Today's cars, light trucks, and sport-utility vehicles are high-tech marvels with digital dashboards, oxygen sensors, electronic computers, unibody construction, and more. They run better, longer, and more efficiently than models of years past. When it comes to repairs, some things stay the same. The following tips should help you along the way:
Do your homework before taking your vehicle in for repairs or service:
- Read the owner's manual to learn about the vehicle's systems and components.
- Follow the recommended service schedules.
- Keep a log of all repairs and services.
When you think about it, you know your car better than anyone else. You drive it every day and know how it feels and sounds when everything is right. So don't ignore its warning signals.
Use all of your senses to inspect your car frequently. Check for:
- Unusual sounds, odors, drips, leaks, smoke, warning lights, gauge readings.
- Changes in acceleration, engine performance, gas mileage, fluid levels.
- Worn tires, belts, hoses.
- Problems in handling, braking, steering, vibrations.
- Note when the problem occurs.
- Is it constant or periodic?
- When the vehicle is cold or after the engine has warmed up?
- At all speeds? Only under acceleration? During braking? When shifting?
- When did the problem first start?
Once you are at our location, communicate your findings:
- Be prepared to describe the symptoms.
- Carry a written list of the symptoms that you can give us.
- Resist the temptation to suggest a specific course of repair. Just as you would with your physician, tell us where it hurts and how long it's been that way, but let the technician diagnose and recommend a remedy.
Stay involved. . . Ask questions:
- Ask as many questions as you need. Do not be embarrassed to request lay definitions.
- Don't rush the technician to make an on-the-spot diagnosis. You may ask to be called and apprised of the problem, course of action, and costs before work begins.
- Before you leave, be sure you understand all shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and acceptable methods of payment.
- Leave a telephone number where you can be called.
GETTING YOUR VEHICLE READY FOR WINTER
MECHANICAL FAILURE — an inconvenience anytime it occurs--can be deadly in the winter. Preventive maintenance is a must. Besides, a well-maintained vehicle is more enjoyable to drive, lasts longer, and could command a higher resale price. Some of the following tips can be performed by any do-it-yourselfer; others require the skilled hands of a professional auto technician:
- Engine Performance - Get engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters-air, fuel, etc.
- Fuel - Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note that a full gas tank helps keep moisture from forming.
- Oil - Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual-more often (every 3,000 miles) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.
- Cooling Systems - The cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) DIYers, never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
- Windshield Wipers - Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent-you'll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice scraper.
- Heater/Defroster - The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility. Newer models have a cabin air filter that should be replaced periodically. Check your owner's manual for the location and replacement interval.
- Battery - The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. Routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly. Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
- Lights - Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned-out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
- Exhaust System - Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floor boards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
- Tires - Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressures once a month. Check the tires when they are cold, before driving for any distance. Rotate as recommended. Don't forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
Carry emergency gear: gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, and a flashlight. Put a few "high-energy" snacks in your glove box.
GETTING YOUR VEHICLE READY FOR SUMMER
Summer's heat, dust, and stop-and-go traffic will take their toll on your vehicle. Add the effects of last winter, and you could be poised for a breakdown. You can lessen the odds of mechanical failure through periodic maintenance. . . Your vehicle should last longer and command a higher resale price, too! Some of the following tips are easy to do; others require a skilled auto technician:
- Air Conditioning - A marginally operating system will fail in hot weather. Have the system examined by a qualified technician. Newer models have cabin air filters that clean the air entering the heating and air conditioning system. Check your owner's manual for location and replacement interval.
- Cooling System - The greatest cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. The cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) DIYers, Never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
- Oil - Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual-more often (every 3,000 miles) if you make frequent short jaunts, extended trips with lots of luggage, or tow a trailer.
- Engine Performance - Replace other filters (air, fuel, PCV, etc.) as recommended-more often in dusty conditions. Get engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good shop.
- Windshield Wipers - A dirty windshield causes eye fatigue and can pose a safety hazard. Replace worn blades and get plenty of windshield washer solvent.
- Lights - Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned-out bulbs; periodically clean dirt and insects from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
- Tires - Have your tires rotated about every 5,000 miles. Check tire pressures once a month; check them while they're cold before driving for any distance. Don't forget to check your spare as well and be sure the jack is in good condition. Examine tires for tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. An alignment is warranted if there's uneven tread wear or if your vehicle pulls to one side.
- Brakes - Brakes should be inspected as recommended in your manual, or sooner if you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises, or longer stopping distances. Minor brake problems should be corrected promptly.
- Battery - Batteries can fail any time of year. The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. Routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.
Emergencies - Carry some basic tools-ask a technician for suggestions. Also include a first aid kit, flares, and a flashlight. Consider buying a cellular phone.
KEEPING YOUR VEHICLE IN TUNE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
Car care is definitely a win-win situation. Besides helping the environment, a properly maintained and operated vehicle will run more efficiently, will be safer, and will last longer-up to 50% longer, according to a survey of ASE-certified Master Auto Technicians. The following tips should put you on the road to environmentally conscious car care.
- Keep your engine tuned. A misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 30%. Follow the service schedules listed in your owner's manual. Replace filters and fluids as recommended.
- Check your tires for proper inflation. Under inflation wastes, your engine has 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. Properly maintained tires will last longer, meaning fewer scrap tires have to be disposed of.
- Keep your air conditioner in top condition and have it serviced only by a technician certified competent to handle/recycle refrigerants. Air conditioners contain CFCs-gases that have been implicated in the depletion of the ozone layer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost one-third of the CFCs released into the atmosphere come from mobile air conditioners; some simply leak out, but the majority escape during service and repair-so it's important to choose a qualified technician.
- Do-it-yourselfers: dispose of used motor oil, anti-freeze/coolant, tires, and old batteries properly. Many repair facilities accept these items. Or call your local municipal or county government for recycling sites. Never dump used oil or anti-freeze on the ground or in open streams.
- Observe speed limits. Mileage decreases sharply above 55 mph.
- Drive gently. Avoid sudden accelerations and jerky stop-and-go's. 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 forget about those five-minute warm-ups on cold winter mornings.
- Remove excess items from the vehicle. Less weight means better mileage. Store luggage/ cargo in the trunk rather than on the roof to reduce air drag.
- Plan trips. Consolidate your daily errands to eliminate unnecessary driving. Try to travel when traffic is light to avoid stop-and-go conditions. Join a carpool.
Remember, how your car runs, how you drive it, and how its fluids, old parts, and tires are disposed of all have serious consequences on the environment.