Let's face it - Americans are in love with their cars. For decades, we have criss-crossed the nation on road trips and vacations. Americans drive bigger cars than in any other country. As a nation, we have never worried about fuel economy or what it takes to run our car of choice. Now, with gas prices going higher on an almost daily basis, and no let-up insight, Americans are becoming concerned about fuel economy and a vehicle that will last a long time. Hummers and SUV's are falling out of style because of their energy demands, and people are becoming more aware of both air pollution and global warming.
It has become paramount that we keep our vehicles in tip-top running condition. Here, we will discuss ways for keeping your car running better and longer, and a few tips and tricks to help ease the pain at the pump.
Cars are like anything else - they have a useful design life. To get the most bang for your buck, however, it makes good sense to follow a strict maintenance schedule. The best place to start is in your owner's manual, which will list the required maintenance schedule. When a car is new, it is imperative that this is followed to insure that the warranty is kept intact. A regular schedule will include:
- Regular oil change prescribed by the manufacturer
- Inspect lights, turning signals and tire pressure on a monthly basis. This is often done when you take your vehicle to a quick oil change facility. If not, do it yourself. Tire pressure is especially important to not only reduce tire wear but to maintain good fuel economy.
- Even more if you drive a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
- Have the brakes inspected at 6,000 mile intervals, or every other oil change.
- Replace the air filter at recommended manufacturer requirements, or every 24,000 miles - more if you live in a very dusty region.
- Have the fuel filter changed on a regular basis, depending on manufacturer requirements or if the car becomes sluggish and misses. Suspect the fuel filter first.
- Have an automatic transmission inspected and transmission fluid and filter changed every 50,000 miles. Do so more often if you pull a travel or horse trailer.
- Have wheel alignment checked at least every 24,000 miles - keep a close eye on irregular tire wear and have alignment checked sooner if there are indications of abnormal wear.
- Have the cooling system flushed and fluids replaced at 40,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on where you live. In climes of extreme heat or cold, you should do this more often.
- Plan on replacing belts and hoses every 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Be wary here - the timing belt on many newer vehicles should be inspected more often. Loss of this belt can not only strand you, but do serious damage to an engine. To be on the safe side, replace at 60,000 miles.
- Have the air conditioning unit inspected and its performance checked every spring.
I have always changed my oil religiously at 3,000 miles. The guidelines listed above were developed by AAA and other reliable sources. New studies made by Ford Motor Company reveals that you can change oil safely at 7,500 miles. Ford would not make this claim if there were any controversy behind the claim.
The above guidelines are for typical maintenance. Under more extreme driving conditions, these change. Living in areas of weather extremes or very dusty driving conditions changes everything when maintaining a vehicle. Dust and dirt and salt on roads create havoc with constant velocity (CV) joints on front wheel drive and 4 wheel drive vehicles, and they should be inspected often. If you tow trailers or exceed the load limits specified by the manufacturer, then differentials should be inspected on a regular basis.
Vehicle engines that feature overhead cams are often driven by a serpentine belt that when stretched or damaged can seriously impede performance and even lead to costly repairs. Even if the belt looks normal, the teeth on the belt can be worn and lead to slippage, which affects the timing of the vehicle. This can lead to bent valves or worse. Keep an especially close eye on the belt.
Keeping your car running at its peak performance is not rocket science. The best thing you can do is find a reliable and highly recommended mechanic to work on your vehicle, and follow manufacturer's requirements to the letter. Use common sense if you live in areas of extreme weather to insure that your vehicle is maintained properly.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.