Motor vehicles are sizable investments that, for many people, trail only homes and educations in terms of the biggest expenses they will ever have. So it's in drivers' best interests to take every step possible to protect their investments and keep their vehicles running smoothly as long as possible. While knowledgeable mechanics can be invaluable resources, drivers can take several minor, simple steps to keep their cars running smoothly for years to come.
• Perform weekly visual inspections. Few drivers take the time to look at their vehicles once those vehicles lose their new car luster. But visual inspections can help drivers find problems that, though minor, may impact their vehicles' performance. For example, a routine examination of vehicle tires can indicate if those tires are properly inflated. Poorly inflated tires can decrease fuel efficiency and affect the overall safety of a vehicle. If tires appear flat, check their pressure and inflate them to the levels listed in your owner's manual.
• Look for fluid leaks. Another telltale and easily identifiable sign that a vehicle needs some maintenance is the sight of fluids beneath the car. If you notice puddles or stains beneath where you normally park your car, your vehicle may be leaking fluids. Note the color and consistency of the fluid and then call your mechanic to determine which fluid is leaking and how to fix the problem.
• Stick to manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedules. Whether your vehicle is brand new or has some tread on its tire, consult the owner's manual for manufacturer recommendations with regard to changing fluids and replacing filters. Many recent models can now be driven roughly 5,000 miles before they need an oil change, but check your owner's manual for the guidelines established by your vehicle's manufacturer, and adhere to that schedule religiously. If you drive an older car, recognize that the vehicle may benefit from more frequent oil changes and tuneups.
In addition, read the manual for additional guidelines, such as how often to replace the air filter, headlight, turn signal and brake lamps, windshield wipers, and other vehicle parts that can wear down over time.
• Look under the hood as well. While many drivers feel that the area beneath their vehicles' hoods is best left to the professionals, you can still lift up the hood every so often to see if there are any glaring problems that demand attention. Inspect rubber belts for signs of wear and tear, and know that such belts may need to be replaced every 50,000 miles or even more frequently depending on your driving habits. Lifting the hood is also necessary when checking fluid levels, which you should check periodically and before and after any long trips.
Drivers who notice or suspect damage when performing simple vehicle maintenance should bring these concerns to the attention of their mechanics as soon as possible.