the Rubber Meets The Road
Maintenance: Vital for Extending the Life of Your Investment
You’ve put a lot of effort into buying exactly the
car — whether new or used — that’s right for you. It meets your needs,
it fits your budget, so your work is done, right?
Not so fast.
To ensure you enjoy the fruits of your labor for as
long as possible (not to mention forestalling the buying process), routine
maintenance is critical.
We asked Pat Goss, well-known automotive talk-show host
and owner of Goss’ Garage in Seabrook, Md., to advise drivers how to keep
their cars running like the well-oiled machines they were meant to be.
Frequency depends on your type of driving. If you tend
to drive short distances, every three months or 3,000 miles is mandatory for
longest engine life. Drive 15-plus miles with an average speed of 45 mph or
more? You can go between 5,000 to 7,000 miles, as long as you don’t
surpass the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations.
Balance and Rotate Tires
Unless you’re having a problem, balancing tires is a
waste of money, says Goss. It is not routine maintenance. Tire rotation is
another matter; never let it go more than 7,500 miles. Coordinate it with
your oil changes. If you’re having your oil changed every 3,000 miles,
you’ll rotate at 6,000.
Be sure your rotation — which Goss says is
misunderstood by many technicians — is done right. It’s not just moving
tires from front to rear. Today’s cars require what is called a modified
“X” rotation. For a front-wheel-drive car, it works like this: The tire
on the right rear would go to the left front, and the left rear tire to the
right front. The two front ones come straight back. For rear-wheel drive,
just reverse the pattern.
One of the most common misconceptions around. The
proper pressure is not the number stamped on the tire; that’s just the
maximum safe pressure for that tire. The appropriate pressure level is the
one recorded on the decal that’s probably on the inside of the driver’s
door (see left). Even if you purchase different tires, that number still
applies because it indicates what is safe for the vehicle, and that never
A real flush — not a drain-and-refill —should occur
every two years or 24,000 miles. Notable exceptions are European models that
use hydraulic fluid. Those can go 100,000 miles.
Power Steering Flush
Every two years or 24,000 miles. A relatively new
addition to regular maintenance, these flushes didn’t even exist until a
few years ago. Today, they’re vital.
Brake Fluid Flush
No less frequently than every two years.
Although frequency depends on the type of coolant you
use, all coolants should be checked yearly for performance criteria, such as
pH. Standard-type coolant should be changed every two years; long-life
coolants, between two and five years.
Another common misconception, says Goss, are the
time-honored “tests” for wheel alignment.
“Most of these are bogus. If you let go of your steering wheel and
find you’re drifting slightly, that is no absolute indicator that you’re
out of alignment. You might be, but there are also about 150 other things it
could be. Abnormal tire wear is the best indicator that you need to have
your wheels re-aligned,” he advises.
Obsolete. You get tune-up-related parts tested when you
have any kind of performance problem, such as hesitation or rough running
that isn’t synonymous with the changing of the seasons.
Saving Money at the Garage
To save money when doubling up on services — such as
an oil change and rotation — book only the oil change. Once your car is on
the lift, request the rotation. The total price should represent the costs
associated with putting your car in the air only one time. There are a
number of steps required for each service, no matter what it is —
recording the VIN number and other record-keeping functions. Once these are
already performed, it’s hard for a reputable garage to charge you a second
“For instance, a full-service rotation could run
around $60; if it’s tacked onto another service, it’s more in the $15
range. However, if you book them together, you’ll see both full prices
listed as line items when you pick up your car,” Goss counsels.