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Preventative Maintenance Guide

car hood open with engine exposedA motor vehicle is like a human body (aside from the obvious hard metal exoskeleton, inability to love, lack of volition except in “B” movies). They may not listen to awful pop music or pretend to like modern art, but cars are similar to people in that the health of each whole depends on the stability of their individual systems and components. If a person’s liver fails, his other organs face the threat of poisoning. If his heart fails, he dies. Likewise, a car cannot run reliably if its owner doesn’t take care that all its system are in working order…and an unreliable car is an unsafe car. Maintenance schedules help facilitate the check ups necessary to keep a car healthy.  Like any machine, maintenance schedules help elongate the longevity of a car as well as keep everyone on the road safe.  Routine check in’s are always good to consider, but also using common sense will keep you as safe as possible.  For example, if the car is leaking fluid or smells like something is burning, it would probably be a good idea to take your car in for some maintenance (sooner rather than later). For tips on keeping your car safe and responsive, read on below.

Nine Car Maintenance Pitfalls

1.  Fluids

If we can use a horse to analogize a car, then we can use oil, transmission, brake, and steering fluid, antifreeze, etc. to signify blood, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva….the various fluids of the human body. Oil should be changed every 3,000-3,750 miles to prevent the engine from overheating and/or dying. To prevent rough transmission and damaged parts, change transmission fluid every  30,000-60,000. Brake and steering fluid and antifreeze should be changed about once a year50,000 miles (unless a manual otherwise directs), and 30,000 miles, respectively to prevent jerkiness.

2.  Filters

Just as your liver and kidneys filter contaminants from your bloodstream, the oil, transmission fluid, and fuel filters remove contaminants from the various channels of your car to keep it running smoothly.  Filters make it possible to drive without flushing out the entire system every time a few particles invade. The health of the car’s circulatory system depends on the filters.

3.  Brakes

In addition to making sure the brake fluid is clean and well-filtered, you should make sure the brake pads and rotors are in good shape. The brake pads provide the friction necessary for the driver to command the rotors (the mechanism that applies pressure to stop the car). A wiggling steering wheel when you come to a stop is a sign of damaged rotors, and worn brake pads speak for themselves. Because brakes are your primary safeguard, their repair should not be put off.

4.  Safety Devices

Seat belts and air bags have saved countless lives since their debut, but lives have also been lost when seat belts have failed to latch properly or detract, and when air bags have not been deployed in the accidents they were designed for. You might think a car accident is a long shot, and that as long as you’re careful, you can let malfunctions in these systems slide. However, your own care cannot guarantee someone else’s. Seat belts are estimated to reduce the casualties of serious car accidents by 50%, but they are only helpful if you can use them.

5.  Head and Taillights

This should be self-explanatory: You cannot avoid dangers you cannot see – this is why you can be ticketed if one of your lights is out. Visibility is essential to safe driving, and it is essential for your safety and for others that it should not be compromised.

6.  Suspension

Suspension is what keeps your car from ricocheting into space every time you hit a speed bump without slowing down. Your car’s body is designed to bounce rather than lose contact with the road. Luckily, problems with suspension are easy enough to detect—your car will simply start to feel like a bounce house.

7.  Steering

Like suspension problems, steering problems are usually fairly obvious: you will have trouble steering. Equally obvious are the reasons why this is troublesome: to drive defensively, you have to be able to remove yourself from a dangerous situation quickly.

8.  Wipers

Windshield wipers are easy to take for granted…until you need them. Blizzards and torrential rain are hostile driving environments, even when you can see the road ahead of you. When you can’t, you’re better off just pulling over than just driving without working windshield wipers.

9.  Tires

Tires are the car’s ambassador to the road, and it is vital that they maintain a close and personal relationship. Friction is all-important to this relationship, so tire tread should be checked regularly (and a simple guide can be found here). When tire pressure is asymmetrical, the tires will wear unevenly or even cause the car to drift. Thus, tire pressure and tread deserve meticulous attention. For more specific difficulties not outlined here, visit AutoMD, which allows you to select your car’s birth year, make, and model and troubleshoot for its specific problems, and you can use the same information to get repair estimates on AOL Autos. While many repairs can be pricey, they cannot match the cost of a serious accident. If you value your safety, look after your car.

Image “Pontiac Sunbird GT engine” copyright by dave_7.

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