Buying a Car – Tips on How to Maintain It

In this article we will look at some general service hints that apply to any car whether you buy it new or used. In most cases, these maintenance costs are not covered by your factory and extended warranty, but are important considerations in getting the best and most reliable service from your car.

The first consideration is where you take it for service. Many people simply take it back to the dealer where they bought it. The advantage there is that if they discover anything that needs fixing under the warranty, they will fix it for you when you take it in for service. But be aware that you pay a premium for dealer service in most things, and you can often cut the cost of that routine maintenance by 30% or more by using a good independent repair shop. And the independent shop may be a bit more observant in pointing out other problems with your car that you can have fixed under warranty back at the dealership Ford Mot Reading.

Check with friends or business associates to see where they get their car serviced. Many shops offer free shuttle transportation when you drop off or pick up your car. If you have a more exotic car, be sure they specialize in that kind of car. Since the cost of parts can often be more than the cost of labor, you should realize that OEM parts from a dealer usually cost 50% more than the same parts from a good after market supplier, when available. But your dealer always uses OEM factory parts. And items like tires, brakes, filters and routine maintenance parts are inevitably a good bit more expensive from the dealership.

Once you decide where you want to have your car serviced, stick with them if they do a good job for you. There’s no substitute for a good relationship with a repair shop when it comes time for major work or diagnostics. And many a shop will take a one time customer for a “ride”, and take the easy route to fixing your problem rather than the most cost effective one. A little story…

I had a girlfriend once with an old Ford Mustang. Her turn signals were not working and she took it into the Ford dealership for repair. They wanted to charge her $220 to replace the whole turn sign mechanism and wiring harness, a big job as it involves dismantling the whole steering column. She couldn’t afford it and came to me asking what she should do.

I had a hunch and picked up a new blinker relay from the auto parts store for $3. I reached under the dash, popped out the old one and stuck the new one in there.

Presto… the problem was fixed. I was outraged that the dealer was going to charge her $220 when a simple $3 part fixed the problem. I went down there and complained bitterly and they refunded her diagnostic charges anyhow.

In general, car repair shops are notorious for fixing things that don’t need fixing, and not always because they are completely dishonest… but because it’s faster than trying to figure out where the exact cause of the problem really lies. It’s the old analogy of fixing a loose nail with a sledgehammer. So finding a good reliable service shop can save you a lot of money over the years.

I recommend you keep a log of your maintenance. It will help you do it regularly and that will prolong the life of your car. And it also looks good when it comes time to sell the car.

Here are some service issues that are critical and some hints that not everyone is aware of.

Oil Changes

The average new car recommends an oil change every 7500 miles. I like to change mine twice during that period. Motor oil is cheap and nothing wears an engine out faster than dirty motor oil. The simple process of combustion produces a lot of by-products, acid, carbon, and contamination from the air. And that contaminates your motor oil pretty quickly. I change it at 4000 but not the oil filter, and then again at 7500 and change the oil filter at that time. I maintain the same schedule through 7500, 15,000, 22,500, 30,000 and so on.

I use a high grade of motor oil… I have always liked Valvoline. But Quaker State, Pennzoil and other top brands are probably equally good. Stay away from the bargain brands. Quality lubrication is essential to your engine’s longevity. In general you want it to look clear and green on the oil dipstick… when it starts getting dark, it’s time to change it, and when it gets black it’s way overdue.

The exception to this rule is that some synthetic oils which are black in appearance when new. And unlike foods, where “synthetic” is a dirty word, in motor oils, the synthetic variety offers better lubrication than the petroleum based “natural” oils and costs a good bit more as well. If you have an expensive car, it’s probably well worth the extra cost for the higher quality motor oil.

People who ignore things like routine oil changes because they are too busy are very foolish. Dirty motor oil wears out an engine very quickly and failure to keep it clean may very likely void your warranty.

Transmission oil is another item. Factory service often doesn’t require it be changed more than every 30,000 miles. But depending on how and where you drive it can get dirty and worn a lot quicker than than that. In general you want the fluid to appear cherry red and have almost no smell when you pull the transmission oil dipstick. When it is reddish brown and has a burnt smell, then your transmission is suffering. Many cars do not allow an easy change of the transmission fluid. It is often necessary to drop the pan of transmission to drain it, and then that usually holds 3-4 quarts and does not change the majority of the fluid which is in the torque converter.

Some cars like my Mercury Mountaineer, have a separate drain plug for the torque converter and allow a change of fluid to be relatively complete. But many others do not. My old Ford Explorer was that way. Changing the fluid by dropping the pan only changed 1/3 the transmission fluid, so if I waited til it was brown and burnt, one change did not do it. I installed a drain plug in my transmission pan, and changed it 5 times running it a few miles after each change, until I figured I had diluted the old burnt fluid adequately enough. So keep an eye on that fluid and change it often.

Manual transmissions don’t use transmission fluid… they use a 90W gear oil which generally doesn’t need to be changed very often. But keep your clutch adjusted properly with a little bit of freeplay at the top, and don’t “ride the clutch”. Be very careful about resting your foot on the clutch pedal as the weight of the foot can partially depress the pedal, and start to reach the edge of engagement, and this will wear out your clutch’s throw-out bearing very quickly.

Older cars all used carburetors to mix gas and air and squirt it into the engine for combustion. Newer cars mostly use fuel injection, and while this often works really well and controls emissions, you need to keep those fuel injectors clean. Your local auto parts shop sells a number of brands of fuel injector cleaner and I recommend adding it to a full tank of gas at least with every oil change. It’s a lot cheaper than having your fuel injection system overhauled. And change that air filter regularly or whenever it starts to appear dirty. Nothing slows performance more quickly and gunks up your carburetor or fuel injectors than a dirty air filter.

Tires, Brakes and Shock Absorbers

Other items like tires, brakes and shock absorbers are generally not covered by warranties… they are considered routine maintenance items. Choose your tires carefully… there are a wide range of tire grades, priced accordingly. Invariably those bargain prices you see advertised are junk tires and not worth your time unless you are just fixing the car up to sell. Many tires will offer long mileage warranties, but read the fine print… often that’s “pro-rated” and applied to the “list” price of a new one, not the highly discounted price you bought them for. This is an old scam. Put 20,000 miles on those 50,000 mile tires and you may find the adjusted price of a new pair under warranty is higher than what you can buy them or a comparable set for outright.

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