Parts and Pieces - A Guide to Auto Maintenance

One of the most important responsibilities that any car owner faces is staying up on routine maintenance for their vehicle. Without a proper maintenance schedule, a vehicle’s parts and performance will quickly begin to decline. For the most part, the majority of auto maintenance can be done at home provided that one is willing to learn the proper way to do it. For example, changing the oil and other fluids at home is usually a more cost efficient option, as opposed to taking the car in for a tune up. However, there are some instances that warrant going to a shop, like problems with the brake system or any computerized components.

The first place that anyone interested in doing maintenance on their car should look is in their vehicle’s service manual. This will allow them to familiarize themselves with the layout of their vehicle, and learn about any special parts that it may have. Additionally, going down to a local automotive retail store can also be helpful if there’s a task that seems unclear. The most important thing to remember about doing any type of vehicle maintenance at home is that safety is always the first priority. Some fluids will require special waste disposal, and nothing should ever be done without the use of safety glasses and protective clothing.

Checking the fluid is one of the most important tasks as far as everyday vehicle maintenance goes. For example, the oil should be checked on a daily basis, and the coolant should be monitored, as well. Depending on the age of the vehicle, the brake fluid and transmission fluid may also require frequent monitoring. Most automotive fluids can be easily checked with a dip stick, like the oil and transmission fluid. In addition to ensuring the vehicle has the correct fluid levels, it’s also very important to do a quick visual inspection before and after driving the vehicle each time. This includes, but is not limited to, checking the tires, inspecting the windshield and briefly listening for any abnormal sounds.

Two of the most common problems people face deal with the brake system and the alignment of the tires. Both can cause the vehicle to shudder; however, the shuddering will only occur when stopping if the brake pads need to be replaced. Additionally, if the tires are out of alignment, then the vehicle will usually pull to one side if the driver’s hands are briefly removed from the wheel. Always check to make sure the safety brake isn’t on before driving, as well, because that can also the vehicle to feel different. If there are emergency lights showing on the dashboard, then it’s a good idea to take the vehicle down to a shop or retail store that offers a free diagnostic test. This is just a simple test that helps identify which code is causing the light to stay on. Once the engine code is known, it’s a lot easier to fix the problem.

The frequency that a vehicle requires maintenance is largely determined by the amount of use it sees. However, there are a few general rules that are good to keep in mind when it comes to setting up a maintenance schedule. The frequency that the engine oil is changed depends on the type of oil being used; if the vehicle uses synthetic oil, then it needs to be changed every 5,000 miles. However, petroleum based oils, which are usually the cheaper option on the shelf, don’t last as long and need to be changed out every 3,000 miles. Please keep in mind that these are conservative estimates – some vehicles can go longer without an oil change. The other fluids, like transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and anti-freeze should be monitored at least every week and topped off when needed; the service manual will give a vehicle-specific guideline that details when these need to be completely replaced.

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