By: Shepard

One of the most neglected pieces of equipment known to mankind is his vehicle. Be it the family car, mini-van, truck and, heaven forbid the BOV. To this day it still amazes me how much people cut corners when it comes to their vehicles. These are high dollar investments that should not be taken for granted, you wouldn't purchase a rifle that costs in excess of a thousand dollars and put a $29 scope on it would you? Then why do most of us go for the cheap products when it comes to our vehicle life? After all you will depend on this vehicle, and for it to fail at a critical moment in time may cost you more than you ever saved on buying those economical items and accessories. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you go out and purchase all top of the line products, take it from me, I'm in this business and I do know for a fact you get what you pay for.

A good rule of thumb would be to setup a routine vehicle maintenance schedule. Most people do this by the amount of miles they put on the vehicle in a given time frame. I personally change the oil and filter in my vehicle at 3000-mile intervals as well as do some other component inspections. How you setup you schedule will depend on you; there are many quick-change oil places out there that can be of help if you are not the mechanical type. Let's start with individual items that commonly need attention.

The Engine
Always make sure your oil and filter are serviced regularly (about 3000 miles) and please do not skimp on the price. I know that stuff on the lower shelf that costs $.79 is a lot more attractive on the wallet than the stuff that costs $1.50 or more per quart, but the real deal is the quality in the oil and the life of your engine. I'm not much on names but when it comes to oil, buy a name brand and make sure you use the proper type specified in your owner's manual.

The Cooling System
Never run straight water unless it is an emergency. Water alone will cause rust to form and clog up your heater core and radiator. Periodically check you coolant level and its strength or temperature value; antifreeze does get weak and needs replaced as well. Check your hoses and belts for cracks and leaks at every oil change, check the coolant recovery tank for proper coolant level. On modern vehicles with electric fans make sure the fan is operational, and on conventional systems check the fan clutch to ensure there will be no overheating problems while in traffic. One word of caution: on most modern four cylinder engines with aluminum heads you never want to run it to the point it overheats. This will crack the head and cost much to repair. If you find it is overheating shut it off; if you cannot try to do so ASAP.

The Fuel/Air Intake System
Fuel filters need to be changed every 10,000 miles (every third oil change) at least, especially on new fuel injected vehicles. You will notice a difference when your filter is clogged up on the engine's performance. Changing this also lessens the strain on the fuel pump that can be a costly repair. Change the air filter about every 5,000 to 10,000 miles depending on your particular area.

The Transmission
This is the most neglected item on the vehicle. Most automatic transmissions need to have the fluid and filter changed every 20,000 miles or so. I have had people tell me they didn't know they needed to service it! A good service station that can adjust your bands is a good idea as well during these service times. As for manual transmissions, adjust clutch, if hydraulic check the clutch master cylinder for proper fluid level and always check the oil level in the trans case.

The Brakes
Never cut corners here. Always have rotors/drums machined when changing the linings. If you don't it may cause erratic pulse in the pedal and possible handling problems while braking. Check to see how thin the brake lining are; good rule here is if the metal backing of the lining is less that a quarter of an inch from the rotor, its time for new linings. Make sure you check all brake lines and hoses as well for leaks, cracks or any binding. Oh yeah, check the master cylinder for fluid level.

Again, a neglected area - just because you see lots of tread doesn't mean you have good tires. Tires often get hard and out of round as they get more miles and age on them. A vehicle that has a rough ride or vibrates at certain speeds is probably telling you they need attention. Many people can't believe how much better the vehicle handles and rides after they purchase a new set. This can be very expensive; choose wisely and choose the proper tire for the job. All those big 4x4 trucks with the big mud tires running around looking like a Big Foot wannabe are just that - not very functional but look neat. I'll pass; give me functionality over Hollywood. Check for uneven tire wear and tire air pressure regularly; if wear is uneven you might want to get it aligned. This will help those new tires last long and keep the handling correct.

This is just a brief quick checklist. If you can acquire a repair manual for your particular vehicle I would recommend it. Most of what is covered in this article is common knowledge. It's your vehicle, you decide how you want it to function.