from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

It’s Car Care Resolution time again but your resolves should be realistic and followed. The consequences of poor maintenance are costly at best and deadly at worst. Following are basics to make 2009 a better year for your car and what’s good for your car is ultimately good for you. Remember that unlike the stock market you get an average return of about 800% on the money you invest in vehicle maintenance. Plus there’s the enormous value of peace of mind?

Leading your must-do list is oil and filter changes. Every car has to have them but when? There’s no single best time for everyone but changing oil based on wishful thinking and mental justification won’t work. Wishful thinking is when you pick the longest possible oil change interval from your owner’s manual not what’s best for your car. Justification is when you downplay the severity of your driving to make it fit the long interval. Unfortunately if you screw up, your engine can not forgive and forget! What’s done is done.

Although long oil change intervals may be acceptable under specific conditions do yours really qualify? Probably not! Carefully read and honestly rate your driving situation then decide which interval is best. However, owner’s manuals can be confusing so if there’s any doubt always choose the severe service interval to assure proper protection. Failed mental deduction: cheap no-name products are as good as high quality products. Saving a few dollars on an oil change with substandard products could decrease the life of your engine by thousands of miles.

Another 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 in an owner’s manual does it state that they are guaranteed to, or absolutely will, last a specific number of miles or years. The actual life of coolant depends on several factors that vary from car to car.

Once every month remove the radiator cap while the engine is cold and look at coolant level and color. Then once or twice every year use a coolant test strip to check the coolant’s ph level. If the ph is low or the coolant has changed color or feels gritty, 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 failure to check that’s faulty.

Batteries are another out of sight out of mind part that 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: those four round, black, chunks of rubber on your vehicle! Contrary to what you may think just because a tire isn’t flat doesn’t mean it’s okay. Tire pressure should be checked monthly following specs on the car’s tire label. Also tires should be rotated using a Modified “X” pattern at least every 7,500 miles.

Flush your automatic transmission and power steering system at 24,000 to 30,000 mile intervals. Brake fluid should be flushed every two years. Insist on fluids that meet or exceed all manufacturers’ specifications. Inspect or replace wiper blades every six months.

Finally a remarkable revelation! Any vehicle will last significantly longer if you drive it gently. Today there are no bad cars but there sure are lots of bad drivers. So to make your 2009 better drive sensibly, check fluids, perform preventive maintenance and you’ll have a much longer lasting car with far fewer problems. In the process you’ll also get better fuel economy, fewer tickets and less driving stress. Drive Gently Have a Safe, Happy New Year!