Regular Car Maintenance Can Avoid Costly Repairs

When does the car need to go in for an oil change? When was the last time the wiper blades were changed? When were the brakes were last serviced? You know that car maintenance is important, but between work, family and everything else that life throws at you, it can be hard to stay on top of everything.

Keeping up with basic car maintenance not only ensures that your vehicle is road ready but it can also prevent costly problems from developing. Read on to discover some parts that require basic maintenance and what you can do to keep each part in proper working order

Tires

Responsible for delivering the traction and grip you need to travel, it’s easy to take your tires for granted. Driving on tires that are in top condition is key to staying safe on the road. If the tread of your tires is worn or bare, it can spell disaster. Not only will you have reduced traction when you need it most, but you’re at a higher risk of suffering a blown tire. Another issue to keep an eye on is the pressure of each tire. Under or over inflated tires both cause problems like premature wear and poor fuel mileage.

What you can do:  Give your tires the attention they deserve and examine your tires on a regular basis for signs of excessive and/or uneven tread wear and bulges in the sidewalls. If you detect any abnormalities, replace the affected tire immediately and see your trusted mechanic as you may have other issues with your vehicle. Use a pressure gauge to check the tire pressure on a regular basis to ensure that all four tires are set to the manufacturer-recommended PSI. Also, consider rotating your tires every six months or 6,000-8,000 miles to promote even tread wear.

Spark Plugs

A key component in the combustion process, your car’s spark plugs create a spark that fires the air/fuel mixture in the engine to generate the combustion that powers your vehicle. Over time, your vehicle’s spark plugs can become fouled or dirty which can diminish their performance. Driving with dirty or fouled spark plugs can lead to a drop in gas mileage, poor acceleration and trouble starting the vehicle.

What you can do:  Have your spark plugs changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. (You can find the suggested maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual.) Also monitor your vehicle for any changes in performance. If you suspect that your spark plugs may be the culprit, you can check the spark plugs yourself by following these instructions (insert link to August article) or by having your trusted mechanic check out your vehicle.

Brake Pads

You rely on your brakes to work every time you press down on the brake pedal. One of the most important safety systems on your vehicle, don’t ignore your brake pads – your safety and the safety of your passengers depend on it. Driving with thin and worn brake pads is extremely dangerous, as you won’t have full stopping power when you approach that stop sign or have to suddenly hit your brakes in an emergency situation.

What you can do:  While driving, be aware of the performance of your brakes. Take note of how the brake pedal feels and listen for noises like grinding, growling or squealing. If the pedal feels soft or spongy or you hear any noises, it typically means that your brakes are in need of service. For more tips on checking your brake pads for wear, check out this article. If you suspect that your brake pads are in need of service, make an appointment with your mechanic right away.

Staying current on routine maintenance

Caring for your vehicle can seem daunting, but there are some easy things you can do to become an informed owner. Consult your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s recommended service schedule. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to keep up with routine maintenance.

To help you keep track, set reminders on your smartphone and once the service has been completed, write down what was done on a vehicle log. Many times, the owner’s manual has a vehicle log in the back; there are also a variety of smartphone apps available for tracking this important information.

Why Is You Car Squealing When You Turn The Steering Wheel?

So you’ve just gotten comfortable behind the wheel, put your belt on, lifted off the brakes and you’re ready to head out when you notice your steering causes an alarming noise. Luckily, you aren’t the first to encounter such sounds. If your car is making a squealing or squeaking sound when turning the steering wheel, there could be any of several culprits at play, and it’s important to get the problem checked out with a car mechanic.

One common cause is low power-steering fluid, which affects how your steering wheel feels and sounds. When the fluid that powers and lubricates conventional power-steering systems in a car gets low, it can lead to a squealing noise that may sustain for as long as the car’s steering wheel remains off-center. It can also be fairly loud.

Checking the fluid and replacing it if necessary might be enough to solve the problem. Contamination of the fluid by dirt and debris also could be at the root of this problem with your car. A failing power-steering pump could likewise be the cause. If adding fluid doesn’t solve the problem, a technician should be able to identify the cause and recommend a repair for your car.

