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Getting to know your automobile

BY ANNA STEELY | Special to the DM

As Douglas Strahan was driving back from the beach with friends, her car’s air conditioning suddenly became hot.

The engine temperature gauge needle was all the way up; steam billowed from under the hood.

She immediately pulled off the road to find neon green coolant spewed over the engine.

Strahan’s heater hose had burst, but had she taken certain precautions she might have avoided car trouble. Taking these precautions will make for a safer ride, but may also help drivers save money.

“Not only did I have to call a tow truck in the middle of nowhere, I also spent more money by calling the tow truck, having a temporary fix put on and then having it
replaced with a new hose when I got home,” Strahan said.

Gateway Tire & Service Center manager Mack Aldridge and Oxford Tire Inc. owner Johnny Simmons stressed the importance of maintaining your car on a mileage
schedule.

1 Rotate your tires on a regular basis and check your air pressure every few months.

Rotate tires every 3,000 to 4,000 miles if driving around town, Aldridge said.

If you drive on the interstate frequently, drivers should get their tires rotated after driving 5,000 to 6,000 miles.

“Tires normally last 50,000 miles if you take care of them, but something nobody does is rotate their tires like they’re supposed to rotate them from front to back every 7,000 to 8,000 miles,” Simmons said. “Check air pressure every three to four months. If the climate changes from winter to summer, it’ll vary as much as six pounds, and if you run them low they won’t last as long, they get noisy and it just
messes them up.”

2 Maintain fluid levels in your vehicle.

Aldridge said to preserve the life of the engine, it is important to maintain the car’s fluids, including oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid and power steering fluid.

Some manufacturers suggest an oil change every 5,000 to 6,000 miles, but Aldridge recommends changing the oil on a 3,000 to 4,000 mile interval, especially with stop and go driving.

Check the coolant and oil simultaneously, especially prior to winter weather surges, Aldridge said.

Brake fluid, transmission fluid and power steering fluid are easy to check and can also be changed during a regular oil change.

Air filters are also checked during an oil change.

“We boil them out to clean them, but if they are really dirty we’ll just replace them,” Aldridge said.

3 Maintain brakes and suspension.

Simmons said brakes typically last 50,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on driving habits.

4 Know how to change a tire.

“Changing a tire is a practical thing to know,” Aldridge said.

Instructions to do so are often included with the vehicle, whether as part of the instruction manual or in the trunk with the tools provided to change the tire.

5 Know how to jump start a car.

“Everyone should know how to jump start a car, because when your battery dies you’ll need to jump your car off so it will start again,” Aldridge said.

However, Aldridge said when attempting to jump start a vehicle, drivers should proceed with caution.

“There are four ends to your jumper cables: a red one and black one on each end,” Aldridge said.

“Connect to the discharged battery first. Connect the red to the red and the black to the black or to a grounded part of the engine. From the car that you’re going to jump from connect to the hot post first, and make your last connection on a
grounding bracket near the alternator or a heavy bolt on the block.”

6 Keep an eye on warning lights and wiper blades.

Aldridge said it is not hard to change wiper blades and they are available at most parts stores.

He said all car lights such as brake lights, headlights, tail lights and interior lights are important to maintain for safety measures.

7 Pay attention to everything made of rubber.

All things made of rubber such as hoses and belts deserve frequent attention, Simmons said.

He said anything made out of rubber will deteriorate and dry rot in about five years.

“On a lot of the foreign cars you’ve got to change your timing belt at about 60,000 miles,” Simmons said. “If the belt breaks and you’re driving, it messes up the engine, then you’ll spend $1,000 to $1,200 fixing it. It bends the valves in the engine and bends the valves and the head on the motor, and it’ll quit on you on sight and die.”

Simmons said performing consistent maintenance on a vehicle is mainly a preventative measure.

“If you do it on a schedule like you’re supposed to, it keeps you from spending a lot more money on repair work,” he said.

Strahan’s hose on her Land Rover had been deteriorating without her noticing it.

If she had checked it before she had gone on vacation, her trip may have been less of a hassle.

“Since my car died on the highway, I now pay more attention to my new car, how it works, and the precautions I need to take to prevent car trouble,” Strahan said.