Caring For Your Vehicle

In this section, you will read some very good car care tips

The vehicle you own can last for a short time or for a very long time, depending on how well you take care of it. Following the car care tips in this section will assure that your vehilce will serve you for years to come.

1. Check Your Fluids Routinely.
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When you purchase a new or used car, it is essential that you are keep a check of your oil, automatic transmission, coolant, power steering, and brake fluid levels on a regular basis, because these fluids are the lifeline of your vehicle. Run out of any one of them, and your vehicle will break down.

It is probably a good idea to check your fluids every few days after purchasing a vehicle, in order to determine if there are any issues that are causing any loss of these vital fluids that keep your car in tip-top shape.

Every now and then, take a gander under the frontal area of your car to see if you have any leaks.Take notice of the color of any fluids you see dripping from your car. The color of the fluid will give you a clue to what is leaking and where to tell a mechanic to look at if you do have any leaks.

Tan - Likely an oil leak

Tan, clear, or red - Power Steering

Red - Likely a transmission fluid leak

Green - Likely a coolant leak

Clear or very light tan (particularly near tires) - Likely a brake fluid leak

NOTE: During the summer months, and after using the air conditioner, it is normal to see clear water dripping from your car, even for a few minutes after you have shut off the engine, most often coming from the right hand side of the vehicle near the firewall area of the vehicle. Condensation forms inside your car as a by-product of refrigerating the air and a constant drip is very normal.

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In the photo above, the fluid being checked for the automatic transmission. A bright red color indicates a helathy transmission. If the fluid is darkened, it needs to be serviced. More on that below.

2. Check Your Tires Monthly.
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Most vehicles will have a set of matched tires on them. Sometimes a tire is replaced, for various reasons, with one that will not match. As long as the tires are all the same size, which can be found on the side of each tire, and if all four tires are inflated to the same pressure, your car should drive like it is designed to.

Most cars and tires are rated to have the tire pressure 32 pounds per square inch (p.s.i.) to35 p.s.i. Trucks will often require more pressure in their tires. Always refer to the sidewall of the tire to see the recommended pressures. Tires inflated properly make the car drive better, it most definitely has a positive effect on fuel mileage, and it assures the maximum life of your tires.

Tire gauges are very cheap. You can purchase one at any auto parts store. Many convenience stores have air compressors available, which take quarters to operate, with air gauges built into the hoses that are used to inflate the tire.


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The above picture shows what a tire looks like when it is brand-new. Notice the tread. There are many different kinds of tread patterns to choose from. Here in the South, we do not see a great deal of snow, so most cars will travel well with street tires designed to hold the road well in rain.
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The above picture speaks for itself. An over-inflated tire will wear out faster in the center area of the tire, as that will be the only section making contact with the road. An over-inflated tire is also dangerous, especially at times when your tires need full contact with the road, such as when the pavement is wet.
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Again, the picture tells the story. A tire that is under-inflated is just as dangerous as one that is over-inflated. Only the side edges will be making contact with the pavement, which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle, and it leads to premature tire failure.
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Alignment of your tires is very important as well. Look at your tires from time to time to make sure they are wearing evenly, particularly the front ones. The above tire indicates that the vehicle's front end is severely out of alignment. Fuel mileage can be impacted as well if your car is out of alignment because it will be harder for them to roll free and true, as they should.
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The above tire is not wearing well, likely due to either an alignment issue, or it could be due to worn out shocks or struts. An additional cause could be that the tire is not balanced correctly. Here's a way to determine what the problem is;

A. If you feel a tire "hopping" when driving at speeds over 50 mph, it is likely out of balance. It is relatively inexpensive to have a tire balanced.

B. If you are driving and if you very briefly turn loose of the steering wheel and the vehicle wanders to one side or the other, the vehicle likely needs to be aligned. Alignments are moderately expensive, but are not overly-expensive. Shop around for the best price.

C. If, after hitting a bump in the road, any part of your vehicle bounces more than once, and that tire happens to be located on that corner of the vehicle, your shocks or struts are worn out. Shocks are far less expensive than struts, which can cost as much as $250 to replace.

Shocks and struts should always be replaced in pairs, either on the back or the front of the vehicle.


