Car maintenance 101

While every vehicle is different, they all have a few important things in common. Chiefly, all cars and trucks require regular maintenance to stay on the road and running reliably. This varies depending on the age of your vehicle and how much you drive, but like pretty much everything else you own, the better you take care of your vehicle, the better it’s going to take care of you. Here are the most important things to keep an eye on for gas-powered cars.

Oil

Internal combustion engines are extremely complicated machines, but aside from fuel they all require one thing to make them run: oil. Conversely, there’s no quicker way to destroy an engine than to run it with insufficient lubrication, and once an engine has seized or locked up, your car is pretty much toast. The oil you put in your car isn’t the same as the stuff on the supermarket shelf, or the stuff that gets pumped from the ground and turned into gasoline. Instead, it is a precise mixture of base oils and additives that help cool, clean and protect the engine as it runs. What kind of oil to use and how often to change it varies from vehicle to vehicle, so consult your owner’s manual to find out what yours requires. Then it’s just a matter of checking your oil once a month, and topping it up with the approved lubricant as needed.

Tires

The only thing separating you from the unforgiving pavement is four squares of rubber not much bigger than your hand. If you think about that next time you’re cruising down the highway at 100 km/h, you might have an increased respect for the incredible work your tires do. Tires, like so many things in modern automobiles, have been designed and refined over the last century to be incredibly good at their job. In return, all they need is a few easy bits of regular maintenance. First, tires need to to be kept inflated at the correct pressure. This varies, so find the correct PSI on the sticker inside the door frame or your owner’s manual. Check your tire pressure once a month when you stop for gas and top up as needed. Tires also need to be rotated about every six months or 8000-12,000km (about every other oil change). Finally, when tire treads wear down they become prone to blowouts, which can be dangerous. Every set of tires comes with its own set of recommendations, and how they wear depends on mileage, driving habits, maintenance and road conditions. It’s safe to say, however, that most tires aren’t good for much longer than five years, regardless of other factors, so once you hit that benchmark you should definitely start to think about a new set.

Scheduled maintenance

All new cars come with a schedule of maintenance to be performed after a certain number of months or kilometres, whichever comes first. If your vehicle has an extended warranty, the best part about these is that they don’t cost anything! This is one very good reason not to put them off. But even if your warranty is up, it’s still a good idea to bring your vehicle in for a look when it hits its next milestone. Regardless of whether anything needs to be fixed immediately, this will give you a sense of what to expect (and budget for) next time you head to the shop.

Rustproofing

In most of Canada, snowy weather is part of life for at least half of the year, and keeping our roads ice-free requires a lot of salt. While salt helps keep the roads safe for you and your passengers, it’s also pretty hard on cars. When salt reacts with the metal of your car’s undercarriage and body panels, it begins to oxidize or, in other words, rust. In addition to being unsightly, rust literally eats through the metal, potentially taking years off the life of a car and causing irreparable damage. Most new cars do not come with rustproofing (and it’s a common car dealership upsell) so it’s up to you whether to do it at the dealership or at a qualified specialist. The good news is that a good rustproofing job can last years, so if you get it right the first time and have it checked annually, you’ll be cruising rust free for many years to come.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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