Have you ever been stranded in the middle of nowhere because of car troubles? Or late for work because your car didn’t start on time?
If so, you know how important it is to maintain your vehicle and avoid these unpleasant situations.
Performing a quick check-up every now and then is far less expensive than paying for various repairs that could have been easily avoided. And they will help to make your car last longer.
If you are not sure how to properly take care of your car and save money down the road, check the following list and save yourself the headache.
Become a “Car Whisperer” – Listen to Your Car
Believe it or not, one of the simplest things you can do to take care of your car is to listen to the sounds it makes. Under most circumstances, most of us drive under conditions that don’t allow us to actually hear our cars — music, audio books, air conditioning, heaters or other passengers.
The first thing you should do, EVERY time you start your car, is wait at least 10 to 15 seconds before you begin your drive. This allows the oil to distribute through the engine and let the RPM’s drop, which will . For older cars or during colder weather, give it at least 30 seconds. While your car is warming up, this is a good time to check your mirrors (something we don’t do enough) and listen for any noises.
Then, make it a routine to drive your car in silence for a few minutes with the windows closed, and then for a few with them open. Any unusual sounds or noises are likely to be an indicator that something is amiss with your car, and they often start small (which is why you may not even notice them with other distractions).
Because this is such a simple thing you can do, we recommend at least once a week. And make it part of your schedule, perhaps every Monday morning on your way to work. Another simple tip: turn off your radio before you get out of your car. This will make it easier to listen to your car when you start it up.
Wash Your Car on Regular Basis
Although this doesn’t seem that important (after all, beauty has nothing to do with performance, right?) the dirt on your car can damage it. What we call dirt is actually a mixture of salt, grease and grime, acid rain, smog, tree sap, dead bugs and bird poop.
If you do not wash your car, it will eat away the paint, and eventually the metal in your car.
Of course, nothing will happen if you don’t wash your car for a week, or even a month. However, over time this dirt will corrode your vehicle and lower its value. Therefore, if you live in an area with little pollution, wash your car every month. However, if you live someplace where the pollution is high, clean it two or three times a month.
If you prefer to wash your car on your own instead of taking it to a car wash, make sure you use quality cleaning products that will also protect your car and won’t damage your driveway.
In addition, do not use your car as a garbage can and make sure you keep its interior clean. This won’t affect your car’s performance, but it will make your driving experience much more enjoyable. A cheap in car trash can or bag and a portable car vacuum will also go a long way in helping to retain the resale value of your vehicle.
Check Tire Pressure at Least Once a Month
Every other time you stop for gas do yourself a favor and check the tire pressure (or at least on a monthly basis). It only takes a couple of minutes and it can save you a lot of trouble. Tires that are over-inflated or under-inflated increase your chance of a blowout and have a shorter life span. Improperly inflated tires can also effect how your vehicle handles and stopping time, especially in icy or rainy conditions.
Keeping your tires properly inflated can even increase your fuel efficiency — anywhere from .06% to 3% — and save you some money. According to the US Department of Energy, your gas mileage will be reduced about 0.2% for every 1 psi drop in tire pressure.
What Happens When Your Tires are Under Inflated?
Low tire pressure can affect handling, fuel economy and tire life. | Courtesy of National Tyres and Autocare
And it’s so easy to check the pressure in your tires. All you need is a simple tire pressure gauge, which you can get for around $10 or so, depending upon what kind you get. Store it in your glove box or console, so you always have it on hand.
It is important to remember that you should check the tire pressure before your trip, while they are still cold. If you are not sure about the tire pressure that is recommended for your car check out the panel inside the driver’s side door.
One thing to keep in mind is that the optimum tire pressure is different based upon seasons and temperatures. It is also different based upon the load you are carrying.
Another benefit of completing this check on a regular basis, is you can also visually inspect your tires for signs of wear and tear. Which brings us to our next tip…
Don’t Forget to Rotate Your Tires
It is a known fact that front and rear tires wear differently, so in order to balance their wear patterns you should rotate them every 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending upon driving conditions and vehicle type. This way you will ensure a safer ride, extend the life of your tires and save yourself a lot of money since you won’t waste it on costly repairs.
This task usually requires about 20 minutes of your time, and you will need a car jack and jack stand to do it. Some tire dealers even include rotating your tires for free when you purchase new tires. If you are not sure when exactly you should rotate the tires, simply do it whenever you change the oil.
This is a maintenance task that should be scheduled on a routine basis, however there are some signs you can watch for that may indicate your may need this service sooner. The first indicator is if you see obvious signs of on wear some tires more than others — for example front vs back, or left vs right.
You can also do this little test. While driving on a straight and level road, at a steady speed, move your hands off the steering wheel. Don’t move them too far, and make sure there is no traffic around you. Note whether your car stays relatively straight in the lane. Or does it pull to one side or the other?
If it does, the first things you want to check is tire pressure and visually inspect the tires for uneven wear and tread. If those things are fine, it could be something as simple as an alignment issue or it could be something more serious. Even if it is just the alignment, this should still be fixed because not only will it impact how your car handles, but it will also cause your tires to wear unevenly.