3. Checking The Coolant.
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Coolant comes in two colors. Most vehicles maniufactured before the year 2004 will mostly utilize coolant that will be green in color. Vehicles manufactured after the year 2004 will often use coolant that is red in color, which is known as DEX-Cool. It is important to use the coolant mixture that is recommended for your vehicle and to keep it full of coolant at all times.

Severe engine damage may occur if your cooling system runs low of coolant.

Checking your coolant levels is easy and quick. Most vehicles are equipped with an overflow container, similar to the one depicted above. When the vehicle engine is cool, coolant should be at the "low" or "cold" level. After the engine becomes warm, the heat will cause the coolant to expand and rise to the "high" or "hot" level.

It is advisable to just inspect the overflow container without removing the cap. It may well be under pressure if the vehicle is warm.

Never, and I do mean never...remove the steel radiator cap when the engine is warm or hot.

When desiring to assure that the radiator is full of coolant, only check it when the engine is cool. You can be severely burned by hot coolant, which is under pressure, if you attempt to remove the radiator cap when the engine is warm.

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Winterizing your vehicle is of great importance when cold weather is around the corner. Assuring that your coolant is of the proper concentration in your cooling system will assure that it will not freeze when temperature fall below freezing. A coolant concentration tester, like the one above, can be purchased at any auto parts store for under $10.00.
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Coolant should be mixed at a concentration of 50% pure coolant with 50% water. Pre-mixed gallon jugs of coolant can be purchased as well at any auto parts store.

4. Service Your Vehicle Regularly.
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Changing the oil and oil filter on your car on a regular basis will keep your engine in top shape for years to come. Lubricating any non-sealed items on your chassis will keep those parts from wearing out prematurely. Not many cars these days require chassis or steering component lubrication, but some still do.

Depending on the kind of drivng you do most often, and depending on which kind of oil you choose to run in your vehicle, oil changes should be performed every 5,000 - 10,000 miles.

Standard grades of oil should be changed more often. More expensive synthetic blends of oil, designed to last far longer, can be changed at extended intervals. Even standard grades of oil have advanced to the point that three month or 3,000 mile oil changes are no longer necessary.

Consult your owner's manual to understand which viscosity of oil is to be used in your vehicle at all times, and how often oil changes are recommended. Most shops specializing in oil changes know this information and they will be happy to relate it to you. If no owner's manual is available, your local parts store is another place where that information will be given to you at no cost.

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My personal recommendation when seeking parts or supplies related to auto ownership is O'Reilly Auto Parts. I find they have the best prices and the friendliest staff around!!

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Be aware that since most quick oil change shops make their living from changing oil, they will recommend you to change your oil more often than is necessary, so take their changing schedules with a grain of salt. 


I personally recommend Valvoline Instant Oil Change outlets if you need to have someone else service your vehicle. They do the best job, at a reasonable price, but be aware that they will often try to sell you items for your vehicle that can be purchased at a much lower price at O'Reilly Auto Parts, or elsewhere. Air filters, wiper blades, coolant and transmission services are among the more common up-sale items that are pushed by Valvoline outlets at convenience prices.

If they are needed, be sure to have them performed. If your coolant is bright in color and your transmission fluid is not dark in color, mileage intervals are not always indicative that those services are needed. Air filters need to be replaced if they are filled with dirt. You know if you need new wiper blades.

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The above picture is of an engine that obviously has not had regular oil changes. Oil does wear out and it can and will degenerate very fast, if not changed on a regular basis. Don't let this happen to your vehicle!!

​5. Keep Your Brakes In Good Working Order.
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The above picture and the one below, depict what can happen if you fail to replace your brake pads before they wear completely out. Brakes need to be checked every so often for wear, because they will eventually need replacing, if you own your car long enough. If you are easy on your brakes, they should last 40,000 to 50,000 miles.

Most brake pads have a built-in warning system to let you know they are in need of replacing. If you hear a high-pitched squeal when running down the road, your brakes are likely nearing the end of their life.

When that squeal changes over to a scrubbing sound whenever you apply the brakes, you are damaging brake components that will cost you dearly if you continue to drive.

