Everybody is trying to save a buck today and who can blame us, with taxes going up and wages going down, the cost of living through the roof and no end in sight we must fend for ourselves. For some of us that means handling our own vehicle maintenance; oil changes, refilling the windshield washer fluid, and kicking the tires aside is there anything that has been overlooked. For the love of Pete, how good is your mechanic. Could he be forgetting a few things, as well? Overlooking these items can result in catastrophic repair bills, so be meticulous about keeping on top of your maintenance. A maintenance log is a grand idea for making sure that you don’t miss the little things. Drawing from my 30+ years of experience I am going to share some things that I see overlooked quite frequently.
Cabin Air Filters
Does your vehicle have a cabin air filter. The simple sad fact is that most drivers really don’t even know. Over fifty-percent of vehicles produced since 2000 have cabin air filters to help reduce pollutants that can be accumulated in side of your automobile’s evaporator or heater box. This filter is not the cheapest item in the parts store but fortunately it only needs to be replaced about every six-months or so. At least once a week I replace a cabin air filter that looks like a lint trap from a clothes dryer only to hear the customer reply they didn’t know their car had one of those. Next comes the belly-aching about the price. Unless the filter is particularly difficult to access, we don’t charge any labor for replacement. Many times I replace them personally to assure no hard feelings between a commissioned technician and the customer. Check your owner’s manual. You might be surprised to learn that you could be breathing cleaner air inside of your ride.
Engine Coolant Maintenance
Yes the pink stuff, as well. Listen, if you truly believe that you can leave the original engine coolant in your vehicle for 150,000-miles then you need to think again. In the first place, I would get that extended life coolant out of my vehicle at first chance. Replace it with good, old fashioned ethylene glycol engine coolant. Yes, the green stuff that requires replacement every couple of years. Why? You say; because those extended life coolant formulas, such as Dex-Cool, tend to coagulate inside of your engine creating an abrasive residue that contaminates rubberized gaskets and causes them to leak. General Motors has already settled one huge class action lawsuit over Dex-Cool, I wouldn’t give it a chance to ruin my engine cooling system, were I you. Even if you must replace your engine coolant annually (and that is a reasonable idea), it will take well over 20-years to cost you as much money as one intake gasket or cylinder head gasket replacement. Don’t believe the hype — no coolant will last for that long.
Brake Fluid Replacement
I see this all of the time; vehicles with black brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir. If your vehicle has over 100,000-miles on the clock or is over 7-years old then you need to take a look at the brake fluid. Darkly discolored brake fluid is an accident looking for a place to happen. Brake fluid experiences many fluctuations in temperature during normal vehicle operation. It can change from being very cold (ambient air temperature) to being very hot (upwards of 300-degrees) in just a short trip with normal braking. Over time, these high temperatures combined with rapid fluctuation can create moisture in the braking system. This moisture can corrode the interior components of the braking system, especially rubber flex hoses, and cause debris to be deposited in the master cylinder reservoir. This debris causes the brake fluid to turn black. If the moisture content in the brake fluid becomes excessive, it can begin to vaporize and boil creating a spongy pedal that goes to the floor when depressed. This can be corrected by drawing the old brake fluid out of the master cylinder reservoir with a clean suction device and refilling it with clean, new brake fluid. After this is done bleed the brakes, one-at-a-time beginning at the point farthest away from the master cylinder, until clean, new fluid is seen at all four bleeder valves. Vehicles with an excessive amount of corrosion inside the master cylinder reservoir should have the master cylinder removed and the reservoir thoroughly cleaned out or replaced.
Manual Transmission Maintenance
Almost every vehicle that I replace the clutch on seems to have molasses in the transmission. Just because your ride has a manual transmission doesn’t mean that you can skirt around maintenance. Most manual transmissions require regular drain and fill services every 50,000-miles. If you choose to ignore your manual transmission maintenance, at least make sure that your mechanic changes the fluid when the clutch is changed. I know what you are thinking but if you do not stipulate that you want the fluid changed it will not likely be changed. New fluid costs time and money. If your tech does not routinely flush manual transmissions when replacing the clutch, then don’t expect him to make an exception for you. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure that the shop understands that you want the fluid changed, even if you have to buy the new fluid yourself and deliver it to them.
Sure, you know that rear differentials must be serviced but not all differentials are in rear-wheel drive vehicles. Some front wheel drive cars have differentials which are integrated into the transmission housing but have a separate lubrication system and must be serviced separately. It is a simple drain and fill operation that is frequently overlooked causing eventual “transmission failure” that is actually differential failure that could have been easily avoided with regular maintenance.
Regardless of what type of service that you are performing, always use the fluid which is specified by the manufacturer (with the exception of extended life coolants). Follow manufacturer’s guidelines for fluid capacities, as well.