Among the must-do items each spring, like killing dandelions, is the need to catch up on your automobile’s maintenance. A good regimen assures the safety and dependability of your vehicle, so do it yourself or find a good technician for the required tasks.
Check your engine oil. If it’s been 3 months or 3000 miles since your last change, it’s time. Manufacturer recommendations are usually the best, except regarding oil life, where, on the average, most carmakers now publicize 7500-10000 mile oil and filter changes. The American Petroleum Institute promotes the 3000-mile interval not just because they want to sell oil, but because testing shows that lubricating properties diminish after that time. Newer sentiment suggests longer intervals are okay given oil and engine machining advancements, but most mechanics agree that frequent oil and filter changes are the cheapest and best insurance for your engine. Pushing change intervals to 5000 miles is likely fine, but if you read most owners’ manuals carefully, they say that in “severe use”, the interval should be 3 months or 3000 miles — I generally consider all use as severe.
Engine coolant is commonly referred to as antifreeze — they are the same thing. While the product was indeed conceived for freeze protection, its properties make it a superior cooling medium to water. It also raises the boiling point of water in a 50/50 mixture, allowing engines to run over 212 degrees at times without boil over.
Most vehicles have an expansion tank, which is semi-transparent, for viewing coolant level. If there is none in the tank, you may have a leak in the system. Coolant is not used, or “burned,” so a low level indicates that it is dwindling via a leak in a hose, fitting, radiator, heater core, water pump, or head gasket. If your expansion tank is low, fill to the specified level with a 50/50 water/coolant mix and observe the level for a few days. If it continues to disappear, look for a leak. If your expansion tank is completely empty, remove the radiator cap (when the engine is COOL), and make sure the radiator is full, then fill the expansion tank to the proper level.
Newer coolants (like Dexcool) have an extended change interval of five years — if you have regular coolant, two to three year changes are recommended. The periodic changing of coolant has become increasingly important with the advent and proliferation of aluminum engine blocks and heads.
Besides checking oil and coolant, don’t forget the ATF, or automatic transmission fluid. This is checked when warm, with the engine idling, and the transmission in “Park”. Most recommendations for change are in the 30,000 to 50,000 mile range.
Additionally, check and top off power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid.
Adjust tire pressure to factory specification or a couple of pounds-per-square-inch above it. Temperature affects tire pressure, so if you put 30 psi in your tires in December, it’s probably about 26 psi now, even if you don’t have a leak. Check pressure often, and be sure to replace the valve caps when you are done.
Frequently check tires for sidewall bulges, uneven tread wear, or lack of tread. The minimum legal tread depth — well past the safe level — is 2/32 of an inch. There are wear indicators in the tread that appear as solid bands side-to-side across the tire, to indicate this level of wear.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.