So, you purchased your first vehicle or are new to maintaining a vehicle. What do you need to know about keeping your vehicle reliable and on the road? What are the vital steps to take to make sure you can count on your vehicle when you need it most? Waiting until you are broke down on the side of the road is by far the most expensive way to maintain your vehicle. Here are some great ways to prevent that situation!
1. Get to know your vehicle.
Each vehicle has its own quirks and peculiarities. Almost like a personality. Get to know the personality of your vehicle. Learn how to operate the systems that your vehicle is equipped with. It may have many creature comforts, but do you know how to use them? Your owner’s manual will have more details about each system related to your specific vehicle.
- Headlights. Know how to manually turn them on and off if the automatic function quits.
- Door Locks. It may seem silly but with most vehicles using power locks, learn how to unlock your doors with the key or manually open them from the inside. Push button start cars still have a key hidden in the remote to manually unlock the doors if the remote quits working.
- Heating and air conditioning system. (HVAC) Is it automatic, does it have dual systems, does it have rear heating and AC? Learn how to switch air positions and control the temperature.
- Traction and stability control systemsMost current vehicles are equipped with ABS (Anti-lock Brake System), traction control and stability control systems. These systems are intertwined together and work to help the driver maintain control of their vehicle. There are times where it is beneficial to manipulate these systems for the driver’s benefit. For example, when maneuvering in a slippery or snow filled parking lot it can help to turn off the traction control system because with the system on the computer reduces engine power and to prevent wheel slip. Sometimes wheel speed is needed to get the vehicle moving. Do you know where the button is?
- Windows and mirrors. Know how to opertate the wipers and washer system. Does your vehicle have “rain sense” wipers? Learn how to turn on the rear defrost. How to adjust your mirrors properly. Can you dim your review mirror?
- Transmission and Transfer Case controls. Is your vehicle equipped with four-wheel drive? Do you have low range? How about a tow/haul button? Tow/haul should be used whenever hauling trailers or hauling heavy loads. It adjusts the way the transmission shifts and provides more load control for the driver. For more information about four-wheel drive use see our BLOG article titled THE FOUR-WHEEL DRIVES AND WHEN TO USE THEM. Feb. 2023
- Gauges and Displays. Each dash gauge provides the driver with vital vehicle information. Learn what information each gauge has to convey and what is considered “normal” for your vehicle. Many modern vehicles also have displays that can be customized to the user. Check your owner’s manual for information about how to access these displays.
- Cruise Control. Many vehicles are now equipped with adaptive cruise control and lane assist. Learn how these systems are designed to work on your vehicle. Be aware of how it functions and what to look for if it isn’t performing correctly. Sometimes a very dirty vehicle or snow encrusted vehicle can interfere with these systems.
- Safety restraints. Passenger restraint and air bag systems have come a long way. Most vehicles have air bags that deploy towads the driver and passenger as you would expect but many are now equipped with curtian and side air bags. Be aware of how they deploy. Never place anything on top of an air bag as it can become a projectile in a crash. Never let the passenger place their feet up on the dash as an air bag deployment will cause their knees to be pushed into their face.
2. Learn About Your Vehicle fluids.
Your vehicle fluids are the life blood of your vehicle. The vital component that keeps your vehicle from self-destruction. Each vehicle fluid has a specific job with different service intervals. Understanding what job each fluid performs is vital to keeping your vehicle running smoothly for years to come.
- Engine Oil.THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! Checking your oil level periodically and performing regular oil changes, with the correct oil is vital to the longevity of your vehicle engine! Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to identify what oil you should be using in your vehicle for the current temperature conditions. Check your fluid level with the vehicle at operating temperature, engine off with the vehicle sitting on level ground. Pull your engine oil dipstick, usually with a yellow handle, wipe it off and reinsert it fully. Pull it out again and check where the oil level is on the dipstick. Manufacturer oil change intervals in excess of 8000 miles look good on paper but may not be the best idea to maximize the service life of your engine. Engine oil does more than just lubricating your engine components. Engine manufacturers are now using it to vary valve timing, control AFM (Active Fuel Management) systems, and to lubricate turbo systems. Oil that works hard needs to be changed at regular intervals to prevent the oil from breaking down and causing sludge build-up. We have found that following the oil change life indicator on the dash contributes to sludge build-up over time. Changing your oil at more regular intervals, 3000 miles for semi-synthetic oil, 6000 miles for full synthetic, or at a minimum annually, can extend the useful life and preserve the efficiency of your vehicle’s engine. Personally, I use synthetic oil and change it every 5000 miles or annually depending on the vehicle. I also rotate my tires with every oil change. Looking at the big picture, regular oil changes are less expensive than major engine repair or replacement.
