Maintenance for the Long-Term Health, and Immediate Safety, of Your Car

Written by Richard Barrington on February 3, 2010 & Posted in Auto Insurance

Owning a car isn't cheap: according to the American Automobile Association (AAA,) the total costs of owning and maintaining a car run around $7,000 per year. However, cutting corners on many maintenance jobs is no bargain. Over the long term, you will find that properly maintaining your car can save you on everything from expensive repairs to car insurance.

It can be cheaper to keep up with your regular maintenance because often $50 to $100 worth of work can save you an eventual engine or transmission repair costing in the hundreds or thousands. It can also save you on car insurance, if proper maintenance can help you keep a safe driving record. The problem is, it seems like there is always something in a car that could be refilled, updated, or replaced. The trick is to distinguish between high priority and low priority maintenance jobs. Below are some examples of each.

High Priority Maintenance
The following items should get regular and prompt attention:

  • Cooling system. By keeping your car from overheating in the summer and freezing up in the winter, your car's cooling system can keep you from breaking down under potentially dangerous circumstances.
  • Oil. Regular oil changes can prolong the life of your engine, and they also can give early warning of possible leaks. The wrong way to find out that you're out of oil is by having your engine seize up while in fast-moving traffic.
  • Tire inflation. It's an often-overlooked detail, but poor tire inflation can lead to blowouts and rollovers. Tire pressure changes with the temperature, so this warrants frequent checking.

Lower Priority Maintenance
Some of the following items are important, but if you have to choose between maintenance items, these can probably wait a little while.

  • Accessories. While stereo systems, air conditioning, and other luxury features may enhance your enjoyment of the car, they are not essential to its operation.
  • Filters. When you go to get your oil changed, you will frequently be shown your air or fuel filter. Unless they are brand new, they will probably look filthy, but that should be no surprise--it is their job to catch dirt. However, unless they are torn or clogged with debris, replacing these items can usually be delayed.
  • Cosmetic repairs. Scratches and dings may be annoying, but unless they represent structural damage or leave material hanging loosely, minor body damage should not affect a car's operation.

Warning Lights
Are warning lights a good guide for when to maintain a car? Not ideally. These lights can come on at inconvenient or unsafe times, and may indicate a problem that is already pretty far along. Also, warning lights require a little interpretation. For example, a light that says "engine" usually indicates a critical condition that means you should seek repairs as soon as possible. However, a "check engine" light often means a problem with electronic sensors--it needs to be addressed, but you don't have to drop everything to do it.

All in all, you would be much better served trying to stay ahead of the warning lights by keeping up with the proper maintenance of your vehicle.

Sources
LA Times
Road & Travel Magazine
Western & Central New York AAA

About the Author

Richard Barrington is a freelance writer and novelist who previously spent over twenty years as an investment industry executive.

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