Car Maintenance Mistakes

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Whether we work on our own cars or have other people work on it, here are 10 examples of what we could be doing wrong.

1) Underinflating Tires

We underinflate our tires more often than we overinflate them and that can be dangerous. The Ford Explorer-Firestone tire fiasco that claimed 250 lives and injured over 800 about 20 years ago was due both to faulty tire design and underinflation. Underinflated tires heat up faster and lose load capacity. When it comes to tires, it’s better to be 5 psi high rather than 3 psi low. Maximum tire pressure listed on the sidewall is often when the tire can carry the most weight and this is always above manufacturer recommended tire pressures. Never go below what the tire placard or the car manufacturer recommends. You may go higher (within the maximum on the sidewall) but not lower.

2) Replacing tires with those having lower load ratings

When the time comes to replace tires, the same size doesn’t always mean the same or the right tire. Read the sidewall and always replace your tires with the same or higher specification than what your car or truck is originally equipped with. Pay attention to the Load and Speed Ratings written on the sidewall. You can use a tire that can carry more but not one that can carry less. Original or higher than original Speed Ratings are safer for obvious reasons.

3) Ignoring Recalls and Campaigns

Second Owners or Used car buyers are more prone to ignore Manufacturer Recalls and Campaign Notices because they often won’t get the letters or e-mails addressed to the original owner. And, Second Owners are more likely to take their car to independent or 3rd-party repair shops rather than the dealer-where Recall Information can be found. Manufacturers announce or perform Recalls for good measure. Recalls can be major safety concerns like faulty brake components or dangerous airbags. Do yourself a favor by checking online or visiting a dealer. Having Recalls fixed will cost you nothing but time and the time spent can save your life.

4) Using the wrong oil or fluids

The manufacturer knows best. Use what is recommended. And, if you must change brands for some reason or another because Caltex (Chevron), Shell, Mobil, Castrol and the like are already sounding boring compared to that European or Middle-Eastern brand you’ve been reading about on social media, then make sure you know how to read the label. Pay attention to your car’s required viscosity, API or ACEA rating and Service Classification. Understand what SAE 5W-30 API Service SN means. If you don’t then stick to what is in the Owner’s Manual.

5) Not reading the Owner’s Manual

Read your Owner’s Manual for chrissakes! Or, at least know to refer to it first before posting on Facebook. You can’t stick to what’s in the Owner’s Manual if you don’t read it. It can teach you how to fold down seats, use the trip computer, operate the radio, change a tire, set the clock, etc. It may even tell you why your pedal pulses every time you hit the brakes hard on a gravel road. Maybe your car has Launch Control, Line-lock, Ludicrous-mode, Time-Travel and just don’t know it. Maybe you need to do something responsible and boring like installing a child-seat. So before crying like a baby and thinking that your car’s possessed, read The Book.

6) Not knowing what your instrument panel is telling you

Those dashboard lights, dials, numbers and pointers are there for good reason. They can tell you stuff before things go wrong and are better than a fortune teller’s crystal ball. And, if you understand them when things go wrong then you’ll know what to do to prevent costly damage or help you drive your car to safety. For example, an illuminated battery light means your alternator may no longer be charging, and if you can still start your car, then it should go straight to the shop before it stalls on you and require expensive towing service. Don’t panic when the ABS light goes ON. You may lose ABS function but if your foundation brake components are unaffected then you still have adequate brake function to get home or to the dealer. Again, read the Owner’s Manual.

7) Disregarding the Check Engine Light

The Check Engine Light or Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) means that there is something wrong with your engine. Covering it with black electric tape won’t make the problem go away even if your thing your car seems to run well. When the Check Engine Light is ON, data from a sensor is out of parameter and the ECU/ECM triggers the light. It could mean anything from an oxygen sensor reading to loss of ignition on a few cylinders. Continuous driving with an engine malfunction could lead from less efficient operation to costly repairs. Save yourself the trouble and drive to the dealer as soon as you can.

8) Not using a torque wrench

If you work on your own car then know that some components like cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds, and wheels require proper torqueing using a torque wrench. Never bolt-down heads without knowing the proper torque values, sequence and using a torque wrench. You might strip the head bolts, crack the head or cause a coolant or compression leak. You may not have a torque wrench when you change that flat tire but put the tool on it at the next opportunity. Loose lug nuts are dangerous while over-torqued lugs can warp rotors. Good shops have torque wrenches and most dealers will use one on your wheels at every oil change.

9) Forgetting safety

If you’re a D-I-Y guy (or girl) then kudos! Using your fingers and opposable thumbs to fix things is what separates man from most animals. But, make sure that you keep all those digits intact for the next oil or belt change. Saving your hands, eyes, feet and other body parts means wearing PPEs or Personal Protective Equipment. Wear those PPEs (gloves, eye protection and the like), use jack stands, wheel chocks, etc. Safety requires no short-cuts. Learn the risks and use your head. Remember, you can’t enjoy your car if you lose the means to drive it.

10) Focusing on the cure

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention can mean a pound of cure. Proper car maintenance can prevent costly repairs. If you don’t like your dealer then make sure that you neighborhood mechanic does everything that the dealer does, and follows manufacturer service requirements. Many shops can repair things when the damage is done or is apparent, but they may not have the proper vehicle specific maintenance sheet or checklist to go through what is necessary for your vehicle. Does your shop know all your car’s lube points or know how to check the ATF level without a dipstick? Prevention requires those details.

I am dedicating this piece to my Dad who passed away last Thursday, May 23, in California. He kept working on his old Volvo and garden up to his very last weeks. He always said that there is dignity in labor. Vaya con Dios, Dad.



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