- Transmission Fluid. Like engine oil, transmission fluid level and condition are key to keeping your transmission working properly. Most vehicles use a dipstick to check the transmission fluid level. In most cases the fluid level is checked with the transmission in park, at operating temperature, on level ground. Some current vehicles do not have a dipstick to check the transmission fluid level. All of them can be checked but some require some additional steps and a hoist to check properly. Some are filled with what the manufacturer calls “lifetime fluid”. It is very important to note that ALL transmissions benefit from regular fluid services. Transmission service intervals vary from 30,000-50,000 miles depending on how the vehicle is used and what environment it is used in. Check your owner’s manual or your trusted service provider for more information on your specific vehicle.
- Power Steering Fluid. Power steering fluid is another fluid that should be checked and serviced regularly. Check it with the vehicle off at operating temperature. Most systems have a dipstick on the reservoir cap. Ideal service intervals are around 30,000 miles.
- Brake Fluid. Brake fluid is different from other fluids as it is hygroscopic. Meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. As brake fluid absorbs moisture it reduces the boiling point and causes corrosion in the brake system. Both are bad. Brakes get very hot because they convert forward momentum into heat energy. Brake fluid with a high moisture content will boil sooner. Which causes air bubbles in your brake system and causes a soft or nonfunctioning brake pedal. Moisture in your brake fluid also causes corrosion which can lead to failed brake parts. It is best practice to change your brake fluid every 30,000 miles or bi-annually.
- Washer Fluid. Washer fluid is an important part of driver safety. Having a clean windshield allows the driver to see driving hazards. Make sure the washer fluid reservoir is filled with the proper fluid for the environmental conditions you are driving in. Keep the system full and functioning.
- Engine Coolant. Engine coolant or antifreeze has several important roles in your vehicle operation. It transfers the heat of combustion away from your engine. It also provides heat to the passenger compartment, warming/cooling to the automatic transmission fluid and sometimes the engine oil, lubrication to the water pump, corrosion protection, and freeze protection from cold environments. It is a good idea to get the freeze protection and acidity of your coolant checked annually. Traditional Ethylene Glycol (Green) based coolants should be exchanged every 2 years or 30,000 miles. Extended-Life Coolants are usually good for 5 years or 100,000 miles.
- Front and Rear Differential Fluid. Usually found on larger rear wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles and trucks. Differential fluid is often overlooked as they are located under your vehicle and require lifting the vehicle to check levels. Service intervals can vary depending on how you use your vehicle. Best practice is to service them every 30,000 miles after the break-in period.
- Transfer Case. Found on four-wheel drive and some All-wheel drive vehicles. Some all-wheel drive vehicles use a viscous coupler. Similar in function but different in design. The best practice is to service them every 30,000 miles.
3. Watch Your Tires
Tires are vital to the safe operation of your vehicle. Tires provide the only point of contact with your vehicle and the driving surface allowing you to steer, stop, and maintain control of the vehicle. Keeping an eye on your tires and wheels can prevent many breakdown inconveniences.
- Air Pressure.Air pressure is key to vehicle handling and tire life. Inflate your tires to the pressure indicated on the decal inside the driver’s door. DO NOT FILL THE TIRES TO THE MAX PRESSURE INDICATED ON THE SIDE OF THE TIRE, which is for maximum load capacity. The tire pressure indicated on your door decal has been customized for your vehicle to promote traction, ride, handling, fuel economy, and tire wear. Check your tire pressures if they appear low and with each change of the seasons. Or if your tire pressure light illuminates. See BLOG article “Tire Pressure Monitor Systems (TPMS)” from December 2023 for more detailed information on TPMS systems. If you have a tire that is consistently losing air have the tire repaired or replaced.
- Tread Depth and Tire Age. Two more tire considerations are tread depth and tire age. Your tires wear as you drive. Keep an eye on the depth of your tread across the face of your tires. Most states have a minimum tread depth recommendation of 2/32” for safe on road use. The old school way to check is to insert a penny upside down in the tread. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you are less than 2/32”. Most tires also have a wear bar across the face of the tire. When you reach the wear bar you are at 2/32”. In Minnesota we have found that anything less than 4/32” will cause adverse handling characteristics in the winter. Tire age is also a consideration. Tires tend to get harder over time and can crack from sun exposure. The older they get the higher the potential of a blowout on the road. The industry standard useful life of a tire is 10 years. You can check the age of your tires by looking at the last four numbers of the DOT stamp. The first two numbers are the week that they were made and the last two are the year. In the picture it shows 4523. These tires were made the 45th week of 2023.
- Tire Type and Design. The tires on your vehicle can have a dramatic effect on how it rides, hadles, and performs on the road. A high quality tire can make your vehicle a joy to drive, whereas an inexpensie tire can make the same car scary and unsafe to drive. Choosing the right tire for your particular vehicle and its intended use is very important. See our BLOG article “Which Tire is Best For Me?” from January 2023 for more detailed information.