Keep Your Eyes on the Oil Level
Without enough motor oil your vehicle cannot function properly because this substance is in charge of lubricating all the moving parts in the engine, so they don’t grind. Oil’s job is also to transfer the heat away from the combustion cycle.
Basically, if your oil level is always low, your car can easily break down. And if it completely runs out, it is likely your engine will seize. Since checking the oil level is super easy, there is really no reason to avoid it. If you are not sure how to do it, a friendly gas station employee will surely help you.
We recommend checking your oil at the same time you check your tire pressure. It’s just another few minutes but it is time well spent. It is normal for your car to use up oil. But by watching this on a routine basis, you can be alerted any drastic changes — which could be a sign of a bigger problem.
In addition to monitoring the oil levels, you also want to make sure that you stay on top of changing your oil filter and oil. In general, this should be done about every 3,000 – 5,000 miles but this depends upon the type of oil you are using, they type of driving you do, and the age of your car. For example, higher quality synthetic oils can go much longer without changing.
Examine the Brakes Twice a Year
You are probably aware of just how dangerous it is to drive around with brakes that do not work properly. Therefore, be sure to examine them at least two times a year. Tip: Have it done at the same time you rotate your tires or get your oil changed, to save trips!
If you are not skilled enough to do this on your own, go to a servicing shop. After all, checking your brakes involves removing the wheels and checking the condition of the rotors, pads, drums, and other parts.
How to Avoid Panicking When Your Brakes Fail
How to Stop Your Car When Brakes Fail | Courtesy of Esurance
In between full-service brake checks, there are things you can do yourself to monitor the performance of your brakes. We already talked about one, listening to your car. Two of the most common noises that bad brakes will make are squealing and grinding when you press on them. Another thing to watch for is whether it feels like you are pressing down on your brake peddle more or harder to get it to stop.
As for an actual check you can do — with no other cars around, on dry pavement and under clear weather conditions — you may want to periodically try the “sudden stop test.” For safety reasons, this should be done at a low speed and on a road that has low regular traffic (an open parking lot will also work). Quickly step on your brakes as if you had to make an emergency stop. If you are traveling at 10 miles an hour, your car should come to a complete stop within 5 feet. At 20 miles per hour, the distance before stopping increases to 20 feet.
Warning: Doing this is also going to test the performance of your seat belts, so be prepared for them to lock and hold you in place.
By the way, this is also a good way to practice your reaction time. However, do keep in mind that in a real-life scenario the full stopping distance is increased because there is “thinking time” involved. This is the time it takes you to recognize that there is a problem before you actually step on the brakes. For example, at 10 miles an hour the total stopping distance is 15 feet, at 20 MPH it’s 40 feet and at 30 MPH the distance is 74 feet. On a highway with a 60 MPH speed limit, the safe following distance is at least 6 car lengths to avoid collisions.
Change the Air Filter to Increase Engine Life and Efficiency
This is something you can do on your own, so there is no need to pay someone to do it for you. Changing the air filter every 12,000 miles will increase fuel efficiency, prolong your engine’s life, and reduce emissions, so do not skip it. While changing the oil can be a problem since there is always the hassle of disposing it properly, changing the air filter won’t cause an inconvenience.
NOTE: Many modern cars have two types of air filters — the one for the outer, engine area and the one for your car’s interior. The interior air filter is responsible for the quality of the air you breath while driving, and is also easy to change (actually, it’s easier). How often you change it will depend upon factors such as pollution and pollen levels in your area.
Top 10 Mistakes Car Owners Make
Dumb Things NOT To Do To Your Car. | Courtesy of ChrisFix
Keep a Vehicle Maintenance Log
Life gets busy, and as a result these easy maintenance tasks can often be overlooked. If you are bringing your car to a mechanic for servicing, they will have a record and will also likely send you reminders.
But what about the things you do yourself? When was the last time you checked your tire pressure? How about the oil?
By keeping a vehicle maintenance log, you will be able to easily keep track and remember to do these simple maintenance checks. There is an expression, “what gets monitored, gets done”. Make checking on your car a habit, part of your regular routine.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A simple black and white composition book will do. Or you can get an actual log book that is set up specifically for tracking maintenance checks and repairs. For people who are self-employed or otherwise have to track mileage, your car maintenance log can serve double duty.
As an added bonus, not only will keeping track help to ensure that your car is running at its best but having maintenance records can also play a role in a getting a good price if you decide to sell. People are willing to pay more when they know a vehicle has been well taken care of.
If you want your car to live a long life, taking time to maintain it properly is necessary.
One more tip before we close. In most states it is necessary to get your car inspected once a year. That’s a great time to bundle those safety checks with taking a closer look at the breaks, changing the oil and rotating the tires. Another way you could anchor these checks for twice a year is when you set your clocks back and ahead.
If you follow these simple steps you will avoid unpleasant situations and do yourself and your vehicle a huge favor.
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