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Module 13

Vehicle Maintenance

Cars are like electric lights. We often don’t appreciate them until they go on the blink.

Just as clear communication between you and your doctor can equal better care for your body, communicating carefully with your mechanic means the best care for your body of your car!

So don’t ignore its warning signals. If something doesn’t feel quite right, get your car checked out.

The following tips should help you along the way:

Follow the recommended service schedules

Getting this done for your car is just like getting a physical checkup from your doctor. What this means is, you shouldn’t wait until there’s a problem to take your car in to have a professional auto mechanic not only check it out, but also replace certain parts and of course, make repairs where needed.

The “recommended service schedule” mentioned above provides information on the various check-ups needed for the particular make and model of your car —and how often you should get them done.  The most reliable source of information on this required maintenance comes from the manufacturer of the car, and you’ll find it in your owner’s manual.

Now, about the owner’s manual:  Every new car comes with this valuable little handbook, but you may have a problem if the car you’re driving isn’t exactly new.  This is because it often happens that older cars just seem to have “lost” the manual along the way.  When you buy a used car that is perhaps 8 or 10 years old and has changed hands a few times, the seller may just shrug his or her shoulders when you ask about the manual.

As you’ll see when you read through this module, the information in the manual is important, so if you find yourself with a “missing manual car,” it’ worth your while to make an effort to find a copy; one good source, especially for popular cars, whether they’re older or not,  is ebay.

Keep a log of all repairs and service. It may help an auto mechanic who’s trying to diagnose what’s causing your car to make those clicking noises, Plus, a well-kept record showing that you have always taken good care of your car can be a great advantage when you might want to sell the car in the future.  Not to mention the fact that it can help you calculate your overall costs for car upkeep.

Check your car for:

  • Unusual sounds
  • Odors
  • Drips
  • Leaks
  • Smoke
  • Warning lights
  • Changes in acceleration
  • Changes in engine performance
  • Changes in gas mileage
  • Changes in fluid levels
  • Worn tires, belts, hoses.
  • Difficulty in handling, braking, steering
  • Unusual vibrations

When there is a problem:

As you go down the checklist above, write the information/symptoms down to give to your auto repair technician:
  • When did the problem first start?
  • Exactly when does the problem occur?
  • Is it constant or does it occur now and again?
  • Does the problem happen when the vehicle is cold or after the engine has warmed up?
  • Is the problem noticeable when you accelerate?  When you brake?
  • At all speeds? When shifting?

Remember to let the technician diagnose and recommend a remedy, even if you think you already know what the problem is. Plus, it’s important not to demand an on-the-spot diagnosis. The technician needs to thoroughly examine the vehicle before knowing what’s really going on.

And if you have brought along the list of problems and symptoms as suggested above plus your log of previous repairs and service, your effort in putting all that information together will pay off when it helps the technician to arrive at an accurate assessment of what the problem is, and how to fix it.

Stay involved. And don’t be shy about asking as many questions as you need to understand the problem. Mechanical terminology can be confusing to the layperson.

Ask for simple definitions of technical terms you’re not familiar with.

It’s hard to be patient, as most of us feel completely incapacitated without our vehicles. Make sure you ask to be called and informed of the problem, recommended action, and costs BEFORE work begins.   This means, of course, that when you arrive at the repair shop, you should Be prepared to leave a telephone number where you can be called.

Once the diagnosis has been made and before you agree to having this auto repair shop do the work they say is needed, ask about labor rates, guarantees, and what methods of payment are acceptable.

Helping Your Car Run The Extra Mile

A little extra care here and there when it comes to your car, and you’ll find yourself saving loads of money – not just on repairs, but on fuel as well!

Keep your engine tuned up

A misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency as much as 30 percent. This means less money in your wallet. Follow the service schedules listed in your owner’s manual. Replace filters and fluids as recommended.

It doesn’t always fit into your schedule. but you just have to make yourself do it. If the dealer is charging an arm and a leg for a tune-up, get a second opinion at a local reputable car repair shop. They can do the same service schedule, usually at a greater savings to you.

These tune-ups not only keep your car running smoothly, but they’ll help when you’re ready for a newer vehicle. A smooth-running car means a better trade in value for you.

Check your tires for proper inflation

Under-inflation actually wastes fuel. It causes your engine to work harder to push the vehicle. Wheels that are out-of-line (as evidenced by uneven tread wear or vehicle pulling) make the engine work harder, too. Keep those tires inflated properly, and you will save when you fill up.

Drive gently

Avoid sudden accelerations and the jerky stop-and-go routine. (Pass the barf bag, please!) Use cruise-control on open highways to keep your speed as steady as possible.

Avoid excessive idling

Shut off the engine while waiting for friends and family. Today’s vehicles are designed to “warm up” fast, so there’s no need to warm your car up for half an hour on cold winter mornings.

