Car Maintenance Tips

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Where can I find reliable information on how to get my car ready for summer or winter driving?

Car Maintenance Tips

Once you've finally made your new or used car purchase, you are going to want to maintain it well. New car owners will probably go to the dealer for service, but that is not mandatory. If you want some helpful hints on new or used car maintenance and how to get your car ready for summer and winter driving, how to choose the right repair shop, and how to get the best work from a mechanic, download the PDF report "Glove Box Tips."

*The PDF includes six booklets published by the Federal Citizen Information Center and are free. Your tax dollars at work!

   
What products should I use to wash my car?

Washing Your Car

You wouldn't wash your hair with laundry detergent, so why wash your car with dish detergent? When it's time to wash their car, many people fill a bucket with water and dish detergent. Of course, you aren't trying to get last night's lasagna off your car, so today's dish detergents are far too harsh for your car's paint job.

Washing your used gem is an essential part of use car maintenance that can help maintain your used car value! Pick a soap that is designed to clean today's car finishes. Your car will look great, and your paint job will last a lot longer! You can find car wash detergent at any department store. If you are unsure which one is right for your car, go to a car supply store such as V.I.P. or Sanel Auto Parts and ask a clerk for help.

   
How often should I change my air filter?

Air Filters

Your new car engine is basically an air pump. The more efficiently it can suck air in and expel spent gasses out, the better it will perform. To ensure that your engine runs as efficiently as possible, make sure you change your air filter regularly (this should be a part of your usual car maintenace process).

The air filter removes harmful particles from the air before they enter your engine. Check your air filter at every other oil change. If it looks dirty, replace it. And even if it doesn't look dirty, you should replace the air filter every 15,000 miles or so.

   
How often should my car's brake fluid be changed?

Brake Fluid

New and used car brake fluid is essential to proper braking and should be flushed at least once every two years (make this a step in your usual car maintenance). If your brake pedal feels noticeably more soft then usual, or if it sinks to the floor when pressed, that indicates your car has a brake fluid leak or a defective master cylinder. This needs to be checked immediately.

*These symptoms can also be caused by air bubbles in the brake lines or overheated, foaming brake fluid. If you can't remember when you last had your car's brake fluid changed, have it done soon.

   
What can I do to keep my car running smoothly?

Spotting Trouble

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are some simple steps you can take and signs you can watch for that will help you save hundred if not thousands in car repair bills.

The Federal Trade Commission's publication "Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair" is a 15-page booklet that is loaded with tips on car maintenance to keep your car running smoothly, how to spot trouble, choose a repair shop, and work with your mechanic. The PDF version is available for free from the Federal Citizen Information Center's Web site.

   
How can I avoid scratching my car finish?

Washing Your Car

New car maintenance can keep your new automobile looking great! If you want to keep your new car paint in top condition, washing it regularly is key. Accumulated dirt and grime on your car's exterior results in scratches when you—whether by hand or automatic car wash—finally do wash the car. Before you actually wash your car, you should hose it down to remove debris to help minimize scratches.

If washing a vehicle by hand, use up and down motions rather than circular motions to avoid unsightly swirl marks. Also, remember to clean your sponge in a clean bucket of rinse water often to remove dirt and debris that may scratch your car's finish.

   
What does a fuel injector do?

Fuel Injectors

A fuel injector is like a small nozzle. After a period of time, it can get clogged with deposits and debris from the fuel you use (this decreases both engine performance and efficiency).

While you certainly can put additives in your gas to clean the injectors, it is important to have your mechanic clean your new or used car fuel injector every 20,000 to 30,000 miles or so (we're not all car maintenace pros so don't feel like this is something you should do on your own). Depending on how clogged your fuel injector is, doing so will improve your fuel efficiency, sometimes dramatically.

   
What does coolant do?

Coolant Levels

Don't turn your can into a burn-out! When a car's engine overheats, serious damage can result. Overheating can occur in any climate, hot or cold. To prevent overheating, check the coolant level in your new or used car radiator at every oil change or every 3,000 miles and add fluid to the plastic reservoir in the side of the radiator if necessary (use the lines marked on the side of the reservoir as a guide for filling).

* It is also a good idea to have your radiator flushed every year or so along with your other car maintenance work.

   
When should I change my car's wiper blades?

Windshield Wiper Blades

Windshield wiper blades are made of rubber and easily deteriorate due to exposure to sun, extreme weather, and pollution. Manufacturers recommend replacing the blades on your new car every few years as a regular part of car maintenance.