Brake pads are relatively inexpensive. Rotors and drums can be vastly expensive if you damage them beyond repair.

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The above picture shows what new brake pads and a new rotor looks like. Notice how smooth the rotor is. When  brake pads are useful, that smooth finish will be maintained. If you notice that when your brakes are applied, that you feel any amount of vibration in your brake pedal or in your sterring wheel, your rotors may need to be "turned" which means they need to be resurfaced, or replaced.
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It is always a very good idea to have your wheel bearings inspected whenever servicing the brakes. Most vehicles have bearings that require grease to keep them running properly. Many vehicles have sealed bearings that do not require servicing. Know which kind your vehicle has, so that you can avoid expensive repairs if they are failed to be serviced.
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Most all vehicles on the road today have disc brakes on the front. Many vehicles have rear disc brakes as well. However, the vast majority of vehicles have drum brakes on their rear axles. These brakes do not offer any warning sounds before they are worn out. If you hear a scrubbing sound when the brakes are applied, they are likrly worn out and are in need of immediate attention.

If your vehicle is equipped with drum brakes, have them checked every 20,000 miles or so by a reputable mechanic.


6. Check Your Lights Often.
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Lightbulbs come in many shapes and sizes. Some are designed to last a long, long time, and some are not. The older your vehicle is, the likelyhood that your lightbulbs are not designed to burn for years at a time.

A. Turn on your headlights and check all your lights that should be on when the headlights are on. This will include all lights on each corner of the vehicle. Tail lights should be illuminated as well.

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B. It will likely take two people to check your brake lights. Make sure they are brighter than the tail lights and that both sides light up whenever the brakes are depressed. Some vehicles will require the vehicle's ignition to be turned on. If your vehicle is equipped with a "third-brake" light, make sure it illuminates as well when the brake pedal is depressed.
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​C. Don't forget when you have the headlights on to check your license plate lights. Many police departments are getting picky about making sure that those lights work as well. Don't want to get a ticket, do you?

7. Something Electriacl Not Working? It Might Be A Fuse!!
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Every vehicle has at least one fuse panel. Many modern vehicles have 2-4 fuse and relay panels, located under the dash or under the hood of the vehicle. Having a diagram of each of them is almost essential. If you have an owner's manual in the vehicle, fuse information, including a diagram of each panel can be found in them.

In the absence of an owner's manual, I have found the internet most useful for obtaining PDF copies of some owner's manuals. Going to the vehicle manufacturer's websites has also been useful, if the car is ten years old or newer. Sometimes you just have to Google around until you find one. But...be careful to screen anything with virus scanning software before you download it. Scam artists and computer viruses are rampant on sites claiming to have the file you need.

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Fuses are easy to check. Most vehicles have fuses like those depicted above. Looking through the top of the fuse, if you can see that the metal inside of them is solid and unburned, the fuse is likely okay. A pair of needle nosed pliers makes removing and replacing fuses easy. Always replace a fuse of one color with one of the same color. It is never a good idea to substitute one color of fuse for another.

8. Maintain the Appearance Of Your Vehicle
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Vaccuum your interior regularly. A clean car is worth far more than one that is dirty.
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Washing your car keeps your paint shining for years. I personally use Turtle Wax car wash, as it suds up great and it leaves a little waxy shine behind.
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Even modern paints require a little polish every now and then, in order to keep that paint nice and shiny!!
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If the paint has faded enough, paste wax can be used to revive it's appearance.
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Waxing your car can become an easy job when using an inexpensive buffer.


​9. Maintain Good Insurance.
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Insurance is very cheap, compared to the cost of replacing a good vehicle!! Opting for full coverage insurance, if the vehicle is going to be expensive to replace, is good protection, especially if you have limited funds to purchase a replacement vehicle if yours is destroyed.


10. Skip Those Extended Warranties.
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Dealers who lure you into those expensive, extended warranties for unexpected repairs are selling you a mixed bag of goods. Most warranties are scams.

Most warranty claims are denied. The vehicle operators are usually blamed for issues that come up, or denials are issued because the particular repairs is not covered.

Throw 50 bucks a month into a savings account, and you will be money ahead if and when repairs are necessary.