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Caring For Your Car In Tough Economic Times

(LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10, 2009) – Car owners may be tempted to balance their household budgets by delaying or ignoring regular vehicle maintenance in tough economic times. This could lead to more expensive breakdowns in the future, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“There is vehicle maintenance that motorists can’t afford to ignore,” said Dave Skaien of the Auto Club’s Approved Auto Repair Program. “As consumers look for ways to cut their budgets, it may seem easy to delay maintaining your vehicle. However, keeping a vehicle regularly maintained is the best way to avoid major repairs down the road that are far more costly,” Skaien said.

“Proper maintenance is also critical to safe operation of a vehicle as well as the safety of the driver, and passengers,” Skaien added.

For example, ignoring replacing the vehicle’s timing belt – about a $500 expense – can easily turn into a rebuilt engine costing thousands of dollars. Thinking that you’ll drive your vehicle until the battery dies is faulty as well, said Skaien. “So many vehicle computer systems rely on a properly functioning battery that if you operate your car until the battery dies, you could end up paying for a new battery and the cost of reprogramming the vehicle computer systems.”

Below is a list of maintenance items that motorists should stay on top of even during difficult financial times, according to the Auto Club. The list explains why each item is important, what symptoms to watch, and when maintenance should be performed.

1. Tire Pressure

WHY: Over-inflated tires ride roughly and suffer premature wear at the center of their tread. Under-inflated tires decrease fuel economy, cause imprecise handling, suffer premature wear at the edges of their tread, and can overheat and fail at highway speeds. Tires typically lose about one pound of pressure per month through normal seepage, and as seasons change, tires lose or gain another pound of inflation pressure with every 10 degree change in outside temperature.

WHEN: Check the tire pressures (including the spare) at least once a month when the tires are cold. Always follow the inflation pressure recommendations in your owner’s manual, or those on the tire information label that is located in the glove box or on the driver’s door jamb. Do not use the inflation pressure molded into the tire sidewall; this is the pressure needed to achieve the tire’s rated load capacity, and it may or may not be the correct pressure for your particular car.

BOTTOM LINE: The correct tire pressure will make tires last longer and delay the need for you to buy new ones. Plus, having the proper tire pressure will help your vehicle’s fuel economy.

2. Engine Air Filter

WHY: Your vehicle’s air filter prevents dust and dirt from entering the engine. A dirty or clogged air filter restricts airflow and will reduce engine performance and fuel economy while increasing exhaust emission levels.

WHEN: Check the air filter every six months or 7,500 miles. Typically, your repair shop will inspect the filter at each oil change. You can check it by holding it up to a bright light. If you can see light through much of the filter, it’s likely still clean enough to work effectively.

BOTTOM LINE: Dirty air filters not only affect your fuel economy, but other vehicle systems such as the emissions control system and spark plugs. It might result with problems keeping your car running properly. 3. Battery Cables/Clamps/Terminals

WHY: Power from the battery flows to the rest of your vehicle’s electrical system through the cables, clamps and terminals. If these components and connections become corroded or loose, your car won’t have the power needed to start the engine and operate other systems.

WHEN: The battery cables, clamps and connections should be inspected at every oil change. If there are signs of corrosion, or you notice other indications of electrical problems such as slow engine cranking or dimming headlights at idle, have your repair shop test the battery, charging and starting system, and clean and tighten the battery connections as necessary. Batteries more than three years old should be tested during every oil change.

BOTTOM LINE: No one enjoys walking into a parking lot to discover their car suddenly won’t start. Keeping the battery maintained will greatly reduce the risk of it going dead and help extend its life. 4. Brake Fluid

WHY: The fluid in your car’s brake hydraulic system transfers your foot pressure at the brake pedal into stopping power at the wheels. An adequate supply of clean brake fluid is absolutely essential for safe vehicle operation. Old, moisture-contaminated brake fluid, or a low fluid level that allows air to enter the system, can lead to brake fade or a complete loss of braking power.

WHEN: 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. Your brake fluid should be clear, if it’s not, it likely needs to be flushed. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that the brake fluid be replaced periodically to flush moisture and contaminants from the system. Every two years is a common interval; check your vehicle owner’s manual for specific recommendations.

BOTTOM LINE: Old brake fluid or low fluid levels can result in your brakes fading or damage to the hydraulic system. Plus, a leak in the brake system can cause a complete failure.5. Engine Oil

WHY: Without an adequate supply of clean oil, your engine will wear more rapidly and could even seize or be destroyed. Oil doesn’t freeze like water, but its viscosity, or thickness, does increase as the mercury drops. Lighter grade oils reduce the load on your car’s battery and starter, allowing more rapid cranking and starting. Lighter oils also reach critical engine lubrication areas much quicker than heavier oils, greatly reducing wear.

WHEN: Change your engine’s oil and oil filter at the specified intervals, and follow the more frequent “severe service” recommendations if your driving habits meet any of the conditions described in your owner’s manual. Always use the weight of oil recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer for the existing temperature conditions. Watch for oil leaks beneath your vehicle and have any leaks corrected immediately.

BOTTOM LINE: Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. Not maintaining the proper levels, using the wrong oil or not changing it frequently enough can destroy your engine. Plus, oil that leaks on to a heated surface can cause excessive smoke and cause damage to oil saturated components.
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.