A suspension or steering component that’s lost lubrication also could cause a squeak or squeal when you turn the steering wheel. Your car’s tie-rod ends, seals, ball joints and universal joints all need lubrication, and if they dry out, that could lead to a squeal, screeching or similar noise; you may even hear a grinding noise. Again, a technician or mechanic should be able to identify the problem and recommend a repair.

We’ve also experienced squeaks from the steering-wheel housing in new cars rubbing against interior trim to wear it down — typically in hot weather when materials expand and gaps close up. In these cases, a trip to the dealer mechanic or body shop might be in order for your car — hopefully for warranty work.

Finally, tire noise could be the cause of the squeal that you’re hearing, especially if it happens only when you are driving on certain surfaces.

If your vehicle is making a squealing sound when the steering wheel is being turned, start by checking the power-steering fluid level and replacing or adding the fluid as necessary — and if that doesn’t eliminate the noise, make an appointment with a service technician to find out if something else is going on.

Should You Change Your Transmission Fluid?

There are many fluids that run throughout your vehicle, but one of the most important to keep track of is the transmission fluid. Whether or not you should change it is not a matter of debate: Yes, you should. But how often this service should be performed varies by manufacturer and vehicle, and it’s open to debate.

The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for many automatic transmissions doesn’t call for fresh fluid until 100,000 miles or, with some Ford transmissions, even 150,000 miles. A lot of mechanics say that is too long and that it should be done at least every 50,000 miles. Manual transmissions require more conventional gear oil rather than ATF and tend to be on a different maintenance schedule, so it’s best to consult the service intervals in the owner’s manual.

Like other vital automotive fluids, transmission fluid deteriorates over time. Hard use — such as frequent stop-and-go city driving, hauling heavy loads, trailer towing — will accelerate the deterioration. That kind of driving raises the transmission’s operating temperature, and heat puts more strain on the transmission and the fluid. Unlike engine oil, which is primarily a lubricant, transmission fluid serves as both an oil and a hydraulic fluid that helps facilitate gear shifts, cools the transmission and lubricates moving parts.

If you do a lot of driving under high-stress conditions, you should check the transmission level more often and have a repair shop check the condition of the fluid. Transmission fluid often is red but can come in other colors, and as it deteriorates it tends to turn darker. It may also acquire a burned odor that could indicate it needs to be changed or that the transmission is developing mechanical problems.

Another indication it needs changing is if there are particles or other debris in the fluid. When you take your vehicle in for an oil change or other routine service, the repair facility may urge you to pay for a transmission-fluid change or flush. Even if they can show you that the fluid is darker than original, that might not mean you need fresh fluid right now. Step back, check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual and see what the vehicle manufacturer recommends before you decide. This also will give you time to price shop.

Many repair shops use flush systems that force out the old fluid and pump in new fluid rather than letting the old fluid simply drain out. Though that sounds good, some manufacturers say you shouldn’t do that (Honda is one; there are others), so you need to know this before you agree to a flush. Look in your owner’s manual. Some manufacturers, such as Honda, also call for their own type of automatic transmission fluid and warn that using other types could cause damage. Moreover, some automatic transmissions have filters that should be cleaned or replaced when the fluid is changed. Make sure the repair facility is using the correct fluid and procedures for your vehicle.

If you have never changed the transmission fluid in your vehicle and have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, should you change it now? We have seen mixed opinions on this, with some mechanics suggesting you should just leave well alone if you aren’t having shifting problems. Adding fuel to this theory are stories about older transmissions failing shortly after they finally received fresh fluid.

What You Need To Know About Teen and Child Car Safety

What hazards do teen drivers face on the road?

Even more than drinking and driving — which thanks to strong messaging is at an all-time low — distracted driving is a huge problem for teens. This includes anything that takes their attention away from the road: cell phones, texting, music and GPS, but most of all, other passengers. For every additional passenger, the fatal crash rate goes up. New York has a good graduated licensing program that helps limit the number of passengers, but parents can do their part too in making teens earn driving (and passenger) privileges in three-month increments.

