Whether you’re a racecar driver, lifelong motorist, or newly-minted license holder ready to hit the road, car maintenance should be on the forefront of every commuter’s consideration. Jobs that could once be done on a Sunday afternoon over a couple of hours may now require careful planning and specialized tools. Technology has made today’s cars faster, more reliable, and more efficient – but at a cost. Tolerances are tighter, computers play a major role, and the number of people who can work on a vehicle without specialized training have declined. Let’s elaborate on some of the fundamentals of car maintenance.
Let’s start from the bottom. Tires are (hopefully) the only part of your vehicle contacting the road. All the horsepower in the world does nothing without a good set of tires, and as such they should be accounted for during any routine maintenance. This usually means rotating them. While a driver could indeed jack up his or her own car and swap the wheels around, a professional tire rotation includes much more. Today’s service centers are equipped with sophisticated machinery that uses a computer to ensure proper tire balance. Technicians will also inspect tires for wear and leaks, and proper tire pressure – another important point in car maintenance. Improper tire pressure will result in premature wear, and lousy handling. Always ensure your tires are properly inflated. The pressure specification is usually listed on the inside of the driver’s door jamb. Many vehicles have tire pressure sensors in the valve stem which trip a light to notify a motorist when pressure is lower than ideal. Care should be taken not to damage these sensitive components when checking your tires.
Both the serpentine belt and the timing belt are critical to your car running properly. Because of this, it’s best to leave belt inspection to the pros. If you notice any unusual squealing or clicking sounds coming from under the hood, or if your car’s maintenance schedule suggests you’re due for belts, it’s best not to let it go ignored. Without getting too in-depth, the serpentine belt is the one you can probably see snaking its way along the side of the engine. Without this belt, you’ll likely lose at least your power steering and alternator. Your car will slowly die but it’s more likely you’ll quickly pull over, due to difficulty turning the steering wheel. The timing belt, which also runs the water pump on many vehicles, prevents a piston from colliding with a valve. Should this happen, catastrophic damage could occur and would likely render many vehicles totaled. There are some areas of car maintenance that can go a little beyond their due date – belts aren’t one of them.
It’s important to keep brakes in top condition, for obvious reasons. While simple in concept, modern braking systems have become much more sophisticated than those of yesteryear. In terms of both materials and technology (think cutting-edge anti-lock brakes) brakes are big business and best left to the professionals. Most brakes are designed to make a squealing or grinding noise when they’ve worn too far. This is to alert the driver that it’s time for maintenance. If you’ve been bringing your vehicle into the shop in regular intervals, your service technician will have likely inspected your brakes and notified you before any noise begins. Still, any unusual noises under breaking, or if the vehicle shudders when the brakes are applied (especially at higher speeds) should warrant a brake inspection.
Today’s suspension systems are incredibly robust and can travel many miles before needing repair or replacement. The term “suspension” is often used in reference to any part of a vehicle that connects it to the road. When people think of suspension, they usually imagine shocks and struts. These are indeed a critical component of a vehicle’s suspension, responsible for soaking up the irregularities of the road. A suspension system often has many bushings, joints, and linkages that can be more sensitive than the larger components. Any sort of knocking or grinding, especially with turning the steering wheel, or unusual handling should be inspected immediately. If your steering feels sluggish or loose, or the car doesn’t go around corners like it once did, you should have it inspected immediately. Large pot holes, clipping a curb or other small impacts can also disrupt a car’s alignment. While not as immediately critical as some other areas, an out-of-alignment vehicle will handle poorly and could prematurely wear other vital systems. If your car feels like it’s pulling to one side, your alignment might be off and it’s best to have it inspected.
Many DIY’ers don’t get hands-on with the engine, and for good reason. Today’s automotive engines are incredibly sophisticated. Even the most economically-priced vehicles are based upon technology that would have cost more than six figures twenty years ago. Most engines can’t be worked on without expensive, often proprietary tooling and are best left to the professionals. If your car feels down on power, makes any sort of knocking noise, or displays a “check engine” light, it’s best to bring it in for service immediately. Some people may however choose to attempt engine work at home. This generally isn’t advisable without extensive knowledge and a well-equipped shop. The one exception may be the air filter. In many cars, accessing the air filter is easy and can be done without tools. Replacing a fouled air filter is inexpensive and straightforward. There is always the risk of accidentally disconnecting a sensor or putting it in the wrong way. Unless absolutely certain you understand the job, it’s best to bring it to a qualified professional.
The Small Stuff
Jobs that were once Sunday afternoon specials have now become increasingly complicated. There are, however, a handful of tasks that can still be accomplished with little more than a driveway and dedication. Headlights, windshield wipers, oil changes, cabin filters, and batteries are all areas that can be maintained without extensive experience or professional training. Even the seemingly mundane tasks aren’t entirely risk-free. Some cars require removal of the front wheel to access a headlight. Batteries pack a lot of electricity, and if mishandled they can blow a fuse, fry circuitry, or worse. Fortunately, there are a wide number of resources available to those who like to maintain their own vehicles. Because of the advancements in automotive technology, even the simplest jobs have become more complex. While an advanced degree in mechanical engineering may not be needed to change an air filter, careful planning is a must. A rushed job is prone to failure.
Car maintenance is very much alive and well today, but this once classic American pastime is frequently being handed over to those who earn a living keeping cars running. The experienced service technicians at Good Care Auto in Downriver Michigan get it – not everyone has the time or expertise to keep their vehicle in top shape. That’s why we offer professional, affordable service on everything from camshafts to cabin filters. Give Good Care Auto a call at (734) 285-1188 and schedule an appointment today. No job is too small, and we pride ourselves on getting it right the first time, every time.