Keep your air conditioner in top condition

Remove extra items from the vehicle. Less weight means better mileage. Storing luggage in the trunk rather than on the roof reduces air drag. All these little things add up.

Plan your daily errands to eliminate unnecessary driving. Try to travel when traffic is light to avoid stop-and-go conditions.

Join a car pool

At least, ask if someone wants to share a ride if you’re just headed one place and then back.

Remember, how you drive your car, and how its fluids, old parts, and tires are disposed of all affect the environment. So take good care of your baby! Go the extra mile for it, and it will run the extra miles for you!

How To Summer-Ize Your Car

Although tourists may not believe it, some parts of Nevada have true winter weather, and residents go to great lengths to make sure their vehicles are ready for winter. Who wants to get stuck in sub-zero degree weather with a stalled car?

But what about during the rest of the year, and especially for Nevadans, the summer? Believe it or not, the heat takes its toll on your car, as well as on you, so it’s important to keep your car serviced.

Periodic maintenance on your car will save you tremendous hassle in the long run. Your vehicle should last longer and command a higher resale price, too!

While you may not consider it fascinating reading, the owner’s manual can be your best friend – assuming you read it! At least take a look-through periodically. How about while you’re waiting to get your oil changed?

Follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. This could save you a major breakdown.

Here are some useful tips for any car that’s going to be used in the heat:
  • Have the air conditioning system looked over by a qualified technician. A check-up here can save you a huge bill later.
  • The greatest cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. Prevent this problem by making sure the cooling system is flushed and refilled as recommended.
  • Have your car’s belts, clamps, and hoses checked by a technician. This only takes a few minutes and is usually inexpensive.
  • Replace air and fuel filters as recommended or sooner, if needed.
  • Get plenty of windshield washer solvent – we have a tendency to use a lot of this in the winter, so your fluids may be low.
  • Tires should be rotated every 5000 miles or so.
  • Check the spare tire to make sure it’s inflated properly. Also, make sure you have a jack along with it!
  • Transmission troubles equal money troubles equal emotional troubles! Have your transmission serviced periodically, and prevent big-time repair bills.
  • If you notice that your brakes are less efficient, get them checked out right away.
  • Have your battery checked periodically to see how much life it has left!
  • Inspect all lights and bulbs to make sure they’re working.
  • Carry a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, a flashlight, and a cell phone.
  • If you’re driving in “bumper to bumper” barely moving traffic, it’s wise to turn your air conditioner off. This saves a lot of wear on your car. The engine has to work overtime if the air is on and you’re stopping and starting frequently.

There you go – a simple list to keep your car in great running shape. Remember, your car needs to be maintained and checked over, especially in the summer.

Nine Secrets To Maintaining Your Car

Robert Sikorsky’s little book Drive It Forever offers invaluable tips to keep your car going the extra mile. His advice could save you a year’s worth of car payments or more!

Here are some of his tips:
  • The smoother you drive, the longer your car will run. Stopping and starting, fast lane changes, etc. lead to shorter life for your car.
  • Naturally, you can’t drive at all without stopping and starting. But your goal is to keep moving smoothly any time that you can. Does it look like a stoplight is about to turn green? Then slow down and if possible, gently keep moving until the light changes.
  • Less engine idle means less engine wear, says Sikorsky. If you have to idle longer than 30 seconds, you may as well turn the engine off and start it when you’re ready to roll. So turn off the car if you’re waiting in parking lots, waiting on others to ready themselves for travel, if you have to go back in the house for something, etc.
  • Never rev up the car while it’s not moving.
  • You may have heard that it’s good to take your car out periodically for a good drive on the highway now and again, and that’s good advice. This allows your engine to get fully warmed up and helps get rid of some deposits built up by short trips.
  • Don’t cruise around a parking lot forever, trying to find a spot. Go ahead and park further away and get in a little exercise.
  • Avoid accelerating suddenly unless there’s an emergency situation. Putting the pedal to the metal may get you someplace today, but tomorrow you may end up hitching a ride from a neighbor.
  • If possible, don’t park your car headed uphill. When you’re ready to start it later, the engine will have to use extra power to pull itself. It’s better to park headed downhill than uphill.
  • Driving on dusty roads cuts your gas mileage considerably.  “Gas mileage” is a term that refers to the efficiency of the gas your car is using.  You may have heard discussions involving the phrase “This car gets 25 miles to the gallon,” which means that it will take 1 gallon to go 25 miles—which obviously is much more efficient use of gas than a car that will go only 10 miles to the gallon.  Frequent driving on dusty roads adds to engine wear as well.
Oil – The Life Of Your Car

Oil cleans your car. It lubricates parts. It helps cool things down. Without it, your engine would be sitting squarely in the center of your local junkyard.  Scheduling regular oil changes is vital to the life of any vehicle; this one scheduled maintenance may help your vehicle avoid mechanical failures.

