What You Need To Know Before You Go

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Car Maintenance Basics For Everyone

by Ross Everett

Car maintenance is not an option. Even if you know nothing about how a car works or have no mechanical aptitude whatsoever, there’s a few simple steps you can take to keep your car running in top form. This simple maintenance will save you time and money, as well as making for a safer, better performing vehicle.

–A clean car is a happy car: The outside of your car isnt as important as whats under the hood, but it is still important. In addition to the aesthetic benefits of a clean car theres a number of practical matters it addresses. Keeping your windshield clean inside and out is crucial for safety. Keeping the rest of the car clean prevents rust and corrosion.. And when youre cleaning your car, dont forget.

–Wash underneath your car: Washing the undercarriage of your car is a good idea in any case, and downright essential if you live where it snows a lot. The salt, sand and other chemicals used for snow removal collect underneath your vehicle and will cause rust damage faster than anything else. Even during the winter, its important to wash your car at least once a week paying special attention to the wheel wells and undercarriage.

–Rinse your engine: Keeping the engine clean helps your car run cooler, and washing away crusty oil, battery acid, etc, will help prevent damage to engine parts.

–Clean your air filter and change it often: Change your air filter every time you change your oil filter. Some might argue that changing it so often is ‘overkill’ but filters are so cheap why not err on the side of caution? In between filter changes its a good idea to give your filter a good spray with a compressed air hose and blow out the filter chamber at the same time. The clean air will help your car’s engine run cooler and more efficiently.

–Check and change your oil: Check the dipstick level every time you stop for gas, and don’t run your car without the appropriate amount of oil. An older vehicle may burn oil, but if you have a new car that is burning oil it needs to be checked out. Change your oil frequently”at least every 5,000 miles and better still, every 3,000 miles. Change your filter when you change the oil or youre going to be pumping clean oil through a dirty filter which defeats the purpose. Oil changes are a pretty easy job even for those without much of a mechanical background, and drive thru oil change businesses are ubiquitous in any decent sized market. Most of these places do a decent job and charge a reasonable fee. Many also take care of several other of the maintenance tasks on this list.

–Other fluids: Change your anti-freeze every year, and eyeball the coolant reservoir anytime youre under the hood to make sure that its full. Check the transmission, brake and power-steering fluids frequently, and top off when necessary.

–Check and rotate your tires: Check the air pressure of your tires at least once a week, and keep them filled to the manufacturer specified levels. If you have a real spare tire, and not one of those useless ‘donut’ tires check the pressure in that as well. Rotate your tires every few months to insure even wear. Some automotive chains will rotate tires they sold free of charge. In any case, if you don’t want to do this yourself any decent garage can do it for a very nominal fee. Simply checking the air pressure in your tires and rotating them periodically prevents countless problems and saves you a ton of money. Tires are expensive, and nothing will wear them out faster than improper inflation or uneven wear–not to mention the fact that worn tires are dangerous to drive on.

Emergency tools and equipment: Despite your best efforts to the contrary, things will eventually go wrong. When in does, youll be glad that you planned ahead. These items should be in your trunk at all times: tire gauge, pliers (slip-joint and needle nose), adjustable wrench, flat head and Phillips screwdriver. Dont buy cheap tools”theyll break and the least opportune times. Invest in Craftsman tools or another premium brand, and youll be set for life. Youll also need a flashlight, and if you live somewhere it snows its also a good idea to have salt, sand, a small shovel, and a blanket just in case you get snowbound and have to sleep in your car. A cellphone charger is also a good thing to have, since a cellphone doesn’t do much good if your batteries are dead. There are also ‘emergency’ cellphone chargers that don’t require a power source.

–Auto club membership: Just a great investment that will pay for itself the first time you lock your keys in your car or need a tow. AAA is the best known, but there are many others. Most credit card and cellphone providers offer this type of service, and a growing number of car manufacturers including VW and Mini Cooper offer it free of charge for new car buyers. At minimum, they should offer free towing, trip continuation insurance, lockout service, free maps, and some other bells and whistles. Keep in mind, however, that all roadside assistance companies aren’t created equal. Compare what they offer, and consider the type of driving you do–if you frequently travel through remote areas you’re better off going with a bigger company due to their larger network of covered providers.

These tips require any real mechanical skill, but will enhance your driving experience. You’ll have a safer, better running vehicle that will be more dependable and cost you less money over the long haul.

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