Regular Maintenance

Engine Oil
Changing the engine oil regularly is one of the best, and least expensive, ways to keep your vehicle in top operating condition. Oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine, preventing metal-to-metal contact, minimizing friction and carrying away excess heat. Motor oil also removes dirt, metal shavings and other impurities from the engine and captures them in the oil filter. You can pay a severe penalty for neglecting engine oil, possibly even needing to replace the engine itself.

For best engine performance, fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, use only the oil recommended in the owner's manual. Some manufacturers specifically advise against using oil additives.

Most engine oils sold for light-duty vehicles are multigrades, such as 10W30 or 5W30. Today's vehicles are generally designed to use 5W30 oil year-round, although some manufacturers are beginning to specify 10W30 oil. Older vehicles often need 10W30 in summer but can switch to 5W30 in colder climates in winter. By using the lowest multigrade of oil recommended in your owner's manual, you can improve the fuel efficiency of the engine, particularly when starting it cold.

Keeping your vehicle going is important, but stopping might be even more important. It is important to have your brakes inspected and the brake fluid checked and changed regularly.

Warning signs that your brakes need service include squealing and grinding noises, brake fade (loss of braking effectiveness because of excess heat in the brakes), pulling of the vehicle to one side, or a "soft" or pulsating brake pedal. If you wait too long to have your brakes serviced, the pads and shoes can wear to the point where they damage other components and increase your repair costs.

Your owner's manual will tell you what type of oil to use and how often to have it changed. The standard rule of thumb is every 3,000 miles or every three months.

Tires and Wheel Alignment
Checking and adjusting the air pressure in your tires is about the easiest maintenance task you can perform and one of the most effective in extending tire life and fuel economy. All it takes is a few minutes of regular maintenance each month, or every 250 miles.

Check the tires faithfully, and they will wear less and deliver the distance they promise. You'll also reduce fuel consumption; tires that are inflated properly have less rolling resistance, so you move along with greater ease and use less gas to get where you're going. Operating a vehicle with just one tire under-inflated by 6 psi can increase the vehicle's fuel consumption by three percent and reduce the life of the tire by 6,000 miles. Rolling resistance results in premature tread wear when your tires are under-inflated.

Rotating your tires helps prolong their life and improve fuel economy. On most vehicles, they should be rotated every 5,000 miles. Consult your owner's manual for the recommended rotation pattern and frequency for your vehicle.

Regular tire inspections should include the following:

  • Check tire pressure at least once a month (or every 250 miles) when the tires are cold. The vehicle manufacturer's recommended pressure for the front and rear tires is specified on a plate or sticker attached to the edge of the driver's door, the door post, the glove compartment or the fuel tank door (the pressure marked on the tire itself is the maximum pressure and is not likely to be the same as the manufacturer's recommended pressure). If you can't find the plate, check the owner's manual or consult your dealer. And don't forget to check the pressure of the spare tire – you never know when you might need it.
  • Check for uneven wear, which can be an indication of chronic under-inflation or over-inflation, improper wheel alignment or tire balancing, or a problem with the suspension system.
  • Check for imbedded stones, glass or other foreign objects that could work into the tread and cause a leak.

It's also a good idea to rotate your tires regularly to distribute the wear evenly among all four tires. In addition to promoting long tire life, this will help your tires deliver the best possible economy and safety. The recommended rotation pattern for your vehicle is shown in the owner's manual. The general practice is to rotate tires every 5,000 miles – three times a year for most drivers.

For the best performance, ask our tire professionals to help you choose quality tires with a long projected tread life that will meet your vehicle and driving needs.

Wheel alignment should be checked once a year. Misaligned tires will drag instead of rolling freely. This will increase fuel consumption, reduce tire life and cause problems with the vehicle's handling and ride.

Wheels should also be balanced. If they are out of balance, you may feel a pounding or shaking through the steering wheel. This pounding will shorten the life of other suspension components and will produce uneven tire wear. Tires that are not balanced exhibit "cupping," a wear pattern that looks like a series of bald spots.

Your vehicle's filter systems need to be inspected every spring and fall. Air for the engine passes through an air filter, which removes dust and dirt that could damage the engine. A dirty air filter reduces performance and increases fuel consumption.

Fuel also passes through a filter on the way from the tank to the engine. Consult your owner's manual for how often your fuel system should be inspected, including the fuel lines, tank and cap. A leaking fuel system is dangerous and increases fuel consumption. Replacing something as inexpensive as a worn out fuel cap can save money.

Although most maintenance should be left to the professionals, you can perform a monthly check to help identify and head off problems that can cost you fuel and money down the road.

Emission Systems
The emission-control system must be inspected and maintained according to the manufacturer's recommendations. If it is not, your vehicle could be a major polluter.

If you experience problems such as stalling or poor acceleration, or if your exhaust produces black or blue smoke, your vehicle is probably polluting the air and needs servicing.

Vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an on-board diagnostics system that monitors emission-related components and alerts the driver to problems by triggering the "Service Engine Soon" or "Check Engine" light. By detecting problems before they become noticeable to the driver, this system can help you avoid hefty repair bills. When one of these warning lights comes on, come see us as soon as possible and we will figure out what's going on. For vehicles manufactured before 1996, the only way to be sure the emission-control system is working is to have it tested.

With the high cost of gas today, it should also be noted that fuel consumption can be improved by as much 15 percent by repairing a problematic emission-control system. For the average driver, that represents a savings of $300 a year in fuel alone.

Ignition systems
Regular maintenance of your vehicle's ignition system is critical in maximizing fuel efficiency. The spark plugs in a gasoline engine ignite the air-fuel mixture. If one or more of the plugs is worn or malfunctioning, the engine will misfire, and some fuel will remain unburned. Worn or damaged spark plug wires can also cause misfiring. A misfiring engine wastes fuel, produces higher levels of emissions and generally performs poorly.

Signs of misfiring can be subtle, which is why it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations on engine checks and spark plug and ignition wire replacement. Regular spark plugs typically last 30 000 miles, while platinum plugs can last about 100,000 miles's. Some manufacturers recommend changing spark plug wires at 60,000 miles; others suggest they be replaced only as required.

Vehicles with distributors require additional ignition system maintenance. This is another good reason to have your engine tuned up regularly.

Cooling systems
Your vehicle's radiator and fan comprise the cooling system and its role is to keep the engine at its optimal operating temperature. The cooling system will perform properly only if it receives regular maintenance. This includes monitoring the coolant level in the overflow tank, regularly inspecting hoses for cracks or loose clamps, and adjusting belts, where applicable (most new vehicles have self-tensioning belts). Coolant degrades over time, and it's important to change it as specified by the manufacturer. Antifreeze concentration should also be tested every spring and fall and supplemented if needed.