By most accounts, the average new car has around 10,000 parts and more computer power than it took to launch the first Apollo mission to the moon. This makes the automobile an extremely sophisticated machine. It's also a machine most drivers tend to take for granted. We put the gas in. We turn on the ignition and everything runs at it should. Our cars are a lot like our other major appliances; we don't really know how they work until they break down and require maintenance.
The reality is that most cars are designed to run efficiently for several years and several thousands of miles, but we have a responsibility to keep those 10,000 parts in proper working order. In other words, you can't just cross your fingers and hope the car will start every time, and that every system will function properly. There are ways we can maximize our vehicle's efficiency and it really doesn't take a lot of effort. In fact, the effort expended to keep your car running will pay off in the long run if you can avoid extended trips to the mechanic.
1. Embrace Your Service Schedule
Do you know your car's service schedule? Yes, your motor oil these days needs to be changed every 5,000-7,000 miles (increasing from the old 3,000 mile standby due to improvements in oil) or every six months. But what about everything else that needs upkeep? No, you won't have to swap out 10,000 parts, but in your owner's manual you should have a complete service schedule that should be followed. Things like flushing the transmission fluid, changing the sparkplugs, and replacing belts are all included. Following that schedule will stretch out the life of your car. Your trusty mechanic is well versed in these maintenance procedures, but you've got to dedicate the time to get the car to the garage. Since programming reminders in our smartphones is a snap, why not program your car's service schedule? That way you'll never forget.
2. Check Your Levels Often
The levels in this case would be fluids and air pressure. Just because you're changing your oil according to schedule doesn't mean there won't be an occasional problem. Your motor oil is the most important fluid the car needs. Think of it like your own body going without water. When that happens, things break down. Anyone can check the oil. Pop open the hood and pull out your oil dipstick. Don't know where your dipstick is? Check your manual or get your mechanic to show you. There are other fluid indicators like power steering fluid and radiator levels which you should check along with the oil. Same for the tire pressure. Don't know what your tire pressure should be? It's actually written right on your tire. This fluid and air pressure check should be done once a week and can be accomplished in the same amount of time it takes you to fill up your car with gas, give or take a few minutes. Of course, if any of the fluids are low don't hesitate to fill them up.
3. Put Your Car on a Diet
You know exactly when you've added a few extra pounds. Usually, it's right after the holiday binge. What happens? The pants are tighter and it's harder to climb those stairs. What do you do? Cut back on the sweets and hit the gym. Your car is the same. If it's carrying around extra pounds you're going to force the engine to work harder. This doesn't mean you can't load up and haul things. Just don't keep them in the car. Unloading extra weight will reduce engine strain and help you to keep rolling along. Anything you don't need to haul around in the trunk should be removed, and every pound helps.
4. Give a Little Listen
One of the biggest selling features on a car is the sound system. Thanks to iPod plug-ins and satellite radio we've got an abundance of choices for music and talk. However, you might want to drive in silence every so often just to make sure there aren't any funny noises that need to be addressed. Turn off the radio and go for a couple of miles listening to the sounds your car makes. That repetitive clicking noise could be a nail in your tire. The grinding when you come to a stop could indicate it's time for new brakes. Given the chance, your car will tell you a lot.
5. Don't Drive
Although this sounds counterintuitive, the best way to maintain your car is to cut back on your driving. Whenever possible walk to your destination, car pool, or take public transportation. When you do drive, drive gently. Don't pound on the brakes or rev the engine. That puts a strain on the system and lowers your MPG at the same time.
This might all seem like a no-brainer, but when we take things for granted we forget about the simplest measures to maintain quality. Be good to your car, and it will be good to you!