- Tire Rotation and Wheel Alignment. Rotating your tires regularly will help them wear evenly and will ensure you get the maximum tread life out of your tires. The best practice is to rotate tires every 5000 miles. Aligning your wheels will promote even tire wear and good vehicle handling. Here in Minnesota, we experience many road hazards that can have an effect on your wheel alignment. Getting your wheel alignment checked annually can help prevent accelerated tire wear and maximize the life of your tires.
- Lug Nuts and Wheel Installation. When wheel/tire assemblies get removed from the vehicle they need to be re-installed properly. Each make and model has a specific wheel nut torque value that the lug nuts should be tightened to when installing the wheel/tire assembly. Failure to do so can cause the wheels to work loose and fall off the vehicle. Which causes significate vehicle damage and always a bad day. The best practice is to have your wheels/tires professionally installed and the lug nuts properly torqued. Then, have the lug nut torque checked after driving the vehicle about 100 miles. This is due to the corrosion that can build up on the wheel mounting surface. Aluminum wheels are especially prone to this galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion occurs from the interaction of dissimilar metals. The steel wheel studs and brake rotor cause corrosion to form on the wheel mount surface. The corrosion is disturbed when the wheel is removed. When the wheel is re-installed, it can prevent the wheel from properly mating to the wheel mount surface. Which can cause the wheel to work loose as you are driving. Having the lug nut torque checked after driving the vehicle about 100 miles can prevent a wheel from coming loose and causing a bad day.
4. Follow Your Vehicle’s Maintenance Schedule.
Modern vehicles are a complex combination of mechanical systems and electrical networks. They require regular maintenance to keep them working at peak performance and efficiency. The vehicle manufacturers have done extensive testing on what it takes to maintain your vehicle through their warranty period. They have developed maintenance schedules tailored to your specific make and model. You can find these maintenance schedules in the back of your owner’s manual. A lot of times the maintenance schedules are broken down into mileage categories, but some go by time only or a combination of both. There are a couple of important details to consider when using maintenance schedules to govern the maintenance of your vehicle.
- Identify Your Vehicle Use. Is it Regular Use or Severe Use. Most vehicles have two different maintenance schedules to follow depending on how you use the vehicle. Rarely are vehicles used in environments that would fit in with the regular use category. Most fall under what is considered severe use. If you use your vehicle in any of the following conditions, it would be considered severe use:
- Stop and go traffic.
- Short trips that don’t allow the engine to reach operating temperature.
- Towing or hauling heavy loads.
- Driving in mountainous terrain with steep inclines.
- Extensive idling or low-speed driving for extended periods.
- Driving in dusty or sandy environments.
- Operation of the vehicle in cold environments below freezing.
- How long do you plan on keeping your vehicle? This is an important consideration because maintenance schedules developed by manufacturers are focused on low cost of ownership and maintaining vehicle reliability during the manufacturers warranty period. That is why they promote the regular use maintenance schedules. It makes each vehicle look like they do not require much maintenance. For example, changing oil every 8,000-10,000 miles sounds great on paper but the reality is it will decrease the useful life of your engine. Manufacturers know that most vehicle owners fall under the severe use category, but they don’t promote that fact. The bottom line is, use the maintenance schedules as a guide, not an absolute.
5. Partner With an Honest Shop That You Can Trust
Finding a quality Automotive Maintenance and Repair facility can take a lot of the guesswork out of vehicle ownership. Getting your vehicle regularly inspected and serviced is very important. Shops that change your oil without looking the vehicle over are doing the vehicle owner a disservice. Vehicles need to be inspected by qualified Automotive Service Technicians. Inspections and service history need to be reviewed by experienced Service Advisors. Then the current vehicle state of health can be presented to the vehicle owner with the proper maintenance and repair recommendations. Only then, will the vehicle owner have the information needed to make decisions about their vehicle maintenance and repair. When you find a quality Automotive Maintenance and Repair facility, like Sanderson Auto Repair, stick with them. In the long run you will save money and have a much more reliable vehicle that you can count on when you need it the most.
Did you get all of that? It was a lot of information to absorb. Modern vehicles are a complex combination of mechanical and electrical systems that work together to provide you with economical and reliable transportation. Just remember the 5 key steps to vehicle ownership.
- Get to know your vehicle.
- Learn about your vehicle fluids.
- Watch your tires.
- Follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.
- Partner with an honest shop that you can trust.
Following these steps will help you keep your vehicle properly maintained, reliable, and minimize down time. Keeping your vehicle on the road for years to come. If you would like more information or would like to schedule some maintenance with a shop you can trust, see the experts at Sanderson Auto Repair.