Imagine how your body would react if your kidneys and liver shut down. The impurities in your blood would build up continually, and it wouldn’t take long for your body to completely break down.

Oil for your car can be likened to blood to your body. Your car needs clean oil to keep going. What would happen if you never changed your oil?  Well, you’d be lucky to get 30,000 miles out of the car before your engine would collapse.

The oil filter keeps little bits of dust and other contaminants out of your engine, and helps ensure the oil runs smoothly, so you want to change that every time you change the oil.

The “iron-clad rule” for when to change the oil was, for many years, every 3,000 miles.  However, many newer cars on the road require less frequent oil changes than in the past—some only require a change every 5,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 miles.  So be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation in your owner’s manual.  Unless otherwise recommended by your manufacturer, or if your car is older and you don’t have the owner’s manual, then be safe rather than sorry, and change your oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles (or four times a year).

Have your air filter changed when it gets dirty. it’s mentioned here because it’s a good idea to ask the folks who change your oil to check the air filter. They’ll be happy to change it for you.

Some people like to change the oil themselves.  You may not feel 100% comfortable changing your oil yourself, but you can certainly check it easily. It’s best to check the oil when your engine is cold.

Here’s how: Unscrew the cap and pull out the dipstick. Wipe it with a clean tissue or paper towel. Reinsert the stick all the way. Then pull it back out and check the dipstick. You’ll see “add” and “full” lines clearly marked on it. If the oil film is between the “add” and “full” lines, you’re good. If it’s below the “add” line, you need a quart of oil. Make sure you use the kind recommended in your owner’s manual. After adding the oil, repeat all the steps.

Keep track of how much oil your car uses. A sudden change in oil consumption means you need to see a technician.

And, one more thing:  if you see any hint of an oil leak on the driveway after the car is parked, get to a service station. This could be ultra bad news and you need to have your car checked out immediately. Ditto if you detect a burning smell or smoke coming from around the engine!

Tire Use & Maintenance

Tires serve numerous functions, rather than just a single one as most other vehicle components do. Tires provide a vehicle road interface, they support the load of the vehicle, they provide road surface friction and they absorb road irregularities. These functions make tires a very important piece of safety equipment on your vehicle.

While tires appear to be just round, black, low-tech vehicle parts to most car owners, the fact is, there are 20 or more components and 15 or more rubber compounds assembled in a typical radial tire.

And get this: a typical, mid-size passenger vehicle’s tire will rotate approximately 800 times over the course one mile! This means that over the course of 50,000 miles, your tires will each have had more than 40-million loading / unloading cycles. Needless to say, tires are a workhorse and because of the work they do and the safety they provide, it’s important that they be treated with care and respect.

The following provides a proper guideline and checklist for proper tire use and maintenance to ensure your tire is keeping you as safe as possible.

Check tire pressure at least once a month and adjust as needed

The pressure of your vehicle’s tires plays an important role in the safety and handling of your vehicle. Over-inflated tires result in a bouncy ride and less precise handling while under-inflation is even more serious. According to studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), relating to tire-related automobile accidents, the leading cause of tire failure is under-inflation.

Under-inflation has several adverse effects on your vehicle. These include poor handling, increased fuel consumption and faster tire wear, which means you will be buying new tires sooner than you should be. Under-inflation also causes tires to wear unevenly and it increases stress on the overall tire which can result in structural failure and tread separation. Sudden tire separation or structural failure while your vehicle is in motion can result in serious motor vehicle accidents.

There are many reasons why tires lose pressure and this is why it is important for you to check tire pressure every month. Tires may lose pressure simply by changes in the weather (drops in temperature) to slow leaks through the tire membranes of tires that are still in otherwise good condition.  Also check to make sure your tires still have valve caps.

The recommended tire pressure can be found on a printed label located inside the driver side doorframe of your vehicle or in the glove compartment or owner’s manual. Do not inflate your tires to the pressure listed on the tire itself. That number on the tire is the maximum pressure that the tire can hold—it’s not the recommended pressure for that vehicle.

You should also be sure to check your tire pressure before taking any long trip (250 miles or more).

Inspect tires for uneven wear patterns on the tread, cracks, foreign objects or other signs of damage once a month.

If you observe any of the following, you should immediately bring your tire in for inspection and/or repair:
  • Uneven tread wear and excessive tread wear: these are usually signs of under-inflation or indication that your vehicle’s suspension is out of alignment.
  • Bulges on the tread portion of your tire or on the tire sidewalls.
  • Chunking of the tread – this indicates tread separation from the tire carcass.
  • Signs of punctures, such as nails and screws or other foreign objects.
Keep your tires in proper balance

When tires are out of balance, they result in a noticeably uncomfortable ride as well as excessive wear on your vehicle’s suspension. You can usually recognize out of balance tires by thumping type noises when the vehicle reaches highway speeds.