What is the number one thing parents can do to help keep their teen drivers safe?

Get involved and stay involved.  Just because a teen has completed driver’s education training and has received a license does not mean he or she is road ready. Studies show that the part of the brain affecting judgment is not fully developed until age 25. So this fact, combined with novice driving skills, means that teens need more supervision than you might think.  Here are some steps that parents should consider:

  • Give teens a 10 pm curfew. Most fatal crashes occur at night, so this takes the teen off the road during the most dangerous hours.
  • Don’t give teens carte blanche for use of the car. Teens who have to ask for permission to take the car have fewer crashes, better safety records and higher rates of seatbelt use.
  • Make safe driving an ongoing dialogue from the time your teen is able to sit beside you in the front seat (typically at around age 13). Point out unsafe behaviors in other drivers. Discuss why you make certain driving decisions. Describe what you are doing. This will give your teen context and rationale for the things that you do automatically based on your more than 20 years of experience behind the wheel.
  • Model safe driving behaviors. If you talk on your cell phone, eat lunch, apply makeup and peek at text messages while driving, why should a teen listen to you when you ask them not to do the same?
  • Talk with other parents. Agree to enforce these guidelines together. But don’t be afraid to be the heavy, or the unpopular parent when needed.

What about these parent/teen driver “contracts.” Are they effective?

Yes, because they make expectations clear upfront.  Some common agreements: not to text and drive, to be home at a certain time, to not drink and drive but also to not get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and so on. Some parents and teens agree upon a code word that when used the parent agrees to pick the teen up at the party or whatever unsafe situation he or she might be in, no questions asked.

What are the new guidelines for child safety seats?

Over the past several years, not only has the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations, but New York State has made changes in the laws governing child seats. Here are the most up-to-date guidelines.

  • Infants and toddlers: Should remain in rear-facing seats as long as possible, often up to age 2 or until the child outgrows the seat’s weight and height limits. This position protects against spinal cord injuries in the event of a head-on collision (the most common type).
  • Children: Must remain in car seats until age 8. However, they can graduate to a booster seat when they outgrow the height and weight limits of their forward-facing seat. The booster seat helps ensure that both the lap belt and the shoulder harness are in the correct position. You want the belts to lie across bones — not soft tissue — to prevent internal injuries in case of a crash.
  • Older children and teens: A child is the right size to fit a standard seatbelt properly when they pass the 5-step test:
    1. The child can sit all the way back against the auto seat.
    2. The child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat.
    3. The belt crosses the shoulder between the neck and arm.
    4. The lap belt is low, touching the thighs.
    5. The child will stay seated the ways described in 1 through 4 above, for the whole trip. 
    If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, keep the child in a booster seat. Also, because of the angle and force of the airbags when deployed, children should not ride in the front seat until age 13.

Choosing A First Car For Your Teen

Watching your teen get behind the wheel for the first time on their own is an exciting moment — but it can also be overwhelming at the same time. Ease your mind by knowing they’re getting behind the wheel of a safe, dependable car that you’ve helped them choose.

So if you’re in the market for a new car for your teen, read these tips for picking out that perfect first set of wheels.

Size. Small sports cars and huge SUVs might seem like attractive options (especially to your teen!), but in reality, a midsized car is your best bet. The bigger and heavier the vehicle, the better it protects in the event of a crash.

Horsepower. Steer your teen away from vehicles with a high horsepower, as a more powerful engine can be tempting to test out.

New vs. used. Whether you choose to buy new or used largely depends on your budget and what you’re comfortable spending. If you do buy used, remember the later the model, the better. Consult The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety for the best used models for teens.

Safety. Of course, you’ll want to choose a vehicle with the best safety and crash test ratings possible. Also look for features like side airbags and electronic stability control (ESC), which helps drivers maintain control on curves and slippery roads.

Fuel. Unless you’re willing to cover the cost of filling your teen’s tank each week, be sure to look at a car’s fuel efficiency. The better MPG, the easier it will be on your son or daughter.

Extras. There are numerous safe driving programs for teens out there, so consider installing the app on both your own and your teen’s phones to keep an eye on their driving habits.