By Marko Salopek

How much thought do we give to our vehicles? Every day, most of us get into our car, turn they key, and expect the vehicle to start up and take us to our destination without complaint. Though, this isn’t always the case.

According to an internal study conducted by AAA, in 2014, they answered over 29 million calls for vehicle assistance. Of these 29 million calls, 17 million were for battery failure, flat tires, and lockouts. 2 million were related to engine failure, 600,000 were for transmission failure, and 235,000 were brake system failures.

Some of these failures are likely preventable. AAA claims that 65 percent of drivers have never had their battery tested, 60 percent do not check their tire pressure, and 35 percent have skipped mechanic recommended or manufacture specified maintenance.

If you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, or you just want to make it to class on time, it is prudent to take care of your horseless carriage. Here are some tips to help you along your car care journey.

Battery and Charging System Maintenance

Most vehicle batteries do not last longer than five years. As such, it is recommended to have your battery tested annually once it is over three years old. Luckily, most auto parts stores will test your battery and charging system for free. The most common symptom of a battery that is at the end of its life is that startup is sluggish and labored.

Tire Maintenance

The most common tire maintenance issue is improper inflation, as AAA found that 60 percent of vehicle owners do not regularly check the air pressure in their tires.

It is recommended that you check your tire pressure monthly (don’t forget the spare). To find the correct tire pressure for your vehicle, reference the owner’s manual. You can also typically find this information on the tire information sticker located on the driver’s side door sill or rear of the door.

The next item to consider is tread depth. Maintaining adequate depth ensures that the tire can clear water and slush from under the tire or grip the snow once it gets cold.

The easiest way to test tread depth is the Penny Test. Simply place a penny in between the tread upside down with the top of Lincoln’s head facing the tire. If the tread does not touch the top of, or cover, Lincoln’s head, the tires need to be replaced.

In the event you get a flat tire, refer to the owner’s manual on tire changing procedures for your vehicle. While the process is the same for nearly all vehicles, jack placement locations differ.

One item of note, if you have a non-full-size spare (often called a donut), do not use it in a front tire position. This means that if you have a front tire go flat, you will need to rotate a rear tire to the front and place the donut on the rear.

The reason for this is that a donut does not provide the traction or weight load capabilities of a full-size tire. The front of the car typically carries more weight. In addition, the front tires are much more heavily taxed during breaking and turning.

Engine Maintenance

The most common causes of engine failure are related to the oil system and the cooling system.

A low oil level is a sure way to bring an early end to your vehicle. To avoid any ill effects from this condition, it is best to check your vehicle’s oil level every time you fill up at the gas station. If you are unsure how to check the oil, refer to your owner’s manual as it will provide in depth instructions.

Your owner’s manual will also provide information concerning the recommended interval at which the oil should be changed. Oil breaks down and becomes contaminated as you drive, degrading its ability to adequately lubricate the engine. Prescribing to the recommended change interval ensures that the lubricating properties of the oil remain high, preventing excessive wear and damage.

The procedures for maintaining the cooling system are quite similar to that of the oil. Refer your owner’s manual to check the coolant level, and for when the coolant needs to be serviced.

If you do not want to be caught off guard by an expensive engine repair, it would be wise to have a yearly engine oil analysis done by a company such as Blackstone Labs. These tests can alert you to any abnormal conditions such as excessive wear, or coolant contaminating the oil caused by a cracked block or failing head gasket.

Transmission Maintenance

While a fair number of transmissions today are sealed zero maintenance units, especially newer continuously variable transmissions, the vast majority of vehicles on the road have transmissions that need regular service. As a vehicle operator, it is wise to occasionally check the transmission fluid level according to the procedures detailed in the owner’s manual. Additionally, follow the manufactures recommendation for the transmission’s fluid service interval.

Brake System Maintenance

Unlike many of the other systems on your vehicle, the brake system actively communicates its condition to the driver. As brake pads wear, a metal tab will come into contact with your brake rotor. This produces a loud high pitch squeal, notifying you that the pads are nearing the end of their life and must be replaced.

Besides the wear notification mechanism, if you feel pulsing or vibrating in the brake pedal, or the car pulls to one side while breaking, the system must be serviced.

While the cost of vehicle maintenance can be quite high, the cost of not maintaining your vehicle can be significantly higher.

To mitigate some of the maintenance cost, you can learn to do many simple tasks yourself. Most auto part stores sell Chilton or Haynes manuals. These provide detailed descriptions of the procedures, and they include helpful pictures.

There is also a do it yourself auto garage here in the Springs if you would like to tackle more involved maintenance items yourself. They provide a clean work area, and access to the tools you need to perform the work. You get to learn a new skill and save money at the same time.