Check engine: It’s not a suggestion

They say that before you commit to a relationship, you should buy a plant. If a year later the plant is thriving, try a goldfish. The survival of the goldfish will determine your capacity to maintain a healthy relationship.

Car ownership is no different. They may be made of steel, glass, plastic and leather, but if you’re hoping for a long-lasting relationship with your vehicle, you had better afford it all the care, attention, consideration, and yes, even pampering a baby would require if you don’t want it to let you down when you need it the most.

Obviously, most car owners are neither trained nor have the time to carry out serious repairs or servicing, but with just a bit of effort, you can ensure you don’t face avoidable and often painfully costly repairs.

Start with your car’s manual. It’s there for a reason: to help you understand the workings of the many aspects of your vehicle, and to guide you in your efforts to keep it in prime condition or address simple faults which you can resolve easily.

Engine – When the check engine light comes on, it’s not a suggestion. Most modern cars have an On Board Diagnostics 2 (OBDII) system which monitors the vehicle’s operations, and that light is its way of telling you something is very wrong, much like your kid screaming because of a tummy ache. Have it checked out immediately; otherwise the problem could lead to even more serious and costly failures.

Combustion engines require lubrication to ensure that all the moving metal parts operate properly. Check engine oil levels regularly, preferably once a week. The oil level should be between the minimum and maximum extremes as indicated on the dipstick.

Oil should also be changed at intervals recommended by the manufacturer, using the type of fluid appropriate for your engine. If the oil level is low, your engine may have a leak or possibly bad compression. In such a case it’s best to have it looked at by a professional.

Filters – Change your oil filter with every oil change. Filters collect metallic particles produced from all the grinding to protect the engine from damage. Unchanged filters can block oil circulation, and when saturated will no longer filter out the residue.

Change your air filter as needed, or as recommended by the manufacturer. Combustion engines, obviously, combust fuel, which requires oxygen. Dirty or clogged air filters prevent proper air flow, preventing the fuel from burning properly in the cylinders, compromising engine performance and increasing fuel consumption.

Fuel filters remove dirt particles from your gasoline. They should be replaced as recommended by the manufacturer; otherwise clogged filters will stifle fuel supply, causing engine malfunctions.

Belts – Check the integrity of your belts regularly, and replace as recommended by the manufacturer. Look for signs of dryness, cracks and frayed edges. Your car relies on belts to operate the cooling fan(s), the alternator, the power steering pump, the water pump, the A/C compressor, and in some cases the camshaft. Therefore a snapped belt can cause very serious problems.

Transmission – Check the transmission fluid levels, top up as needed, and replace as recommended. Manual transmissions require lubrication to operate properly. Automatic transmissions actually use the fluid’s pressure to change gears. Low transmission fluid levels prevent your car from operating properly, and will likely cause serious damage.

Cooling System – Engines combust fuel, which means they produce high levels of heat. The coolant, which circulates throughout your engine while it’s running, helps keep temperatures within tolerable limits. Make sure the coolant levels in your car are within acceptable limits. Normally the coolant level should not drop, but if it does, you probably have a leak. Have it looked at immediately. Engines that overheat can cause problems ranging from a shot cylinder head gasket to a warped or even cracked cylinder head. Regular scrutiny and immediate repairs to the cooling system can help avoid such catastrophes. Use only distilled water, mixed with the recommended ratio of antifreeze, and only when the engine is cold.

Brakes – Brake pads need to be replaced when worn. Check them regularly to make sure they haven’t worn out beyond their recommended limits. Dry brake pads should also be replaced immediately, even if not completely worn out, because their ability to stop your car will also have been compromised.

Tires – There is no excuse for not checking your tire pressure once a week. Under-inflated tires can increase fuel consumption and tire wear as well as compromise stability and safety. Make sure you check the temperature when the tires are cold.

Furthermore, front and rear tires wear out at different rates. By rotating them every 10,000 kilometers or so, you can ensure that they wear out evenly, thus prolonging their useful life.

Check for tread depth. Treads are designed to channel water out, and unless you drive a Formula One race car which uses slick tires for better grip on dry asphalt, you need those treads to do their job on wet roads. Most tires have markings indicating the minimum depth. Replace them when that limit is reached. Tires can also be dangerous if dry, even if the treads are still deep. Replace dry tires, because their ability to grip will be greatly reduced.

Batteries – Check your battery terminals regularly. Make sure they’re tight and there are no signs of corrosion, which can not only cause poor connection, compromising your car’s operations, but also prevent proper recharging. Batteries also have a life expectancy. Replace as recommended, preferably before they leave you stranded. Brands with longer life expectancies tend to be more expensive, but will cost less in the long run.

Pampering – It may seem superficial, but in fact keeping your car’s exterior clean can preserve it for far longer. Paint is not impervious to the elements. Dust, combined with moisture, can actually react with your paint and eat away it if left untouched long enough, even a few weeks. Wash your car regularly and wax it a couple of times a year to protect the glossy finish, which itself shields your car’s steel from corrosion. The same goes for your rims. Brake dust can eat away at the paint and eventually cause oxidization in alloy rims, or corrosion in their steel counterparts. Clean them regularly, even in the hard-to-get-to areas.

It goes without saying that in addition to your own maintenance efforts, your car should go to a qualified mechanic for checkups and regular servicing as recommended

So there you have it: It seems like a lot of work just to maintain a car, but this is a relationship after all, and if you are there for your car, it will certainly be there for you for a very long time.





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