from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Up to a point cars are forgiving of your mistakes but lack of maintenance can rapidly convert forgiving to dangerous. That’s unsettling because estimates suggest that up to 87% of all cars on the road today are under-maintained or have at least one dangerous condition. If not your car perhaps it’s the car behind or beside you. Scary!

This reinforces the need to be proactive rather than reactive about vehicle maintenance. Proactive means having regular checkups to locate problems before they become severe. Car problems like medical problems, when caught early are far less dangerous and much less expensive. Unfortunately just like medical conditions you can’t wait for symptoms as many parts will be critically dangerous before any symptoms present. Once a part is dangerously worn even normal stressors like potholes, hard cornering on a rough ramp or a panic stop could push the part into catastrophic failure.

So, every car should have a comprehensive safety evaluation at least twice a year. But, for a safety evaluation to be reliable it must be done in a shop on a lift by a qualified technician with all four wheels removed. If you come across some fool that only wants to remove two wheels because “There are always two wheels where parts wear the most” you’re outa there to find a smart technician. Although it is true some of the time on some cars, it isn’t true all the time on all cars. Not checking everything on all four corners of the car could kill you.

Checks must include: brakes, suspension, steering, exhaust, wipers, lights, and anything else that could compromise safety. In other words the minimum mandatory checkup involves everything that propels the car, steers the car, supports the car, illuminates the car and stops the car.

Failed belts and hoses also cause countless breakdowns, mainly due to grossly flawed visual inspections. Flawed because only the cosmetic outer covering of a belt or hose is visible not the reinforcing inner fabric. Your older hose or belt could look wonderful yet be on the verge of failure due to non-visible internal fatigue. A hose or belt that looks bad is bad. One that looks good is only good if it’s less than five years or seventy-five thousand miles old.

Dash warning lights are another vital safety system yet they’re often ignored or misunderstood. Warning “Idiot” lights are highly reliable, extremely visible, and easier to understand than gauges. Warning lights fall into three categories: Green means go. Yellow means caution. Red lights mean something very bad is about to happen to you or your car. Red warning lights mean stop! Take evasive action! Do it now! Don’t continue for “just a few blocks” because that seemingly insignificant extra distance could be disastrous. Also don’t forget to check all warning lights regularly. A nonfunctioning warning lamp can’t warn you of problems which could lead to major mechanical damage or place you and your passengers in serious peril during an emergency. If you ignore a warning light you’re the “Idiot”.

Seat belts work in conjunction with your Air Bags to form an integrated safety system and must always be worn. Belts must also be in good condition: no webbing damage, buckles free of dirt and spilled yak, and functioning inertia reels. Most owner’s manuals describe how to test the operation of the inertia locking system.

Vehicle safety is mostly common sense so, think about the consequences of what you’re doing. Far too often trying to avoid a minor inconvenience can pave the way to an expensive or dangerous outcome.