Car Care

By Tom Roebuck

October 2, 2009 5 min read

You have several options when you need to go from Point A to Point B, and chances are driving yourself will be the best choice. Alternatives, such as walking or riding a bike, aren't practical for many trips. Catching a bus usually means your trip takes two or three times longer than it would have had you driven, and you might find yourself packed in like a sardine during rush hour.

When it comes to convenience, it's tough to top the car. But it comes with a price. Internal-combustion engines run on gasoline, which, of course, comes from oil, a precious nonrenewable resource. Burning gasoline pollutes the air, and big cities, such as Los Angeles and Houston, are hit especially hard. Cars can cause great harm to the environment, but taking care of your car can lessen its impact on the earth and also can save you a lot of money.

Once upon a time, gas stations were called service stations. Drivers would pull up, and someone would not only fill the tank but also clean the windshield and check the fluids and tire pressure. You didn't even have to get out of the car. Those days are gone, and they probably are not going to come back, so now drivers have to check the fluids and tire pressure themselves. Whether it's today's busy schedules or just plain laziness, most people just fill up and go. While it's not necessary to check your tires every time you fill up, doing it at least once a month keeps your tires from getting too low and adding stress to your engine.

It's also important to make sure your engine can breathe. It may not seem as if engines breathe, but they draw air and run it through filters, and if those filters become dirty, the engines have to work harder, adding stress and burning more gas, according to David Rogers, who is the chief operating officer of Keller Bros. Auto, in Littleton, Colo. Changing a dirty air filter is a simple step with a big payoff.

"A simple, cheap thing like an air filter can change your economy by as much as 10 percent because if it's really filthy and plugged, your engine is going to work so very hard to compensate for that," Rogers says.

Approaching a stop sign and braking at the last second and then doing a jack rabbit start as you go through the intersection burns more gas than coasting to a stop and pressing the pedal gently when it's your turn. When on the open highway, using cruise control is much more fuel-efficient than keeping your foot on the gas, but Rogers recommends turning it off if you're driving across steep hills or mountains. He also advises against storing things in the car, such as a bowling ball or golf clubs, because they just add weight to the car, making it burn more gas. Using the air conditioner also adds stress to an engine, especially if the car is not moving.

Because service stations have faded away, we have to check not only our tires but also the fluids. Not replacing vital fluids when a car's manual recommends it can lead to a system failure. Dirty transmission fluid can cause enough damage that the whole system needs to be replaced, costing the driver thousands of dollars and clogging a landfill with a junked transmission.

"You don't need to buy very many auto parts in your life if you do one simple thing: Change your fluids," Rogers says.

Fluids aren't the only things under the hood that need to be replaced according to the manual's guidelines, Rogers says. Letting spark plugs and wires go too long reduces an engine's efficiency, resulting in lower gas mileage and carbon buildup that chokes the air.

Car owners can keep the environment in mind when they choose a mechanic. Rogers says his shop is equipped to recycle engine fluids and clean parts with a machine that works like a dishwasher, rather than soaking them in a tub of solvents, releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere. It's worth the time to ask managers how they dispose of their chemicals, fluids, batteries and such.

"If someone's throwing that stuff away, I really don't want to give him any more money. It's just wrong," Rogers says.

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