Why maintenance matters.
Repairs to vehicles can be extraordinarily expensive. It is therefore critical that drivers pay close attention to the maintenance that is due on their vehicles so that they are not saddled with exponentially higher repair bills. While maintenance is also not cheap, it is when compared to a fix that needs to take place because the maintenance to a car was left unperformed. Below are some guidelines for keeping your car in the best of health.
Oil has, over the years, gotten better and better. The oil of yesteryear was only manufactured to last 3,000 miles. The oils of today can go much further. A conventional oil change will only need to be done every 5,000 miles and a synthetic oil change every 8,000 miles. However, not all oil filters are built for these mileages and so it is still recommended to use higher quality parts, especially in the case of oil filters in conjunction with synthetic oil changes. It is also important to consistently check the oil level of cars about every two weeks, as, even with synthetic oil, a vehicle can either burn or leak that oil, causing conditions that tax an engine and cause its failure.
A normal, quality battery, is made to last for approximately 5 years. Most batteries have warranties that are not usually more than 3 years in length, meaning that batteries really should be tested every time they come in for regular service. It is also important to consistently clean batteries when they develop corrosion (a standard condition) on the terminals. The buildup of corrosion will result in a "no-start" scenario and will also cause the terminal ends to weaken and need replacement. Our shops use special cleaners and sealers to protect the batteries so that the corrosion is less likely to come back.
Brakes are one of the most common components to replace on both consumer and commercial vehicles. This is the case whether the car is gas-driven, hybrid or electric. Brakes vary wildly across makers who can use them for standard stopping, high performance applications or with regenerative properties (hybrid vehicles). There are also more options with brake replacement than there are with nearly every other system on vehicles. Much like tires, there are options for extremely cheap replacement parts (never recommended!), mid-level parts (our base package), and high-performance parts (for those customers that do a lot of mountain driving or who love doing last minute stopping and are aggressive on the road (yikes!)
Brakes should be replaced approximately every 30,000 - 60,000 miles, but this may vary depending on how someone drives and where they live. Mountain drivers or city drivers facing a lot of stop and go traffic may need brake replacement on the low side of the mileage above. People who live in more rural areas of town or who are more tentative with their braking can sometimes go 80,000 to 100,000 miles between brake replacements.
Brake pad linings should be measured any time the wheels are off a vehicle and sometimes can be checked even with the wheels on, as long as the rims allow for decent visual examination.
Bulb & Lamp Replacement
One of the smallest and easiest, yet most overlooked, of the repairs on a vehicle is bulb replacement. We all know the experience of driving behind someone who has only a single brake light working or in front of someone who has one headlight working. In both cases, an accident is more likely to occur and a traffic ticket is possible. While 80% of bulbs take 15 minutes or less to replace, there are those exceptions that can necessitate the removal of bumpers and fender liners and which can be expensive. In addition, some manufacturers have moved to bulbs that are extremely sturdy and bright, but which cost an arm and a leg to replace. All of these repairs can be done at our shop and others, but the price can certainly vary, and you may not know what you're working with until your car is brought in.
Another consideration is the sheer number of lights that exist on cars these days: turn signals, stoplights, high beam headlights, low beam headlights, fog lights, park lights, tail lights, side markers, license bulbs, high mount stoplights, cargo lights, dome lights, dash lights, mirror lights, back up lights. All of these are important for safety and should be replaced as soon as they fail.
Check Engine Light
Nothing makes the wallet and purse ache worse than the illumination of the dreaded "check engine" light. Each type of car has a different way of indicating a problem with an engine (this light can be a "service engine soon", or "check engine" or any number of other nomenclatures), but they all are important.
There are so many things to discuss when it comes to this light, but the main lesson to take from it is that the car has a problem that is affecting performance and is often putting the extraordinarily expensive catalytic converter at risk.
The light may illuminate when there is a problem with the engine, but can also show up when there is a transmission problem or problem with other part of the drivetrain. Some car makers also will turn on other lights in conjunction with this light to heighten your anxiety and drive you into their bays for repair (cruise control light, traction control, air bag, etc.) When the light comes on a scan tool must be connected to the vehicle to see what the underlying code is that is causing the failure.
When the light comes on, a diagnosis is needed. Probably the most common question we get is, if I diagnosis is performed, does that get rolled into the final repair? The answer is almost always, no. The light is essentially just a clue and not an actual diagnosis. For example, it may say "catalyst below efficiency", but this may mean the engine has a problem, or could mean an exhaust leak or a oxygen sensor failure or a converter that is plugged. A thorough investigation is required with a very expensive scan tool and a skilled technician. This all is time and money that must be covered for a shop to survive. So when you are advised that a parts distributor will "pull the code" for free, just know that we can do the same thing, but it won't likely help you figure out what the final repair is. That won't stop a parts supplier from selling you a part though, and it certainly doesn't guarantee a fix for your car.
A cooling system is as vital to your car's operation as the lubrication it gets from oil. In fact, in many cases, it is more important than the lubrication system. On newer hybrid and electric vehicles, the cooling system is absolutely essential so that batteries on these cars don't fail.
