from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Whether you look at preventive maintenance optimistically or pessimistically determines how long today’s high-tech cars last. Over time, optimism can be costly while a pessimistic maintenance approach can add years of life to your car. In other words plan for the worst and hope for the best then if the worst happens you’re covered. Optimism or simply hoping nothing bad happens leaves your car unprotected. Then when bad things do happen you face a big repair or even worse buying another car. Although you may fervently believe that bad things only happen to other people … taint so! Never has been and never will be; we’ll all be the ‘other person’ one day.

But how does optimistic and pessimistic apply to vehicle maintenance? Owner’s manuals offer you a choice between normal and severe service based on your driving circumstances. But allowing drivers to choose which is like asking John Dillinger to guard a bank. Given this choice most drivers go for the optimistic, less strict ‘normal’ service schedule rather than the ‘severe’ schedule. Often that’s an expensive mistake. When deciding between normal and severe it’s always safer to be pessimistic than optimistic and choose severe. Why? Pessimistic means more frequent service and no car or part has ever failed due to over maintaining but lack of maintenance kills millions of expensive parts and cars every year.

A classic example is an optimistic interpretation of what the typical owner’s manual says about coolant. Cars have used long-life coolant for years, which can be an advantage or be a budget buster. The phrase in owner’s manuals that typically gets drivers into trouble is; the coolant in your new Warthog-SS-Limited is engineered to last “up to” five years or one hundred and fifty thousand miles.

Read optimistically you’ll be convinced that your coolant will, last that long. But, that’s not what it says at all. It says your coolant “could” last five years or one hundred and fifty thousand miles. In reality some will but most won’t! To be safe all coolant should be checked in the fall and again in the spring.

Coolant testing begins with an inexpensive coolant hydrometer which will tell you how cold it can get before your coolant freezes. The freeze point should be around minus thirty-four degrees and either significantly higher or lower fails. A freeze point hat’s too high means your engine could freeze while too low means an incorrect balance between coolant and distilled water. A too low freeze point may cause performance and fuel economy problems.

Next by holding the hydrometer up to light you be able to see if the coolant has changed color, is cloudy or has tiny floating particles. Any of these conditions means it’s time to flush and refill your cooling system. But there’s one test that’s mostly ignored. Modern engines and cooling systems use multiple metals and plastics that require special protection from unique, vehicle-specific additives blended into new coolant.

Unfortunately these additives can’t be directly tested but their demise usually causes lowered pH and pH can be easily tested with a pH test strip. If the coolant passes all tests you’re okay until your next six month test. If your coolant fails any of the tests it’s time to flush your cooling system and refill it with the proper coolant for your car mixed with distilled water. Remember, pH testing is vital because lower pH means more acidic coolant and more acidic means rusty coolant. Rust is bad news because, rust is, dissolved engine!

So the next time someone starts bragging about how little maintenance they buy for their car, think to yourself how lucky you are to be a maintenance pessimist. Aggressive, pessimistic maintenance guarantees a longer lasting, more economical car.