Knowing some basics about your vehicle and scheduling regular auto service and maintenance work can really help you save money on future repair costs. We’ve put together some commonly asked car care questions and answers for your convenience. Just click on the question link for a quick answer.
The correct tire pressure for a vehicle is determined by the size and weight of the vehicle, the type of tires it uses, load hauled, and the type of driving the vehicle is intended for. The vehicle manufacturer places a tire inflation placard in each vehicle that gives the proper tire inflation pressures for that vehicle. This placard is located on the inside of the glove box door, inside the fuel-filler door, or on the driver’s side doorpost (depending upon manufacturer). Most manufacturers also list tire inflation levels in the owner’s manual.
For vehicles that are parked inside, car care experts recommend that the wiper blades be replaced at least once a year or when the wiper blades start streaking – whichever comes first. On vehicles kept outside or in areas where the wipers receive excessive use, changing the blades two or even three times a year is recommended for clear vision.
According to automotive experts, regularly scheduled oil/filter changes are the single most important item for prolonging engine life. Most new vehicles have recommended oil/filter change intervals of 7,500 miles and some new vehicles have recommended oil change intervals of 11,000 to 15,000 miles under normal operating conditions, with “normal” operation described as the operation of the vehicle for at least 20 minutes at a medium speed, with a steady throttle and in a clean driving environment.
Short hops to the store, stop-and-go rush hour driving, driving on dirt roads, and inclement-weather operation are all considered severe operating conditions that can cause impurities to build up quickly in the oil, resulting in increased wear and tear on internal parts. That is why most owner’s manuals and mechanics recommend changing the oil and filter every three months or 3,000 miles (whichever comes first) to assure that maximum engine lubrication occurs while a minimum of impurities are suspended in the oil. To find out what the recommended oil change frequency is for your vehicle, check your owner’s manual or talk with your automotive service professional.
It is impossible to determine the condition of the coolant in the radiator just by looking at it. Coolant, a mixture of ethylene glycol and water, breaks down with age, picks up contaminants that cause sludge, and becomes acidic. When this happens, it can cause corrosion within the radiator and cooling passages of the engine. To determine its condition, coolant must be checked with coolant test strips that measure PH balance. Coolant is an environmentally hazardous substance. It pollutes the water table and is poisonous to people and animals and therefore must be disposed of as a hazardous waste. Your mechanic has special tools and procedures for testing and changing coolant.
If your air conditioning system is blowing hot air instead of cool, the refrigerant gas may have leaked out, you may have a clogged condenser, or the air conditioner’s blend door may be stuck. Whatever the cause of the problem, the air conditioning system needs immediate service. Turn the system off. You can cool the vehicle interior by putting the ventilation control in the “vent” position and/or opening the windows.
If you are driving at normal highway speed and the vehicle starts to overheat, turn off the air conditioner, turn on the heater and immediately pull over to the shoulder. Odds are if the vehicle starts to overheat at highway speed, there is a problem in the cooling system such as low coolant, a clogged radiator, or a broken drive belt or burst hose. Once at the shoulder, shut off the engine, open the hood and let the engine cool down – 20 minutes minimum. Once any overboiling stops and the engine has cooled, look for obvious signs of trouble. DO NOT attempt to open the radiator cap unless the engine is off and the top of the radiator is cold. If there is no noticeable problem such as a broken drive belt or burst hose, you can then add a coolant/water mixture to the radiator or overflow reservoir, start the vehicle, and drive slowly to a service facility.
The term “tune-up” actually applies only to older cars without electronic ignition (before 1981). On these vehicles a tune-up is generally required every 15,000 – 20,000 miles and consists of replacing the spark plugs, ignition contact points, rotor and distributor cap, and adjusting the ignition timing as well as the carburetor.
On modern vehicles equipped with electronic ignition, fuel injection, and computer controls, the term “engine performance maintenance” is a more accurate term. A “tune-up” for these newer vehicles is an orderly process of inspection, computer diagnosis, testing, and adjustment to maintain peak engine performance, maximum operating efficiency, and low exhaust emissions. During this process, spark plugs, plug wires, sensors, and modules may be replaced. The frequency at which a newer vehicle needs a tune-up is dependent more upon driving conditions than mileage and recommended tune-up frequencies vary between 30,000 – 100,000 miles, depending on the manufacturer. To learn how often your vehicle needs a tune-up, check your owner’s manual or speak with your local automotive service provider.
If you hear a grinding or squealing sound when the pedal is applied, you probably need new brake shoes or pads. Brakes shouldn’t make any noise as they operate. Even if the actual problem turns out to be something minor, the only safe assumption is this one: noisy brakes are unsafe brakes. Postponing service is unsafe and could raise the cost of repairs later. If your brakes are making noise, get them inspected or serviced right away.
Most car care experts advise having an automatic transmission’s fluid and filter changed every two years or 24,000 miles, to keep it in good working order. This is especially important if the vehicle is more than five years old. Many vehicles newer than five years old may need scheduled service less often and some new vehicles have transmissions that need no scheduled service for the life of the car.
By-the-book service, however, may not be adequate if your vehicle is driven hard, tows a trailer, goes off-road or carries a camper. Under these conditions, the fluid and filter may need to be changed more often—every 12 months or 12,000 miles—because dirt and moisture buildup in the fluid can cause internal damage. Heat buildup can also be a problem. The harder the transmission works, the hotter the fluid gets and the quicker the fluid breaks down. To find out the recommended service schedule for your vehicle’s transmission, check the owner’s manual or talk with your local automotive service provider.
Manual transmissions generally need no regularly scheduled service, but may need service due to worn clutch and thrown-out bearings and broken synchromesh gears. Check your owner’s manual for specific information on manual transmission service or talk with your local automotive service provider.