Keeping your vehicle in top driving condition is vital for both its short and long-term performance. Doing so will not only save you money in the long run, it will also reduce your odds of being in an accident.
According to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, about 2% of accidents are caused solely by the failure or reduced performance of vehicle parts.
While 2% may not seem like much, it was enough to cause an estimated 44,000 crashes during the 2005-2007 NMVCCS study period. Over half of those were due to brake and/or tire problems, while suspension, steering, and other issues were less common.
That 2% figure also doesn't factor in crashes where poor vehicle performance may have been a contributing factor, but not the sole factor.
Needless to say, ensuring your vehicle is in great shape could save the lives of you and your loved ones. The costs associated with doing so can be daunting, especially if you rely solely on professionals to care for your car.
The good news is that you don't have to.
Even car novices who can't tell a gasket from a strut can easily learn how to monitor and upkeep various aspects of their vehicles.
Read on for some of the easiest and most cost effective solutions for keeping your car on the road and driving its best!
Keeping Your Tires Inflated
Tire problems were the leading cause of crashes due to vehicle-related issues in the NMVCCS study, causing 35% of them. While there was no further breakdown by type of tire problem, low air pressure more than likely lead to many of them.
Tires with less than optimal air pressure cause a range of driving and maintenance issues.
- One of the most dangerous is the extended distance needed to stop your vehicle, as brakes can't clamp down as easily on less pressurized tires.
- Steering responsiveness is also negatively affected.
Reduced driving performance isn't the only drawback of having tires with low air pressure.
- Fuel economy also increases, sending you driving to the pumps more often.
- The tires' treads also decay more rapidly, which will decrease their lifespan.
While putting air in your tires isn't challenging, it often goes forgotten for long stretches (although this is becoming less of an issue thanks to the tire pressure monitoring systems in newer vehicles).
The need to pay for every small dose of air pressure at a pump also makes it more likely that car owners will wait longer to fill up their tires.
A much more efficient and convenient way to manage your tires is with a digital air compressor pump.
Simply plug it into your cigarette lighter socket and it's good to blow wherever you are!
Just set the optimal amount of tire pressure according to your vehicle and let the pump, with its automatic shut off, do the rest.
Repairing Cracks in Your Windshield
Having a small crack in your windshield is probably not a dire scenario that needs to be addressed immediately. You may be able to drive for months without it causing issues.
However a crack will eventually need to be repaired, as it will inevitably grow and become a bigger problem. And should you get into an accident, the structural integrity of the windshield and the entire vehicle could be compromised by that innocent-looking crack.
Don't schedule a trip to the mechanic for repair or replacement just yet though. Small cracks are easily fixed on your own in as little as 20-30 minutes with a simple repair kit.
Repair kits inject resin into the windshield's cracks, which later solidify under 10-20 minutes of UV light. After any excess resin is scraped off, your windshield will look like new, without any signs of its former damage.
Changing Your Engine Oil
Oil changes represent one of the most frequent trips to the garage for many drivers, which is completely unnecessary and costly, as just about anyone can do so on their own with the right tools.
This should be done every 3-6 months depending on the frequency of vehicle usage. Diesel and turbocharged engines also require more frequent oil changes.
The most challenging aspect of changing your engine oil yourself is raising your vehicle with a jack so you can access the sump plug below the engine. Removing this allows you to drain the old oil to make way for the new.
You can also replace the oil filter at this point, ensuring that even once the new oil starts to accumulate debris, it won't make its way into your engine where it will cause damage.
With those tasks complete, you can now add your favorite engine oil via the oil can cap on top of your engine. After letting the engine run and then cool for a few minutes, use the appropriate dipstick to measure the oil level. You want the reading to be somewhere between MIN and MAX on the dipstick.
Replacing Your Engine's Air Filters
Internal combustion engines require air to operate. Without a well functioning air filter, your engine's efficiency is greatly decreased. A less aerated engine is forced to work harder to generate the same amount of power, limiting its lifespan. There's also a heightened risk of contaminants making their way into the engine, which can lead to costly corrosion.
It's not just the engine that is at risk from polluted air either. Unfiltered air can also make its way into your vehicle's ventilation system, potentially introducing harmful pollutants to you and your passengers.
Replacing your old air filter with a new one is a relatively simple task and should be done about every 12,000 miles or 12 months. You'll find a black plastic box around your engine, often with a hose sticking out of it. Unfasten its clips to open it, pull out the old filter and insert the new one.
Now, both you and your vehicle can breathe easy.
Other DIY Maintenance Tips & Tricks
- Run your vehicle's air conditioning a few times during the winter to ensure the compressor's parts don't seize.
- Use an inexpensive radiator sealer to patch up a leaky radiator, which would otherwise need to be replaced immediately.
- Replace your power steering fluid every couple of years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. It's cheap, will improve your steering capabilities, and protects your engine from damage. Flush out the remaining fluid first, which is likely contaminated with broken down particles and other debris that can hinder steering.
- For maximum fuel efficiency and engine performance, you should change your spark plugs and wires every 30,000 to 40,000 miles or so. A good spark plug will make starting your vehicle in cold conditions much easier and improve vehicle acceleration.
- You'll want to replace your timing belt every 60,000 miles or so, before it runs the risk of breaking and requiring a much more expensive procedure. The act of switching to a new timing belt is a simple one, though it will take some time to delve down through the many hoses and compartments in your vehicle's engine bay to reach it.
- Use a good spray silicone to lubricate your automobile's window tracks. Doing so will ensure that the windows' regulator cables don't become damaged due to drag, potentially saving hundreds of dollars to replace them (or have a barely- or non-functioning window). Roll down your windows and spray the lubricant along both the front and back tracks. Open and close the window a few times to spread the lube fully throughout the tracks and they'll be good to go smoothly up and down for several months.
But wait, there's more!
- Examine your vehicle's hoses every month, checking for hose walls which are weak, overly hard, or which have collapsed or bulging sections. Damaged or ruptured hoses may leak coolant, which could cause your engine to stall or overheat once its reserves of coolant run low. Not only will prolonged overheating of your engine cause costly damage, it could stop working altogether.
- When disconnecting your battery terminal, always detach the negative terminals first. Likewise, when reconnecting the terminals, leave the negatives for last. Having only the negative terminals connected on their own at any point leaves the battery vulnerable to electrical short circuiting in the case of accidentally bringing another conductor into contact with the positive terminal and another metal.
- Keep on the lookout for any recalls of your vehicle. Should any faulty parts or design issues come to light after the vehicle has rolled off the line, manufacturers will issue sweeping recalls and fix the issue(s) free of charge. Yet as many as 15-20% of car owners never take advantage of recalls, likely due to being unaware of their existence. That not only leaves those car owners susceptible to potential safety hazards, but could also cost them a great deal of money out of their own pocket should the faults worsen or lead to other issues that need to be addressed. Routinely check your automaker's website to stay up to date on any recalls that apply to your vehicle.