The coolant in a car is often confusing to driver's because it performs multiple different functions. Its circulation through an engine keeps components cool (like pistons for example), but it also circulates through units in the cab arear of a car to deliver heat to passengers (which is why it get mixed up with the air conditioning parts of a car). It also, as mentioned above keeps electric batteries from overheating and also transmission parts.
It is therefore essential to not only changes this fluid from time to time (3-5 years), but also to use the correct coolant and to measure it's effectiveness. Coolant that isn't good to sub-zero temperatures will expand and blow up radiators and hoses and coolant that is low will cause degradation in the sealed system.
Coolant leaks should always be addressed as soon they appear as not doing so can cause a car to overheat and an engine to fail.
A diagnostic check is an examination of a particular system in a car based, most often, on a light that has illuminated on the dash. There are any number of dash lights that can come on (engine, transmission, tractions, 4-wheel drive, air bag, low or malfunctioning tire, etc.) that require attention. In each scenario, a light has also registered a "trouble-code" in the car's computer. Fun fact, most modern appliances do the same thing.
Diagnostic pricing can vary from car to car. For example, European cars and diesel cars are usually more expensive, because the time that it takes to diagnose and the cost to pay a technician who is certified in repairing these cars can be very high. As less and less of these skilled technicians enter the workforce, the value of their employment skyrockets.
Our shops invest in a multitude of tools for working with each car system. There are tools for testing fuel pressures, resetting tires, reprogramming computers and more. Each piece of equipment is cost-prohibitive for customer to purchase themselves and so diagnostic fees must apply to pay for the equipment and personnel who do the work. But a shop worth its salt makes the investment and, like ours, can fix your car no matter what issue arises with it.
There are a lot of "filters" on cars but the two most common ones are the engine air filter and the cabin air filter. In Colorado, these filters get changed every 10,000-15,000 miles. We live in a dusty environment and that translates to filters that are plugged up regularly.
The engine air filter is most critical in protecting your engine from outside debris, and is also one of the cheapest, easiest and best ways to improve fuel mileage. It is the lawyer of the car, which means that it is one of the most disreputable things to get "sold" on when visiting a shop, but yet one of the most necessary. It is absolutely critical that it get replaced when it is due. The $15-$30 cost of replacement will save you that much in gas within months.
The cabin air filter is erroneously associated with the engine air filter, when, truth be told, they are only related by the timeframe in which they should be replaced. Cabin air filters are meant to keep the air that comes into and circulates in the cabin of the car from causing raspatory problems. It filters out dust, pollen, leaves, pet hair and more. This one takes a little more time to get to than the engine compatriot which means there is a cost for the labor of replacing it.
The good news about fluids on cars is that with each new modification to a vehicle, another fluid disappears. Many cars no longer have power steering fluid, and electric vehicles no longer use oil. But most cars still have a number of hydraulic systems that need servicing.
All internal combustion engine vehicles need oil replaced regularly in both the engine and transmission and all-wheel, 4-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicle have differentials and transfer cases that also need fluid check and changed regularly. Cooling systems are vital to all cars and the coolant needs to be changed every 3-5 years and all cars, even electric, have brake fluid that should be changed about every 30,000 miles. Cars with hydraulic power steering should get a flush every few years or 45,000 miles and there are other parts on cars like shocks, struts, some motor mounts, air conditioning systems and more that have individual parts that can leak fluid when failed. Inspecting all of these things regularly will prevent breakdowns and damage to related components.
On classic vehicles and European makes and models of cars in particular there is a love of hoses that is unparalleled. For functionality this could make sense, but in terms of failure rate, it doesn't. Any hose that is channeling air, fuel, oil, coolant or anything else will eventually harden and break. There is not a fantastic way to keep this from happening and newer cars such as the Ford Mach-E electric are still equipped with numerous hoses which will eventually break down. Hoses should be inspected systematically at each visit to a shop for maintenance. A broken hose is a recipe for disaster no matter what it is for. When a hose is no longer pliable it is likely to snap either during normal operation or during a repair to another, unrelated or related, part of the car. It is not unheard of for a customer to decline hose replacement when it is recommended by a shop, and this is a costly roll of the dice. Losing the precious contents of hoses is a sure way to get stranded at the worst possible time.
In Colorado in particular, the sheer amount of potholes pocking our streets and byways is astronomically high. Potholes wreak havoc on a car's suspension system and, when they fail, are potentially lethal. A suspension system should be checked regularly for play and if all is tight, an alignment check should be performed.
Neglecting an alignment is also a good way to lose control of a car as well as to prematurely wear out tires. Alignments are typically very affordable and a good insurance package for a set of $1000+ tires. Alignment adjustments should be done at least once a year given the condition of our roads and are always recommended when new tires are put on and certainly if there is any abnormal wear on tires in general. Inspecting the suspension system at each regular visit to a shop will protect your tires and your pocketbook.