Keeping Your Vehicle Running

Following regular maintenance schedules and paying attention to signs of problems will prevent many auto-repair problems. A good way to keeping your vehicle in good condition is to follow the maintenance schedule in your vehicle’s owner manual is  You might also want to use a Basic Car Maintenance Checklist. If you don’t follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations or notice signs that your vehicle is developing, you can end up with an expensive repair bill.

Use the following tips to avoid costly maintenance and repairs:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated and rotate regularly. Tires leak air over time, so it is important to check the air pressure at least once a month. While you’re at it, inspect the tires for wear and damage. Both under-inflated and over-inflated tires wear out sooner and can make your vehicle difficult to handle during an emergency. Have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles to even out wear.
  • Watch oil levels. Manufacturers’ recommended oil-change intervals for many newer vehicles have increased from 3,000 miles to 7,500 miles. Because some engines routinely use a quart of oil every 1,000 to 2,000 miles and to catch potential problems, you still need to check the oil level regularly between oil changes. Failing to do so may result in oil levels getting so low that the engine seizes. Whether you add oil or change it yourself, make sure to use the right type of oil for your vehicle.  
  • Use the right fluids. Among the most common do-it-yourself problems are mistakes when refilling fluids. Avoid over-filling your vehicle with oil or transmission fluid. Make sure to use the correct fluid. For example, if you pour windshield wiper fluid into the coolant reservoir,  you will need to have the fluid removed and the coolant replaced.  Worse, if you mix green coolant with orange coolant, the result will be a gel that clogs up the system, causes the water pump to overheat, and results in engine damage. Before you add any fluids to your vehicle, check the manual to make sure you have the recommended fluid, know the right place to pour it, and how much to use.
  • Know the age of your vehicle’s battery. Batteries usually last three to five years. If your battery dies before then, something  else may be wrong. Instead of just replacing the battery, first try to figure out why it died. Did you leave the lights on all night? Was a door left ajar? Was an interior light left on? Was the vehicle exhibiting any other symptoms? If you cannot find a reason for the battery to go dead, ask your mechanic to check for other possible explanations. A battery problem might result from the starter pulling too much current, a fault in the charging system, or some other problem. If so, you may need something other than a new battery. If you replace the battery instead, you will be wasting money.
  • Watch for warning lights. Lighted dashboard warning lights let you know when your vehicle needs attention. Some lights may show a need for routine maintenance; others signal the need to have the vehicle checked. Some lights can mean either. For example, the oil light may mean the oil is low or there is little oil pressure. The engine light can mean a minor problem, such as a bad sensor, or a major engine problem. Other lights may warn of problems with the battery, brake system, ABS braking system, or temperature. Ignoring a dashboard warning light may result is a major repair instead of a minor one. Refer to your vehicle’s owner manual to learn more about its dashboard warning lights. If you cannot figure out why a light is on, take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic or auto parts store.
  • Check for leaks. Small stains or occasional drops of fluid may not mean trouble. If leaks occur frequently or in increasing amounts, note their color and consistency. Odors can also provide important clues to problems. How would you describe the odor? For example, vehicle problems can smell like burned toast, rotten eggs, burning oil, gasoline vapors, burning resin, a chemical, sweet and steamy, or hot and metallic. Take odors seriously, they show signs of an electrical short, emission control problems, fuel system leaks, brake problems, or engine problems. Don’t delay diagnosis and repair. Try not to drive the vehicle until you get the problem diagnosed. Doing so might result in major repairs, an accident, or even a fire, depending on the problem.
  • Listen for unusual sounds. Squeaks, squeals, rattles, rumbles, and other sounds provide valuable clues about vehicle problems and maintenance needs. Ignoring them will not make them go away.
  • Notice how your vehicle feels when driving. Difficulty handling, a rough ride, vibrations, and poor performance are symptoms you can feel. They almost always point to  a problem.
  • Provide details to help your mechanic diagnose problems. When you first notice a problem developing, note the symptoms and when they occur. Is there a noise, odor, or vibration? If so, when does it happen? Does it occur when the engine is cold or warm? Is the problem constant or sporadic? Does the problem appear at one speed then disappear? Is the problem worse when you or going straight or when you are turning? You can avoid unneeded repairs by sharing these details to help your mechanic zero in on the cause.
  • Don’t ignore potential problems. If your vehicle is using more oil or coolant than expected, there is probably something wrong with your vehicle. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Continuing to drive a vehicle that’s not operating properly can turn a simple fix into a costly repair. Ignoring some problems, like brake noises, is dangerous or even deadly!!!

If you need auto repairs, take your vehicle to a trusted repair shop for an inspection. Instead of choosing from an advertisement, get recommendations from friends, family, and others you trust. It’s best to look for a repair shop before you need one to avoid making a rushed decision. Ask to see current licenses if required by state or local laws. Check online with your state Attorney General’s office or local consumer protection agency for complaints about the business.

When you choose a repair shop, ask how the shop prices its work. Does it charge a flat rate or an hourly rate for labor? Will there be a diagnostic charge if you have the work performed elsewhere? Ask for a written estimate before agreeing to any repairs. If expensive or complicated repairs or needed, or if you have questions about the recommended work, consider getting a second opinion.  See if the second shop makes the same recommendations as the first.

Once you select a repair shop, find out what certifications the technician has and check whether the certificates are current. Ask if the technician or shop has experience working on the same make or model vehicle as yours. Ask for a signed written estimate that identifies the repair, the parts needed, and the expected labor charge. The estimate should state that the shop will contact you for approval before they do any work exceeding a specified amount of time or money as required. Ask whether the shop will use new, reconditioned, or salvaged parts. If you are unfamiliar with the needed repairs, go home and try to find out as much as you can online or take your itemized estimate to another repair shop and ask them to look it over. When satisfied with the repairs recommended and the estimated cost, give your approval for the repairs.

After their completion, you should receive a completed repair describing the work done. It should list each repair, the parts replaced, the cost of each part, labor charges, and the vehicle’s odometer reading upon arrival and after completion of the repairs. Ask for all replaced parts. Some state’s laws require this. If the shop warranties the repairs, make sure you understand what the warranty covers and get it in writing. Make sure you understand any warranty limitations.

If you have issues about billing, quality of repairs or warranties, document them along with dates, times, expenses, and the names of the persons with whom you dealt. Discuss the issues with the shop manager or owner. If the issue is not resolved, contact your Attorney General or local consumer protection agency for help. As a last resort, file a claim in small claims court.

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