down and your car on the road.

Check and change the oil at regular intervals

This is perhaps the most important way you can keep your engine running smoothly for a long time to come. By checking your oil levels at least once a month, you will know how much, if any, oil your car is using, and help you detect potential problems before they happen.

It is widely believed that oil changes should be done every 3,000 miles or 3 months, whichever comes first. This recommendation comes from a time when motor oil wasn't as advanced as it is today. In the past, if oil got left in the crankcase for too long, it began to degrade, which caused a sludge buildup. The motor oils of today don't break down as quickly and, therefore, don't cause a sludge buildup as rapidly. Engines have also undergone many changes over the years and are now able to run longer with less maintenance. Due to these advances, many carmakers now advise their customers to change their oil every 5,000 or 7,500 miles.

Regardless of which maintenance schedule you elect to follow, there are many factors that should be taken into consideration. For example, if you do a lot of stop-and-go driving, have your car idling a lot, or drive in extreme weather, you may need to change your oil more often. It's also important to remember that every car is different and has different needs. When deciding how often to change your oil and what type of oil to use, it's always best to see what the carmaker recommends and go from there.

Have cooling systems flushed and change coolants

Engine oil isn't the only type of oil in your car that needs to be checked at regular intervals.While they don't need to be checked and changed nearly as often, transmission and differential oils should be changed at specific times as well. A general rule of thumb is to change your transmission fluids every 30,000 miles, but you should consult your owner's manual to see what is recommended for your make and model.

If you have a front-wheel drive vehicle, there is no need to change differential fluid. Why? Because in front-wheel drives, the differential is located in the front and shares fluid with your transmission. In rear-wheel drives, the differential oil is located in the back, while four-wheel drives have three differentials – one in the front, one in the center, and one in the back. This differential oil should be changed at the same intervals as the transmission oil.

Change transmission and differential oils

If you're having regular maintenance done to your car, particularly oil changes every 3,000 miles, maintaining your cooling system is easy to do. Start by checking your coolant every other time it is time to change the oil, or at least twice per year.

While it may be a good idea to check your coolants a couple of times a year, that doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be changed that often. In fact, it's often sufficient to have it changed once every 2-3 years, or 24,000, to 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you drive in extremely hot temperatures, you may need to change your fluid more often, perhaps even as often as once a year. The build-up of corrosion and other deposits can be prevented by using a mixture of half coolant and half distilled water. This should be done once every year and will keep your cooling system in good working order for miles to come.

Check and change your brake fluid

The brakes, along with the engine, are arguably the most important components of a car. They help you avoid rear-end collisions as well as prevent you from crashing headlong into the parking meters downtown. Needless to say, your brakes take care of you, so you should make it a high priority to take care of them.

To maintain your brakes, you need to regularly check your brake fluids and, if needed, change the fluids. Brake fluid is great at attracting moisture,which is not great for your car. Moisture leads to a host of problems, including the corrosion and rust, which can lead to your brakes ultimately failing. Some accidents are unavoidable, but those caused by inefficient and ineffective brakes can be avoided. These fluids should be bled and replaced annually/ By doing so, you will keep your family and others safer, along with preventing potentially embarrassing accidents while trying to park your car.

Clean your vehicle

While most people vacuum and wash their cars on a fairly regular basis, there's more to cleaning your car than vacuuming the inside and making the outside shine.

Your car travels on streets of all kinds and in all conditions and, in doing so,encounters many unpleasant and unsavory things. From everyday road grime to winter salt, the underside of your car goes through a lot on a daily basis. So, when washing your car, you should periodically hose off the underside to remove all potentially harmful and disturbing substances from your car.