Maintain Proper Vehicle Alignment

The best way tell if your vehicle is properly aligned is to drive on a straight, flat road with no crosswinds and check to see if your vehicle is pulling to one side or the other. If so, your vehicle needs to have its steering and/or suspension aligned. Allowing your vehicle to operate out of proper alignment will result in faster and uneven tire wear.

Do not overload your tires

After under-inflated tires, overloading a tire is the next most common cause of tire failure. Every tire has a specific “maximum load” operating range. When this range is exceeded, tires can unexpectedly fail which could result in a serious automobile accident. You can find the tire load for your vehicle on the same sticker that the recommended tire pressure is located (driver side doorframe). This will tell you the maximum occupant allowance and cargo load. Understand that because your vehicle has eight seats does not automatically mean that the tire load is equipped to hold eight people. Don’t put your safety at risk—be sure to check your vehicle’s tire load and do not exceed that.

Tire Overheating

An overheated tire will make your tires wear faster. In many parts of Nevada, we deal with extreme heat for several months of the year. In addition to the heat of the roads caused by ambient air temperature, we also increase the temperature of our tires by aggressive driving, hard cornering, running at high speeds, carrying heavy loads, running on coarse pavement and driving with under-inflated tires.

Slow down when traveling over potholes or road defects

Striking or running over potholes and road defects at a high rate of speed can cause significant damage to your tires. If there is something in the road that cannot be avoided, slow down as much as possible when traveling over it.

Do not run over or rub against curbs

Just like you should not run over road defects at high rates of speeds, you should also avoid driving over curbs or rubbing against them when parking. Doing so can cause tire damage that could result in unexpected failure, leaks etc.

Replace Tires in Matched Sets or Pairs

Many times when a tire is in need of replacement, people opt to purchase just one replacement tire. It makes sense on the surface, however, mismatched tires with different amounts of wear can significantly affect the balance of your vehicle. It can also affect your ABS operation.

When you replace a tire, they should be done so in either complete sets or in pairs. Your paired tires should be of the same brand, construction and type with the same tread pattern. Tire pairing should be side to side (left side tires matching each other and right side tires matching each other) but it’s also recommended that front tires match the front and rear tires match the rear as well. If you replace just two tires, the new ones should be on the rear of the vehicle to ensure maximum traction and vehicle stability, regardless of whether your vehicle is front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive.

Never mismatch vehicle tires with differing construction or classifications.

Replace tires when needed

Check your tires once a month – give a look over for cuts, bulges, or nails or other foreign objects sticking out.

Brake Maintenance

You can inspect your brakes yourself on many cars without the need to remove the wheel. If your car has an alloy wheel with spaces, you can look into those spaces and see your vehicle’s brakes. When looking through those wheel spaces, you should see the brakes pads and a large shiny round disc.

The brake discs should be shiny on the inside and outside edges and fairly uniform. Unless they are very new, they will probably see lines on it which is normal wear. If you observe rough spots or deep grooves in the disc, hey should be replaced. When you replace brake discs, they should be done so in pairs to ensure your safety.

The brake pads can be observed if you follow the surface of the brake disc to the top. The pads are the part touching the brake disc. If you observe 1/8 of an inch or less of brake pads, those pads need to be replaced. 1/8” is approximately two penny’s on top of each other.

Brake lines should also be inspected periodically. These are rubber coated hoses that you will see connected to the back of the brakes when looking at them from the outside of the vehicle. The lines should be soft and supple. Of you see cracks or flaked rubber, your brake lines will need to be replaced. You will also see hard metal lines. These should be checked for corrosion. Corroded lines should also be replaced.

Brake Noise

In an earlier module, we mentioned that when you experience a“soft” brake pedal, you need to get your brakes checked immediately.  However, before you get to that stage, the first sign that something is wrong might simply be an annoying noise emanating from your vehicle’s brakes.  You’ll know it’s from the brakes because you only hear it when you press the brake pedal, typically when you’re making a turn.

But, just because your brakes are making noise does not automatically mean they need repair or replacement.

Understand that brakes don’t just fail—they deteriorate over time. When a noise is heard, you should inspect or have your brakes inspected by a mechanic or someone knowledgeable about brakes. It could be nothing or it could mean you need further action. Brakes can be a simple, inexpensive fix (in the case of just needing brake pads) or a very expensive fix in the case where brake rotors are needed.

Ignoring sounds and the need for simple repairs will generally lead to you needing more expensive brake repairs. The point is, don’t let brake noise go on for too long. Check it out and resolve any problems immediately. This will not only save you money—it will ensure your safety.

Save your brakes by having your brake fluid changed every 30,000 miles.

And of course, the no brainer – You need to get your car to a repair shop if the “brake” light on the instrument panel is lit.

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