Niagara Gazette

March 15, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Top 10 car maintenance mistakes technicians say do most damage

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — In January CarMD came out with a list of the top maintenance mistakes people make that does the most damage to their vehicles. Let’s take a look at these mistakes and how to avoid them.

Putting off recommended/scheduled maintenance is a big one that kills cars over time. As a matter of fact, I named the first chapter of my book “How To Make Your Car Last Forever” Maintenance is the Automotive Fountain of Youth. So while proper maintenance can make your car last long, conversely, lack of maintenance can kill it. Let’s look at a simple list of a few maintenance items and what neglect of them does to your car.

• Not rotating tires/wheel alignment: Don’t rotate your tires? They will develop a negative wear pattern and wear out prematurely. Regular wheel alignment checks will keep the tires rolling straight ahead. Steering and suspension parts wear over time; this causes the wheel alignment to go out. Leave it alone and the tires wear out. Leave it longer and worn steering and suspension parts accelerate wear on each other and tires.

• Don’t get brakes inspected: Every day people drive their cars until they hear grinding coming from the wheels when they stop. Then they have to spend several hundreds of dollars to repair the brakes. Didn’t they hear the excessive squealing that had to occur before the grinding? Apparently not. Whenever you go into the shop for an oil change, have the brakes checked. This way you’ll find out you need brakes before they get so bad that it costs you hundreds.

• Ignoring the “check engine” light: Over the years I have dealt with this problem over and over again. Yet people still continue to drive their vehicles without having the system checked when a check engine light illuminates. I understand why people do I; simply because the car keeps driving with seemingly no problems. Then one day out of the clear blue, the car starts running poorly or simply doesn’t start. When the shop looks at it, they advise the customer that their car needs performance system repairs to the tune of say $700 to which they respond, “Really? It was running fine until yesterday!” Little did they know that the performance system was diminishing daily to the point where the vehicle finally couldn’t make the necessary adjustments. Stay on top of check engine lights and tend to them immediately.

• Skip regular oil changes: Oil is the life blood of your car’s engine. It must be clean and full-bodied to protect the engine’s internal parts. Let it go too long and condition called “viscosity breakdown” occurs. In laymen’s terms, this means that the oil loses its ability to flow and protect your engine. The oil operates in a hot toxic environment. Leave it in the engine too long and it breaks down and turns into a sludgy compound that inhibits oil flow and internal lubrication.

 Ignoring tire pressure: Tires must be checked for proper inflation rates regularly. When tires are allowed to run low, two things happen. Negative wear patterns develop and premature tire failure can occur, all from a low air pressure. Keep those tires blown up! Not only will they last longer, you’ll get better gas mileage too. Why? Because properly inflated tires offer less rolling resistance, hence you don’t have to step harder on the gas to overcome the resistance from a low tire.

• No regular fluid checks and top-off: When you check the fluids regularly, you’ll notice when you have fluid loss, which might be due to a leak. This is a tipoff to check that system for a leak and repair it before it escalates to big bucks. Common fluids include engine coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, differential fluid, transfer case lubricant.

• Continuing to drive when the vehicle is overheating: I hate to admit this but I have done this one myself. The temperature light came on. I was 20 miles from home in the dead of winter. I had AAA, but didn’t want to call a tow truck, so I drove it to my garage and blew a cylinder head gasket, not to mention cracked the head. The repair cost me $700, boy was I mad but I had no one to blame but myself. So take it from me, if the temperature light comes on, pull over and call a tow truck or pay the consequences.

• Not changing fuel and air filters: Air and fuel filters get clogged with dirt over time. If the air filter gets clogged it can result in increased fuel consumption and poor performance. Too much gas into the engine fouls the sparkplugs and a viscous cycle takes over. Leave a fuel filter in too long and high pressure-resistance sets up causing the fuel pump to overwork and wear out prematurely.

• Having unqualified shops service your vehicle: This one usually goes along with the statement: “But he’s cheaper than the rest of the shops or dealer!” Yes, he very well might be cheaper. Why such a price discrepancy? Well it has to do with the fact that the cheaper shop usually doesn’t have the hi-tech equipment to track down the problem. No training on repair operations. No information systems such as Alldata or Mitchell 1. All these things translate into a repair that’s fixed right the first time and lasts twice as long as the shop that uses cheap parts.

• Using generic aftermarket parts instead of original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-quality parts: Contrary to popular belief: all parts are not created equal. OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts cost more because they are made better than cheap offshore knock-off parts. Oftentimes the cheap parts fail long before the OEM or quality part. Additionally, cheap parts tend to not match factory specs, resulting in abnormalities in the system they are a part of. Remember, you get what you pay for.

• Trying to service your own high-tech vehicle: I get e-mail every day from well-meaning listeners who tried to fix their own car with no knowledge, tools or info systems at their disposal. They usually send me a laundry list of parts as long as their arm that they replaced in their effort to rectify their problem. Then when I tell them to take the car to a repair shop for diagnostics, they loudly exclaim: “Absolutely not! That’s a rip-off!” yet when I point out to them that they spent hundreds of dollars on unnecessary parts to solve their problem to no avail, they fall silent.

Now that we have covered the top 10 items that most people neglect, now you can see why it’s not cost-effective to make these same mistakes yourself. Right? Yet, some of you will continue to do exactly the same thing and break your cars, but that’s ok because it creates a need for me and the thousands of auto repair professionals in this country to be around to bail you out when you need us. So … (Sung to the tune of Journey’s hit tune “Wheels in the Sky”) “Oh the wheels on your car keep on turnin’; oh your brakes and your tires are worn ouuttttttt!

‘Til next time … Keep Rollin.’

“America’s Car Show” with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.