Wax regularly

On the subject of keeping your car not only running, but also looking good, is how often you should wax your car. While how often you should wax your car is open to debate, it is generally believed that it should be done somewhere between once every six months and once every year. If you are on the more obsessive side as far as how your car looks, waxing every 3 months isn't unreasonable. Waxing regularly keeps your paint in good condition and defends the body of your car against some types of cosmetic damage. Only the highest quality of wax should be used to ensure that your car benefits as much as possible from its waxing

Protect your car from the weather

Many types of weather can be damaging to your car, so it's important to take steps to prevent this kind of damage. Extreme cold and extreme heat are the biggest culprits when it comes to wreaking havoc on your car's insides and outsides.

Cold weather can be troublesome for vehicles, and is the root cause of a surprising amount of vehicle damage. In adverse weather, particularly on the bitterest of cold winter days, use a covered parking space. If you're at home, make sure you have room in your garage to park your vehicle to protect it from the cold. The cold can be hard enough on your car, but a blanket of snow covering your vehicle can be especially damaging, causing not only your exterior to become damaged, but increasing the odds of other parts freezing.

Hot weather can be just as damaging to your car as cold weather. Among the potential items to be damaged are the interior plastic, interior (seats and related items), and exterior paint. Fortunately, it is possible to help your car avoid the damage caused by the sun's rays. The best way to protect your car from the heat is by parking in the shade or under some kind of covering. If there are no covered parking spaces available, use a window deflector screen or apply a UV protectant to safeguard the inside of your car.

Grease and lubricate regularly

Any tool or piece of machinery that has moving parts requires grease in order to not only survive, but perform at its highest level. Your car is a high-performance machine that you depend on to get you and your family from place to place. In the civilized world, a car is an absolute necessity, and, for that reason alone, it must be kept in good working order.

You may be wondering which part of your car needs to be lubricated the most. Start with the chassis of your vehicle. This is what supports the bulk of your vehicle's weight, including components such as steering arms and suspension systems. Generally, it's a good idea to do this every 3 months or 10,000 miles, or so. An easy way to remember when to do this is by lubricating every other oil change.

It's also crucial to lubricate other moving parts.There are other more minor, but nonetheless important, parts of your car that should be lubricated from time to time as well. These parts include door hinges, window tracks, door locks, door seals, and others. While there are not necessarily any regular intervals at which to grease these items, approximately once a year should be sufficient. Maintenance on these items should take less than a couple hours of your time and can prevent nagging problems down the road.

Examine, clean, and repack wheel bearings with wheel bearing grease

Whether you perform your car's maintenance yourself or take your car to a mechanic to be serviced, this should be done at regular intervals. This can seem tedious, but it doesn't need to be done very often. Most importantly, it's a lot less expensive to maintain and grease your wheel bearings than it is to have to prematurely replace spindles and hubs. From a safety standpoint, this type of inspection also helps prevent you from losing one or more of your wheels while cruising down the highway, which can be as awkward as it is dangerous.

Perform tire maintenance

There are many factors that contribute to how often your tires need to be changed, including the type of car you own, how and where it is driven, and how well you maintain your tires. Ultimately, car owners need to know how to test for wear and how to decide when tires need to be changed.

The first way to test your tire's tread is to examine the tread wear bars (the rubber bridges in the grooves between the ridges). If you find that these bars are level with the tread pattern, the tire should be replaced.A tire's tread can also be tested by using a depth gauge. These tools are inexpensive and easy to find at any reputable auto parts store. By using this simple tool, you can get an accurate measurement and will be better able to make the best possible decision about when it's time to replace your tires.

The best way to get the most out of your tires is to properly maintain them. This is a fairly simple process that mainly consists of ensuring that your tires are properly inflated. Both underinflated and over-inflated tires can lead to a number of problems, and will lead to uneven or excessive wear over time. Consult your owner's manual or tire manufacturer to figure out the recommended inflation level for your tires.

The Bottom Line

As we've discussed, there is no secret potion or magic formula to making your car last a long time. So, change your fluids, wash and wax your car regularly, and protect your car from harsh weather conditions. Following a simple maintenance program, you will keep your car looking and running great, while leaving others to question how you do it. Most importantly, you'll know you can rely on it to take you wherever you need to go.

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