Windshield wiper blades are inexpensive and provide a key line of defense when it comes to your safety on the road. Top off your windshield wiper fluid reservoir often (especially in foul weather months).

*If you live in cold-weather climates, make sure your wiper fluid has anti-freeze in it during the winter months to prevent it from freezing to your windshield.

   
What does a tune-up include?

Tune-ups

In the past, cars maintenance was required every 15,000 miles or so, checking and adjusting the points and ignition timing needed to be done often, and spark plugs and fuel filters never lasted much more than 15,000 miles (thanks to leaded gas).

Today, point ignitions and leaded gas are a thing of the past. Tune-ups on today's new cars are only necessary every 50,000 miles or so and involve replacing the spark plugs, wire set, possibly the fuel filter, the air filter, and hooking the car up to an engine diagnostic system to diagnose problems before they become critical.

   
How often should I replace my fuel filter?

Fuel Filters

Replacing a fuel filter used to be done in the course of routine car maintenance every 10,000 to 15,000 miles. Thanks to cleaner gas and better fuel filter technology, however, today's new car fuel filters only need to be replaced every 50,000 miles or so on newer cars.

Today's fuel filter keeps debris and other deposits from entering your engine. A clogged fuel filter can result in reduced engine performance and fuel efficiency, and will ultimately lead to more serious problems. If you have an older car, change the fuel filter every year. Fuel tanks corrode and debris accumulates inside over the years, this can clog the fuel filter much faster than on newer cars.

   
Where can I find information on do-it-yourself automobile maintenance.

Do-It-Yourself Preventive Maintenance

Get personal with your vehicle! Even though you may not be a tinkerer by nature, it never hurts to know your way around the engine of your car (you'll be happy you know car maintenance). For instructions on 14 preventive maintenance services you can perform on your car yourself, visit the Federal Citizen Information Center's Web site and download the free PDF "How to Find Your Way Under the Hood & Around the Car."

*If you don't have access to a computer, you can order a print version for $1.00.

   
What Octane gas should I use?

Understanding Octane

With gas at all-time highs, more and more people are asking themselves if they really need premium octane gas. However, it may actually be an essential part of your new car maintenance. The most common octane ratings range from 87 to 93 and represent the gas's resistance to detonation (also known as “knock”). Knock is a process when more combustion than normal occurs within the engine causing the pistons and related engine parts to knock around resulting in damage to your car's engine.

Today's new cars have knock sensors that detect engine knock and adjust the engine performance to minimize damage. However, if left unchecked, damage to your engine will result. Check your owner's manual, and follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding which octane gas to use in your car. If it says to use premium, bite the bullet and use premium.

   
How do I know what parts I need to replace on my car as part of its routine maintenance?

Replacement Parts

When it comes time to replace parts on your new or used car or do routine car maintenance, your car manufacturer knows best. It's always a good idea to check your owner's manual to see how often the manufacturer recommends certain parts should be replaced or when fluids (transmission and oil, primarily) should be changed.

*If your car is under warranty, the manufacturer may require a specific type or brand of fluid be used in the car to maintain the warranty.

   
Is there any way to prevent frozen locks in the dead of winter?

Preventing Frozen Locks and Doors

No amount of car maintenance can completely protect your car from the elements. If you've ever had your car locks freeze in the dead of winter, here's a simple solution:
Take a ½ inch stiff bristle brush and rub petroleum jelly into the joints of hood hinges, doors, and trunk and door latch strikers and receptors. This will prevent freezing even in the most severe weather.

*You can also rub plain old cooking oil on the rubber weather stripping around windows and the contact bumpers around the doors and trunk to prevent doors and trunk lids from sticking in cold weather.

   
Should I wax my car?

Waxing Your Car

Waxing does more than help maintain that fresh-from-the-factory look, it is actually and essential part of car maintenance that helps your car hold its used car value in the event you want to resell it someday. It can prevent damage to you paint job, which in turn, prevents rust from forming.

You should wax your car at least three times a year. If you live in a foul weather climate where sand, salt, and chemicals are used to treat the roads, make sure you apply a fresh coat before the first snow flies.

There are many different brands of wax, but most come in two forms: liquid or paste. Both tyes are effective,however, make sure you follow the manufacturer's directions closely. A mistake with wax is often hard to hide.

   
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