ShadeTree mechanics still have maintenance to do
By Don Chaikin

You hear it wherever you go: There’s nothing that the typical car owner can do to service his or her own car or truck anymore. Everything is sealed. Everything is computer-controlled.

That is simply not true. There are many things that you can and should do on a regular basis to ensure the good running health of your vehicle.

Despite improvements to both metallurgy and oil, engine oil still needs to be regularly changed. Check your owner’s manual for the realistic service interval, but you should drain out the old oil, replace it with fresh oil as specified for your vehicle and driving conditions. Also replace the oil filter. Take the oil and filter to your local recycling center or other facility that will accept it.

As long as you’re changing the oil filter, replace the air filter periodically as well. Engines still require a healthy diet of clean air in order to operate. If you drive in dusty conditions, the life of that air filter will be shorter than otherwise, but anywhere you drive, the filter will eventually get plugged, reducing the efficiency of your engine.

Most air filters can be replaced without the need of any special tools. But you should use a screwdriver or correct size small wrench to make sure that all the ductwork between the filter housing and the engine’s air inlet is secure. Also take the time to inspect that ductwork for cracks or holes which would allow unfiltered air into the engine. Replacing defective ductwork is a simple task.

Cars and trucks still rely on a battery to get them started. Although modern batteries are sealed, their connections are not. Regularly check the battery cable connections, being certain that they are snug and corrosion-free. Be careful that you do not put a metal tool on the battery’s positive terminal, unless you first disconnect the negative one. Otherwise you can get a nasty spark, possibly leading to vehicular and personal damage. If there’s a coating of white fuzzy corrosion on the terminals, clean it off using a mix of baking powder and water. Carefully brush the corrosion off and then flush with a strong stream of water from a garden hose.

You can also check under your vehicle to make sure that all exhaust components are in solid shape and that all hangers and clamps are snug. Again, any with cracks or pinholes must be replaced, a task that is not beyond the skill of a proficient do-it-yourselfer. But even the novice can snug a loose clamp or replace a broken or missing one. This kind of maintenance now can save a great deal of money and grief down the road.

All cars and trucks still roll on tires. Checking the condition and inflation pressures of those tires is a simple, and potentially life-saving chore. Get in the habit of checking tire pressures every few weeks and also inspecting the tires’ sidewalls and treads. Use a quality tire-pressure gauge to check pressures while the tires are cold, before driving the vehicle that day. Compare your readings with the manufacturer’s recommended pressures as listed on a decal somewhere on your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual for its location.

If you have to drive far to get compressed air to adjust the inflation, take another pressure reading at the filling station to see how much the pressure has gone up as you drove. Add the correct number of pounds to the cold pressure reading, even though this may now bring the warm pressure reading higher than the sticker indicates.

The trend to sealing components also helps you in some areas. Burned out bulbs are now easier to replace than ever. In fact, many modern headlight bulbs can be replaced without the need of any tools.

Simply twist a locking collar on the backside of the headlight housing to remove the bulb and its socket. Pop the old bulb from the socket, snap the new one in, replace the socket assembly and replace the locking collar. Wipe the bulb clean of skin oils before putting it back into the housing. Many taillight and brake light bulbs are similar snap in/snap out designs as well.

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