First and foremost, you need to know your car. The owner’s manual is a great place to start as it contains all the basics, such as fuel type, tire size, tire inflation levels and type of engine. It also outlines maintenance schedules for oil changes, filter replacements, belt changes and similar procedures. Learning the details about its parts, how it runs and when to take it in for maintenance makes you an informed owner and will help in reducing costly breakdowns.
Plan to change your motor oil every 3,000 miles or every 3 months if you want to be on the safe side, but know that most cars no longer require an oil change after every 3,000 miles. You will not damage the engine by letting it run 4,000 miles in between oil changes. Some cars have an oil-life monitor that will notify the driver when the oil needs to be changed. In addition, use the type of oil the automaker suggests; this alone will increase your vehicle’s longevity.
It’s very important to check and maintain proper air pressure in your car’s tires. Underinflated tires are the No. 1 cause of tire failure or flats. When a tire is underinflated, it builds up heat internally, which can cause a blowout. Underinflated tires also decrease fuel economy by as much as 10 percent. Look on the driver’s doorjamb for a label marked Tire and Loading Information for more details. It’s best to check tire pressure when the tires are cool. Use a quality tire-pressure gauge.
Modern vehicles can have any number of warning lights for various onboard components like the antilock braking system. Sometimes, the behavior of a given warning light – a flashing check engine light versus a steady one – may indicate two entirely different issues, so it’s important to understand each warning light’s purpose, its various modes and what to do if they illuminate. You can generally consult your owner’s manual to learn this information.
These include your radiator coolant, engine oil, brake fluid, power-steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. You can do this, or a mechanic can take a look during routine maintenance. Ask how to properly check these things yourself, too. The owner’s manual provides details about fluid levels and recommended maintenance.
Note: Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot or the car is running. Check your oil when the car is off but the engine is still warm. Check the transmission fluid with the car running but in Park.
Belt and hose failures are the No. 1 cause of roadside breakdowns. Rubber components under the hood are exposed to extreme heat, so they tend to wear out faster than other parts on your car. Get belts and hoses inspected every six months and before long trips. It’s more cost effective to replace them before a breakdown occurs.
Many of today’s vehicles come with a healthy dose of alphabet soup: ABS, TCS, ESP, etc. These letters often designate a computer-controlled function that enhances the driving experience. An antilock braking system, or ABS, is a computerized system that prevents wheel lockup and skidding during braking. If your ABS light comes on and stays on, you should take your car to a mechanic for inspection because there could be a problem with the system.
Note: TCS, or traction control system, helps eliminate wheel spin during acceleration. ESP could mean an electronic stability program is part of your car’s features. There are many acronyms affiliated with vehicles today, and the only way to find out what some of these things mean is to look in the owner’s manual.
Is it equipped with front, rear or all-wheel drive? A front-wheel-drive car will handle differently than one equipped with rear- or all-wheel drive, and vice versa. This is especially true when road conditions are poor. Front-drive cars have been praised for their ability to accelerate and maneuver in snowy conditions, but modern rear-wheel-drive cars equipped with traction control and an electronic stability system are a far cry from the fishtailing, rear-drive cars of the past. Allwheel-drive systems send available engine power to the wheels with the most traction and can enhance dry-road handling characteristics in addition to snow performance.
Don’t drive around with dirty windows, and make sure your headlights are clean and properly aimed. Dirty headlamps can drastically reduce the amount of illumination provided; if you can’t see something on or alongside the road, you can’t avoid it. Additionally, an improperly aimed headlight greatly reduces its effectiveness and affects visibility for oncoming drivers. Keep your car clean, if for no other reason than safety.