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Water Cooler: The basics every car owner should know

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 9, 2021

Owning a car is a privilege and a large responsibility. To make sure your car is safe to operate and to avoid problems down the road, there are a few basic vehicle components and maintenance tips every car owner should know.

Car engine oil

Also called motor oil, this provides lubrication to all the moving parts of a car’s engine. As the car runs, byproducts of combustion build up in the oil, causing it to darken in color and change to a gunky texture. Knocking and rumbling in the engine, smells of oil inside the vehicle and visible exhaust smoke can all be signs that the oil is past due for changing.

The oil should have an amber hue. Periodically check the levels and top off as needed. This ensures you are aware of leaks and that your car has enough oil to operate.

Traditional advice is to change the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and while this may be best in general, innovations in synthetic oil often allow a car to run fine without an oil change for 5,000 to 10.000 miles.


A car’s suspension provides a lattice of strong parts coupled with components that can absorb shock such as dampers and coil springs. It works to absorb energy from driving over uneven surfaces and increases tire friction on the road.

It is common for various suspension components to wear out over time and cause you to feel jostled around, often side to side, when driving over uneven surfaces. Worn suspension can also sound squeaky or clunky. These parts tend to be pricey, but investing in the suspension is important to the longevity of the car.

Air filters

A vehicle has several filters. Cabin air filters help remove air pollutants from entering the cabin as it moves through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Low air flow, whistling, loud operating or odorous air are signs that it needs to be changed.

Fuel filters are round filters housed in the fuel tank or in the fuel line that protect the fuel injectors lines from dirt, debris and other contaminants. Signs it needs to be replaced include erratic and poor engine performance and fuel efficiency, hard starting, rough idle, stalling and other fuel system failures.

The engine air filter removes bugs, debris, dirt, air pollutants, water and other substances from the air that is taken in by the engine. A clean filter improves overall performance and efficiency. Inspect it if you notice lower than usual horsepower, black smoke from the exhaust pipe or a detectable gas odor when starting the engine.

The oil filter protects the car’s oil from dirt and debris. It’s generally advised to change it every time you change the oil. Overheating, decline in performance, decreased oil pressure and dirty exhaust fumes can all be signs it is overdue.

Vehicle fluids

Cars typically use nine fluids. You’re familiar with gas and oil. Coolant, also called antifreeze, regulates the engine temperature. Transmission fluid lubricates the transmission for smooth shifting. Power steering fluid is used to create hydraulic pressure to reduce the effort required to turn the wheel. Differential fluid lubricates the gears, allowing power to transfer from the transmission to the wheels. Brake fluid works to create hydraulic pressure and transfer and amplify braking force. And as you know, windshield wiper fluid keeps those pesky bugs and grime out of your line of sight.

As every manufacturer and mechanic will tell you, always refer to your owner’s manual and it will guide you through all the routine maintenance needed to ensure your car runs as well and as long as possible.

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