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10 Tips to Help Your Vehicle Run Smoothly

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We all know the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well that becomes doubly true when it comes to maintaining your vehicle, and maintenance goes beyond changing your oil. Here are 10 things that you should keep an eye on to ensure that your vehicle keeps running smoothly.

  1. Fuel filter
  2. This is an item that’s probably as important as it is overlooked. For fuel-injected cars the fuel filter essentially runs continuously, preventing impurities from clogging injectors. So, over time, replacement will be necessary. Locations vary from beneath the hood or undercarriage to inside the fuel tank itself. Since systems are often pressurized and fuel lines need to be safely crimped, you might prefer to let a technician handle it.

    When to replace: Every 2 years or 24,000 miles.

  3. Power-steering fluid
  4. Things don’t get much simpler in vehicles than power steering fluid. That doesn’t mean you can ignore it since it lubricates the system and keeps the steering feel consistent. Periodic checks of the fluid are done with a glance at the reservoir or the dipstick inside it. Make sure you add only the manufacturer’s suggested fluid type and talk to a technician if the level drops considerably or you feel surges of resistance as you turn the wheel.

    When to replace: Inspect level with every engine-oil change, top off as needed.

  5. Battery
  6. How often do car batteries receive proactive attention? Even if you keep your terminals clean and your charging system works fine, you’ll eventually need to replace the battery. When you do, do it right. Use only the battery that matches manufacturer’s specs at the very least. Consider upgrading to advanced-technology batteries that offset higher initial cost with extended life and more consistent performance.

    When to replace: Typically 48 to 60 months or as needed.

  7. Air filter
  8. Almost no one changes their air filter as often as they should. We just don’t usually think about it. But a dirty, clogged, air filter reduces efficiency and can increase wear and tear. It’s usually simple and cheap to replace, so do it once a year or more if you drive in a lot of dirty, dusty areas.

    When to replace: 12 months, 12,000 miles or as needed.

  9. Automatic trans fluid & filter
  10. In cars with conventional automatic or clutchless gearboxes, fluid is to the transmission what oil is to the engine in terms of function and importance. It fights friction and keeps things within safe operating temps. Ignoring it pretty much leads to the same issues: expensive repair bills at the mechanic. Fortunately, prevention is similarly easy. Check the fluid periodically, top off with the specific kind recommended in your owner’s manual and change it occasionally along with the filter.

    When to replace: Every 2 years or 24,000 miles.

  11. Spark plugs
  12. You can’t have an internal combustion engine without combustion, and spark plugs make it happen by firing up the mixture of air and fuel in each cylinder, either alone or in a pair. Cleaner-burning engines and advances in plug construction mean less maintenance and extended service, but they still need to be replaced. Whether or not they’ve reached their mileage limit, they (and the plug wires) could be to blame when mileage suffers and the engine runs poorly.

    When to replace: Every 30,000 to 100,000 miles.

  13. Engine belts & timing belts
  14. The one or more belts keep components like your alternator and water pump active. Inside, the timing belt (some cars have timing chains) keeps valves from bashing into pistons. When either belt fails, it’s bad news. At a minimum you’ll stop moving. At worst, you’ll need major engine work at the mechanic in the case of some timing-belt breakage and the resulting carnage.

    When to replace: Every 3 years or 36,000 miles for engine belts or 60,000 to 90,000 miles for the timing belt.

  15. Coolant
  16. That liquid in the radiator serves many functions: antifreeze, coolant and guards against corrosion in the cooling system. Do check the level regularly, but also understand its cleanliness and potency diminish. Topping off and changing should only be done with the right coolant type and water mixture ratio (typically 50/50).

    When to replace: Every 2 years or 24,000 miles.

  17. Tires
  18. Tire wear patterns are telling — revealing aggressive driving, improper inflation or worn suspension components. Regardless, you’ll eventually need fresh tires. The best way to confirm is with a tread depth gauge. Alternately, stick a penny upside down in the grooves (if you see the top of the president’s head, it’s time to replace the tire) or check built-in wear bars. Age is also a concern, since longer-lasting tires and use of multiple sets (i.e., winter and summer) can mean safety is compromised, even with adequate tread depth.

    When to replace: At the minimum safe tread depth or every 6 to 10 years.

  19. Brakes
  20. We’re honestly baffled why anyone would ignore or even undervalue their brake system. The effects of failures of the other items on our car-part replacement calendar range from inconvenient to being stranded, but with the possible exception of tires, no failure is potentially lethal except that of brakes. Preventing that mess is drama-free: just check the fluid level and change it every so often. Keep an eye on brake-pad condition, and replace when worn.

    When to replace: Every 2 years or 24,000 miles (fluid), prior to minimum safe thickness (pads).