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Properly maintain your vehicle

There seem to be two different types of people when it comes to maintaining their vehicle. The first type seems to obsess over their vehicle, washing it all the time, changing the oil every 3,000 miles, and following the manufacturer's guidelines to the letter. The second type seems to ignore the vehicle, believing that after you spend all that money to buy it, it should never need And this works for awhile, until the vehicle suddenly stops (after numerous warning signs), and the owner now has a very expensive repair bill that may have been avoided.

Yes, it is expensive to maintain your vehicle, and they are just too complex these days to maintain yourself, unless you are a mechanic and have all the tools and training (including those computerized diagnostic machines). Since most of us don't have these items, and really don't have the desire or skills to do it ourselves, the key is to learn the truth about maintaining the vehicle so it is kept in proper running order and doesn't violate the warranty, while also not wasting our money on unnecessary repairs.

The following outline some general strategies for properly taking care of your vehicle.

1. Shops will recommend that you change your oil every 3,000 miles or three months, while some manufacturers state you only need to change your oil once every 7,500 miles or six months.
Find the happy medium by changing your oil every 4,000 or 5,000 miles, and stick to this routine. Use regular oil, not synthetic; buy the highest quality regular oil you can find; 10W30 is fine for most applications in most cars.

2. Whenever you change the oil, always change the oil filter, too. It's also a good idea to have the car looked over at these times to make sure there is nothing obviously wrong with the car.

3. Change air filters and fuel filters regularly to keep dirt out of the engine. If possible, avoid driving on dusty roads. Your engine will run better and cleaner if you change your air filter at least once per year; more so if you do a lot of "stop and go" driving or put on many more miles per year than average.

4. Your transmission isn't guaranteed to run forever. Change your fluid at manufacturer recommended intervals, generally once every 30,000 or 60,000 miles.

5. Periodically draining the radiator and replacing the antifreeze will help flush out rust and dirt particles that can clog up your cooling system. When the coolant's rust inhibitors get used up, then corrosion will show up within the radiator as well as in the engine block. This should probably be done at least once a year, typically before the start of either the really cold or really hot season.

6. Don't let the car overheat. If it comes close to overheating, stop it immediately and get it fixed. Overheating can seriously damage all kinds of hoses, seals, and gaskets in your car.

7. Do not stomp on the gas peddle to feel that surge of power. Not only does it waste gas, but it exerts abnormal stresses on lots of different parts.

8. If you have to sit idle in the vehicle for more five minutes or more, you might as well turn the engine off. If you turn it off and wait for only a minute or two, it will use more gas to start up again then it will to idle.

9. You don't need to idle your car more than 30 seconds before taking off. Any more than this just wastes fuel.

10. 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.

11. If it's below freezing, try not to take your car out on short
trips of less than five miles.

12. Don't cruise around a parking lot forever, trying to find a
spot. Go ahead and park further away and get in a little

13. Set up a regular maintenance schedule with one shop, even it it's your dealer, so that they will come to know you and your vehicle. Schedule any required maintenance around your 4,000-mile oil changes so that you save time and get them done.

14. It's okay to do some work on your own car (like put in a new battery or change a fuse), but be realistic about your abilities. Don't get in too far over your head.

15. It's okay to go outside your regular shop for some things which are done more efficiently outside. Most dealers and independent garages may not be as efficient with tires or batteries, for instance, as a Sears or a Goodyear store might be.

16. In general, replace parts, don't try to repair them. Replacement parts are made in factories, with the efficiencies of mass production and they typically come with a warranty.

17. In general, use high-quality remanufactured parts where available, except for engines, where you should go with used engines, where possible. Transmissions are a different story, however: rebuilt transmissions come in a box from the factory so they will work just fine.

18. Avoid cheap tires and batteries. They are more trouble than they are worth. Buy all-season tires and maintenance-free batteries. Keep the terminals clean and dry on your battery. Since no battery acid should be able to reach your terminals, there is no need for any kind of grease or corrosion inhibitor. If you see corrosion, replace the battery because there is a leak.

19. Keep your tires inflated properly. Visually inspect them every week, and check the actual pressure every couple of weeks. Underinflated tires is one of the key reasons that tires wear out (uneven wear), and they also impact the maneuverability of the vehicle.

20. The only real advantage to tire rotation is that it makes all of your tires wear out at the same time. If you follow #11 above, then your tires should be fine. If you can't remember to check them, then it is wise to have them rotated, typically twice a year, depending on how many miles you drive. If you find unusual tire wear, fix the underlying problem, which is usually worn front-end parts resulting in bad alignment.

21. Check the wear on your tires every couple of months, and make sure that you still have plenty of rubber. The old way to check was to insert a penny into the grooves and if you could see all of Lincoln's head, then it was time to replace your tires. Depending on how you take care of your tires (#11 and #12 above), you should probably think about replacing them every 40,000 miles.

22. Fill up your gas tank whenever it gets down to 1/4 full. If you drive your vehicle until the tank is almost empty, you are sucking whatever dirt or debris may be in the bottom of the tank right into your carburetor.

23. Do not let anything squeak for very long. Squeaking means that improper friction is happening somewhere in your car. Find it and fix it.

24. Do not let anything grind for very long. A low-frequency grinding noise means that actual destruction is going on in your car! Find it and fix it.

25. If you smell anything out of the ordinary that might be related to the vehicle itself, have it checked out immediately. Something is leaking and needs to be repaired at once.

26. Do not drive when a red warning light comes on. The red ones are serious and must not be ignored. It's better to stop the car and get a ride home than to destroy an engine for lack of oil, for instance.

27. The yellow warning lights are not as serious. They do demand your attention, but you don't usually need to interrupt your trip to fix them immediately.

28. Regular washings and a waxing your vehicle once a year should help keep the body in shape. If you get a scratch or dings that expose metal, have them touched up (your dealer probably sent you touch up paint) to avoid these areas rusting and causing even more damage.

Ultimately, refer to your manufacturer's repair book for guidelines as to when you should perform maintenance. The key to extending your vehicle's life is in doing the maintenance when it's needed to avoid even more costly repair bills.

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