Your Workhorse

By Tawny Maya McCray

August 20, 2010 4 min read

We depend on our cars every day to get us from here to there, but all that driving can cause them a lot of wear and tear. That's especially true for those of us who drive short distances.

"Longer commutes are better for your vehicle than stop-and-go traffic," says Scott Ward, who owns an auto service shop. "It's rougher on the vehicle to constantly stop and go. That's more severe driving than anything."

Ward says that no matter the distance people drive, in order for them to ensure their vehicles' longevity, it's crucial they follow basic preventive maintenance services, such as having the oil and coolant routinely changed and rotating the tires.

"A lot of people neglect oil," Ward says. "You should have your oil changed every 3,000 miles, unless you're using synthetic brands."

Ward says that when you don't have your car's oil changed on a regular basis, gunk, also known in the industry as sludging, will begin building up inside the engine, which can harm the engine and cause excessive bearing wear and other problems. He says the benefit of using synthetic oil, such as Mobile 1, versus regular oil is that synthetic oil is designed to increase the life of an engine, and you can space your oil changes to every 5,000 or 7,500 miles because it's more resistant to viscosity breakdown.

Ward adds that any synthetic lubricant for the car, whether it's engine oil or gear oil, is designed to extend the length of your car's life and reduce wear and friction on your car.

Along with getting your oil changed, you should have a mechanic check your air filter every 10,000 to 15,000 miles. Replacing it when needed will lead to spectacular fuel mileage, Ward says.

"People don't think of it in these terms, but you walk around breathing normally," he says. "Try tying a rope around your neck and walking, and see how winded you get. A car is the same way. If a car has restricted air, it's going to take more fuel."

Ward says having the right tire inflation is also important to maintaining good fuel mileage. "Proper inflation on your tires will equate to better gas mileage," he says. "Most people don't know that you'll lose anywhere from 1 to 3 pounds in one week on a tire. Checking your tire pressure every week -- or at least every other week -- is essential."

Also essential for optimal fuel mileage is the fuel itself. Ward says that if you have a car that requires premium gas -- for example, a Mercedes or BMW -- it's imperative you give your car the fuel it requires. If you buy a cheaper grade of gas, he explains, the car will end up working harder, which can cause damage to your engine in the long run, and you'll end up getting worse gas mileage.

However, if your car does not require premium gas, there's no need to use it. According to Ward, most new cars are actually designed to run on the regular, 87-octane fuel. But, he warns, if your car is more than 10 years old, even if it doesn't require premium gas, you should "run it on at least the midgrade fuel."

Another critical element to a well-functioning car is battery connection.

"Having your battery frequently checked is something people should do," Ward says. "You definitely need to keep it clean because connection is everything. Most people look at the little acid buildup and think, 'Eh, that's no big deal.' Until it leaves you stranded, that's when you realize."

On the issue of safety, Ward says that routinely checking your brakes wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

All in all, Ward says, people shouldn't cut corners when it comes to maintaining their cars.

"People should do the 30,000, 60,000 and 90,000 service," he says. "It's important because it can spot potential breakdowns, such as belts cracking. You should get your vehicle serviced every 30,000 miles and an oil change every 3,000 miles."

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