from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

It’s New Year’s Resolution time again but don’t treat your car resolutions like your personal resolutions. Car resolutions should be based in reality and strictly followed. The consequences of “failure-to-maintain” a car are costly and sometimes dangerous so here are some basic resolutions to make 2010 a better year for your car.

Leading your “I resolve” list are oil and filter changes. Every car has to have them but when? Unfortunately, there’s no one best time for every car but changing oil based on wishful thinking and mental justification never works. Wishful thinking is when you pick the longest possible rather than the best oil change interval from your owner’s manual. Justification is when you downplay the severity of your driving to make it fit that longest interval. Unlike a person if you screw this up, your engine will not forgive and forget!

Although long oil change intervals may be acceptable under certain specific conditions do you really qualify? Actually, probably not! Carefully and honestly rate your driving situation then decide which interval is best. However, owner’s manuals can be confusing so if there is any doubt, always choose the shorter interval to assure proper protection. More wishful thinking. Cheap, no-name products are as good as high quality products. Not true and saving a couple dollars on an oil change with substandard products could decrease engine life by tens of thousands of miles.

Here’s a surprise, cooling systems still need to be checked and maintained. Although most cars now use long-life coolants engineered to last up to five years or 150,000 miles, nowhere is it stated that they are guaranteed to, or absolutely will, last a specific number of miles or years. The actual life of coolant depends on many factors that vary from car to car. Your coolant may go the distance or it may not.

Remove the radiator cap once every month from your cold engine and look at coolant level and color. Then twice every year use a coolant test strip to check the coolant’s ph and general condition. If the coolant is low, has changed color, feels gritty or fails the test strip test, flush the cooling system immediately! You may have heard that long-life coolants damage cooling systems but that’s totally wrong. It isn’t the coolant that’s at fault it’s your lack of checking that’s faulty.

Batteries are out of sight out of mind yet they play havoc with bank accounts. Because you can’t see your battery doesn’t mean you don’t have to look at it. Thanks to some engineers’ greater wisdom this maintenance-intensive part may be hidden by plastic shields, or positioned under the rear seat, under a fender, or in the trunk. Even if your battery is out of sight it still needs to be checked and serviced regularly.

Tires, contrary to what you may think just because a tire isn’t flat doesn’t mean it’s okay. Tire pressure should be checked at least monthly and maintained to specs on the car’s tire label. Also tires should be rotated using a modified “X” pattern at intervals that don’t exceed 7,500 miles.

Save money; flush your automatic transmission and power steering system at 24,000 to 30,000 mile intervals. Flush brake fluid every two years. Insist on fluids that meet or exceed all manufacturers’ specifications. Inspect or replace wiper blades every six months, check light every month.

Finally a truly remarkable revelation! All vehicles last significantly longer if you drive them gently. There is generally no need for full throttle, foot-to-the floor acceleration. Today there are no bad cars but there sure are lots of bad drivers. Drive sensibly, check fluids, perform preventive maintenance and you’ll have a longer lasting car with far fewer problems. In the process you’ll also get better fuel economy plus fewer tickets leading to better insurance rates. Have a Safe, Happy New Year!