Ignore the fluids. Fluids—oil, transmission fluid, engine coolant—are the lifeblood of your car. Regularly monitoring of fluid levels and condition will help keep your car’s innards properly lubricated and cooled. No matter how tempting it is, never skip an oil change. We recommend changing your oil every 4,000 miles for synthetic blend, and every 8,000 miles for full synthetic oil.
Familiarize yourself with the various warning lights on your dash. If your oil warning light comes on, take it very seriously. Pull over as soon as possible and when safe to do so and turn off the engine, or you risk catastrophic engine failure and the expensive repair bill which comes with it.
One other thing to keep an eye on is corrosive buildup on your battery terminals. If you notice any foreign substances on your battery, don’t try to clean it yourself as it can be very corrosive and even dangerous without proper protection.
Ignore tire warnings. Thousands of accidents are caused every year in the United States by underinflated and worn tires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded you are three times more likely to be involved in a crash if your tires are not properly inflated. If you can reduce your likelihood of an accident by buying a little tire gauge and stopping to fill up now and then, it’s worth it.
If it’s been four or five years since you replaced your tires, it may be time to make that happen. How do you know if you have enough tread left to grip the road? Try the tried-and-true coin test. Using a penny or a quarter, turn the president’s head upside down and insert it between the treads of your tire. If you not able to see the top of the head, you still have a safe amount of wear remaining. If you can see the top of the president’s head, put the coin in your pocket and go shopping for a new set of tires. Regular rotation of tires will buy you some time as well.
One other thing we see is drivers who ignore the warnings not to use their temporary donut tire at highway speeds. These are not intended to get you up and down I-35 for a week, but rather to help you get directly to your favorite auto repair shop. Don’t risk your safety and the safety of those around you by driving on your temporary tire at high speeds or prolonged periods of time.
Ignore funny noises, smells, or puddles. You know your car better than anyone, so when strange sounds start coming from under the hood or under the carriage, get a diagnosis as soon as possible. Sometimes squeaky brakes may just need an adjustment, and sometimes they are worn out and endangering your life. Sometimes whining from under the hood is a gradually failing power steering pump, and sometimes it’s a cracked radiator belt ready to shred and leave you stranded on the side of the road.
Other than some water from your air conditioner evaporator, there should never be puddles under your car. If you see red, green, brown or any other color fluid on your driveway, don’t put off an assessment by an automotive technician.
Ignore cosmetic care. Of course you are busy—sometimes too busy to worry about things like the mess the neighborhood birds left on your hood. But the longer it sits there, the more likely it is to leave a permanent mark when you get around to washing it off. The same thing applies to road salt, asphalt grime, or any corrosive mess you happen to drive through. Take a few minutes every week to do a visual inspection of your car’s exterior and at least do a spit shine if necessary.
One other thing that’s worth the effort is cleaning out your car and trunk on a regular basis. Besides decreasing your gas mileage, leaving trash in your car leads to ruined upholstery due to moldy food and spilled drinks. That liter of soda you left in your trunk will freeze, and when it thaws, you will have a sticky mess to contend with. You also make yourself a target for thieves when your vehicle is piled with layers of valuable goodies such as spare change and bags from your last Target run.