Tips & Tidbits
Tips & Tidbits

Preventative Maintenance


"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is an old saying that is very appropriate concerning the care and maintenance of our vehicles. Routine maintenance and an occasional visual inspection will extend a car's life thousands of miles, keep it running well and help avoid the aggravation and expense of on-the-road breakdowns. We realize that as working parents, "time" is something you don't have a lot of. However taking the time to follow these tips will, in the end, save you lots of time and money!


Routine oil changes are the single most important thing you can do to save wear and tear on your car's engine. An oil change every 3,000 miles is not excessive and this is definitely a case where there is no such thing as too often. If you want to save the hassle of taking it to the garage, you can learn to do it yourself. An oil change is simply a matter of draining the old oil from the engine, replacing the oil filter, then pouring new oil into the engine. You can purchase an oil change kit from any auto parts store with a container for collecting the old oil, an oil filter wrench (to remove and replace the oil filter), and instructions for an oil change. Basically, you can change your own oil by following these simple instructions.


  • Place the container on the ground under the oil pan.
  • Remove the plug from the oil pan and allow the oil to drain into your container.
  • After the oil has thoroughly drained, securely replace the plug.
  • Now you need to go under the hood to remove the old oil filter (basically unscrewing it from its mount).
  • Replace with a new oil filter (again, purchased at the auto parts store according to your make and model car).
  • Finally, pour in 4 or 5 quarts of new oil according to engine size (check owner's manual for correct amount and type).


The main drawbacks in doing it yourself are the need to crawl under the car to drain the old oil (uncomfortable at best) and the need to properly dispose of engine oil (most service stations have disposals). Lubricating parts outside the engine requires a special "gun" to apply the grease. This is something that needs to be done, at the very least, once a year. So for this reason you might want to take it to a garage once in a while for the oil change. Again, you can learn to do it yourself but you would need to purchase a maintenance manual for your model/year car from an auto parts store and the grease gun as well.


The car's cooling system should also receive yearly preventive service to reduce the chance of it becoming a problem. The system should be flushed and filled with a solution of antifreeze and water. This is better left to the professionals, but again you can do it yourself. A radiator-flushing agent can be purchased at any auto parts store. The system should be flushed according to the directions on the container (this basically involves opening the petcock (a drain in the bottom of the radiator) and allowing the fluid to drain, then doing a series of flushing’s, once with the flushing agent and once with plain water. Be sure to read all of the information on the flushing agent's container. After the system is flushed, completely fill it with a combination of anti-freeze and water. Again, follow the manufacturer's directions so that the solution will give the protection necessary for your car. NEVER RUN YOUR CAR FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME WITH ONLY WATER IN THE COOLING SYSTEM. In addition to preventing freezing, the coolant lubricates and protects your car's cooling system from rust and corrosion build-up.


Another simple yet very important thing you can do yourself is to clean the battery. To do this you will need to disconnect the battery cables, then clean the corrosion from the terminals and the cable connections using a small brush, (an old toothbrush works great) and a solution of baking soda and water. Auto parts stores sell treated rings, which can be placed on the terminals to retard corrosion build-up.


Make sure the battery "hold-down" is doing its job. The battery can be damaged by bouncing and banging, if it's not securely held in place. Also be sure the cable connections are tight; loose connections can rob the battery of power and reduce its life as well. Keep the top of the battery clean; a build-up on top of the battery can cause a trickle of electrical current between the poles and lead to the battery's early demise.


Better batteries are maintenance-free and the level of the liquid inside does not require attention. However, there are some batteries, which occasionally need water added. You will see (usually plastic) caps on top of the battery. If the caps can be removed easily, pry them off and add enough distilled water to cover the plates (these are the metal pieces you'll see inside the battery when you remove the caps). If you are in doubt about the type of battery you have, check with a mechanic. Keep in mind that battery acid can burn. Protect your hands, skin, and eyes when performing any battery maintenance.


You should also occasionally open the hood and make a visual inspection. Be on the lookout for frayed fan belts, hoses that appear dried out or have small cracks, bare or frayed wires, or excessive moisture. If you notice any of these, have them replaced. Also be aware of the ground underneath your car's parking spot. If you see any telltale puddles, you could be dealing with an oil leak, a transmission leak, a rear-end leak, or a coolant leak. Have these taken care of as soon as possible.


All of these, left untreated, are breakdowns waiting to happen. Take these little precautions, which will take less than eight hours a year, and you, will be saving yourself a lot of time and money in the long haul.