(LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2009) – In times of economic hardship, motorists may be tempted to delay or disregard vehicle maintenance. However, doing so can both result in costly repairs and put drivers, their passengers and others on the road in danger, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
“Some motorists have cut back on maintenance or put off needed vehicle repairs due to tight budgets in this tough economy—especially if the vehicle remains drivable,” said Steve Mazor of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center. “But, delaying certain repairs can be a dangerous gamble for motorists as some conditions can make their vehicles unsafe and at greater risk for a crash, a fire or a roadside breakdown. Motorists should also respond to warning lights on their dashboard. It’s the car’s way of saying that something under the hood needs attention.”
Five elements critical to safe vehicle operation are:
Traction — Maintain proper tire inflation pressure to ensure tire tread life. Maintaining good traction with the road is imperative. When tires begin to lose their tread, traction is significantly reduced, particularly in poor driving conditions. Worn tires with little tread are much more likely to hydroplane on wet pavement or lose traction in snow, resulting in loss of braking power and steering control—two of the most dangerous situations in which drivers can find themselves.
Check the tread depth of a vehicle’s tires whenever it appears low. Insert a penny upside down into a tire groove. If you can see above Lincoln’s head at any point, start shopping for new tires. Making a necessary investment in new tires when tread depth begins to recede is critical to vehicle safety.
Suspension & Alignment — Wheels, shock absorbers, springs and struts work together to keep vehicles moving in the direction they are steered with minimal pitch and body roll. Neglecting to maintain these components—especially struts and shock absorbers which wear out as more miles are driven—can lead to unsafe driving conditions, including loss of vehicle control during sudden turns or at higher speeds that can lead to a crash. A poorly maintained suspension and alignment also will accelerate tire wear, reducing the available traction in adverse driving conditions.
Braking — Properly working brakes are essential for safe driving, but old brake fluid or low fluid levels can lead to reduced brake performance or even failure. Fluid contamination also accelerates wear and causes corrosion of various brake hydraulic system components.
Brake fluid hydraulically converts foot pressure at the brake pedal into stopping power at the wheels. An adequate supply of clean fluid is essential. Old, moisture-contaminated brake fluid, or a low fluid level that allows air to enter the system, can lead to poor brake performance or even a complete loss of braking power.
Contaminated fluid also increases wear and corrosion in the brake hydraulic system, which can include expensive electronic anti-lock brake system (ABS) components.
Inspect the brake fluid level at every oil change. If the level has fallen below the “low” mark on the fluid reservoir, it usually indicates major brake wear or a leak somewhere in the system; have the brakes inspected as soon as possible. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that brake fluid be replaced every two years or so to flush moisture and contaminants from the system. Check the vehicle owner’s manual for specific recommendations.
Fluids — Leaking fluids are a sure sign of needed maintenance. They also can be a dangerous fire hazard. Oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid are all flammable and can burst into flame when contacting a hot engine or exhaust component. Each year fire departments answer more calls for vehicle fires than for house fires. Fluid leaks are the primary culprit. Have fluid leaks inspected and remedied as soon as they are detected.
Vision — Motorists’ ability to see where they are going and spot any obstacles in their way is vital to safe driving. Rain, insects, grime and other debris on the windshield will compromise vision if the windshield wipers cannot remove them.
If the wiper blades are worn, cracked or rigid with age, they will not adequately remove rain, grime and other debris that can obscure motorists’ vision. If the wiper blades are sufficiently deteriorated, the metal wiper blade frame could contact and permanently damage the windshield. Where mud or other debris is being thrown up on the windshield, a good spray of the proper type windshield washer fluid will aid the wiper blades in removing grime.
Check a vehicle’s wiper blades at each oil change or whenever they fail to wipe the glass clean in a single swipe. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, acid rain and ozone. Streaking and chattering are common clues that the rubber is breaking down and needs replacement. Check the washer fluid reservoir monthly and more often if the washers are used frequently. Top it up with a washer solution formulated to aid in the removal of insects and other debris. In winter, be sure to use a product with appropriate antifreeze protection.
Certified technicians at AAA Approved Auto Repair shops can provide motorists with guidance on what repairs are critical to their vehicles safety. AAA inspects and certifies more than 8,000 auto repair shops across North America as a free public service to all motorists. Shops can be identified by the AAA Approved Auto Repair sign, or members can search online for the nearest certified repair facility at AAA.com/Repair.