Car Maintenance: What to Check and When
Every vehicle owner should prioritize preventative maintenance, as a vehicle is more likely to continue to run in an efficient manner when it is maintained and safety issues can better be avoided. It should become a habit for a vehicle owner to have the vehicle checked according to the directions outlined in the owner’s manual. Costly car repairs can also be avoided if a major problem is identified early on. Typically, a vehicle maintenance schedule should include the following components.
- Oil– The oil should be checked with the dipstick placed into the engine to ensure that the level of oil is acceptable. If low, the oil tank will require a refill. This is a relatively simple process that can be done without a mechanic, but those who are not mechanically inclined will need to check with an expert who can advise the right kind of oil that your vehicle will require.
- Washer Fluid– A plastic receptacle is located below the vehicle hood and holds the windshield wiper fluid. When the container becomes low, it should be filled with a windshield washer liquid. This will be an area that will typically require more attention in winter months when more fluid is typically used, which is why it is important to regularly keep it filled.
- Tire Wear, Tire Pressure, and Alignment –As tires are the only object between the road and the car, it is vital to check the tread and air pressure regularly. The alignment will also need to be monitored regularly and tires should be rotated to confirm that weight is distributed evenly and the tires become worn in a uniform manner. Rotating the tires and maintaining proper alignment improves fuel efficiency, extends the lifetime of the tires, and even contributes to a smoother ride. Many mechanics will also check the alignment of the tires when performing other checks or services if desired.
Maintenance to Perform Every Three Months
- Transmission Fluid – The level of the transmission fluid may need to be monitored if the transmission falters when shifting gears. As changing the fluid can drastically extend the transmission life, it is something that should not be overlooked. However, it is best to check with a mechanic if a transmission is very old, has many miles, and the fluid hasn’t yet been replaced. For other vehicles, it is wise to periodically monitor the level of the transmission fluid and to add more if needed. Ensure to only add the type of transmission fluid recommended in the owner’s manual.
- Brake Fluid– The brake fluid contained within the master cylinder should be checked periodically to ensure that it reaches the recommended level. The amount of brake fluid the brakes have may decline as the lining of the brakes becomes worn, but an unexpected decline may be a sign of a leak or loss of hydraulic compression. Brake fluid attracts moisture as time progresses and can become an issue after two years of operating the vehicle. This can be a contributor to the fading of the pedals if there is any overheating of the brakes or corrosion along the anti-lock brake mechanism. The added moisture can also cause rust to the wheel cylinders or calipers.
Maintenance to Perform Less Frequently
- Windshield Wiper Blades – Worn out windshield wipers can contribute to driving with a windshield that is far from clean, which can be dangerous especially in low-visibility conditions. It is time to replace wiper blades when they begin to malfunction, if they become ineffective in clearing the windshield from rain and snow, or if they begin to corrode.
- Power Steering – This fluid generates pressure that the other mechanisms of the power steering system rely on to function. A system that has defective power steering may groan when turning corners and steering, in general, can become much more difficult. It is necessary for vehicle owners to monitor the level of fluid in the pump tank as a lower level may reveal a leaky seal or hose. If the rack and pinion or the pump do not receive enough fluid, they can be damaged. For this reason, it’s highly important to change the power steering fluid if the steering gear needs replacement or a hose fails. The owner’s manual must be consulted in order to find out which kind of fluid is appropriate for the vehicle.
- Airbags– In any vehicle, a mechanic must periodically inspect the crash sensors that cause the airbag to expand and discharge. The owner’s manual that came with the vehicle will include information on airbag warning signs and will reveal how often the airbags will need to be mechanically checked. As a rule of thumb, airbags should be checked after a collision, even if they did not deploy. If the airbags deployed after an accident, they should always be either replaced or repaired, and a diagnostics test should be conducted in a mechanic’s shop prior to operating the vehicle again. The widespread Takata airbag recall may require that many consumers will need to replace their airbag much sooner than the routine preventive maintenance would normally recommend.
- Fuel Filter– A clean fuel source is imperative for the optimal and consistent functioning of the fuel system and engine. Diesel engines are more susceptible to damages, but ideally, the filter for any vehicle should not be replaced less than once every two years or about every 30,000 miles.
Overall, following a general preventive maintenance plan is imperative when seeking to keep a vehicle in excellent operational condition. It is important to remember that a vehicle could also occasionally require maintenance or replacement parts that can be more difficult to plan for, so if any red flags are observed when operating the vehicle it may be time to have it looked at. A skilled mechanic will be knowledgeable about what the vehicle needs to keep it in top condition, and they will be able to help fulfill the owner’s responsibility to keep the vehicle in safe driving condition.
Mitchell Collins is a freelance journalist with experience writing in fields such as law, business, marketing, current events, etc.. Ever since high school, he followed the news with interest and found the study of law to be fascinating. He hopes to help people understand aspects of law through his blogs.
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