Long Lake Automotive Ltd.
Proudly Serving Nanaimo and the Central Island 

Maintenance is the key to controlling the costs of driving

How does preventive maintenance protect my automotive investment?

For the past five years or so, Jim and his cousin, Sherri, both have owned the same car model and have driven about the same number of miles. Their driving habits are similar, so it would stand to reason that the repair histories for both vehicles should be about the same, right? Wrong. While Sherri has never had a major problem with her car, Jim has had numerous malfunctions, breakdowns and unexpected repair bills.

Could Jim's car simply be a "lemon"? Maybe, but Jim’s luck probably has more to do with the difference in the way Sherri and Jim care for their vehicles.

Sherri faithfully follows the suggested maintenance schedule for her car, while Jim has a tendency to forget about, procrastinate, or otherwise neglect his maintenance recommendations. Jim has an “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude.

Sherri knows that practicing good preventive maintenance is the best way to avoid major mechanical breakdowns and to protect the substantial investment she made when she purchased a quality vehicle. Her goal is to drive a safe, dependable vehicle that will maintain its full market value.

In the meantime, Jim seems unaware that driving a neglected vehicle can pollute the atmosphere, waste fuel, increase ownership costs and pose a safety hazard to himself and other motorists. It is also difficult to budget for car repairs when you don't know when they might occur or what is likely to go wrong. Jim still does not realize that if small problems are not found and corrected, they turn into major problems that can get expensive and shorten the life of the vehicle.

Preventive maintenance is recommended to prevent major problems by ensuring the vehicle's various systems are properly inspected and serviced at regular intervals. Unfortunately, some motorists are under the impression that "preventive" means "optional" or "not really necessary." They put off these procedures, and then they can't figure out why their vehicles are not delivering the reliability, fuel economy and trouble-free performance they expected.

Let’s take an example: tire maintenance. Sherri checks her tire pressure every few weeks. She makes sure her wheels are properly aligned and balanced, and she gets her tires rotated every 10,000 kms. As a result, she can expect them to last up to 20% longer than the neglected tires that are wearing unevenly on Jim's car.

As far as her pocketbook is concerned, that's the equivalent of getting a 20% discount on a set of four tires. As a bonus, she gets better gas mileage, performance and handling to boot!

Here's another example: Many motorists assume their car's thermostat is working fine as long as the engine doesn't overheat. But a thermostat’s primary function is to help keep the engine at its most efficient operating temperature--neither too hot nor too cold. Any deviation from that temperature can produce a drop in efficiency, fuel economy and performance. The problem is that a thermostat, like most other parts on your car, does not last forever. After a few years, it begins to lose its ability to regulate operating temperature. This can result in increased engine wear that will shorten the life of the vehicle. So for Jim, a simple component like a thermostat can become an invisible drain on his wallet if it's not replaced at the appropriate interval.

What about severe service?

When you review your car's maintenance schedule, you must determine if it falls under the use category known as "severe service."

Many people assume this category pertains only to taxicabs, police cars and tow vehicles. They're often surprised to learn that under most manufacturers’ definitions, about 70% of all vehicles may fall into this group! The determining criteria often include common situations such as short-trip driving, stop-and-go driving, driving in extremely hot or cold temperatures, excessive idling and driving in dry or dusty conditions. If your vehicle meets any of these criteria, you may need to follow your manufacturer’s schedule for severe service.

A recent report stated that over 80 percent of the vehicles on the road have one or more service or repair that’s needed, but hasn’t been taken care of. Now that’s a lot of undone service. That translates into something over 160 million vehicles in the US alone. Some of the neglected items are minor. Others are serious safety concerns.

There are several reasons why we hesitate to take care of recommended services – especially services that our automotive advisor recommends when we’re in for something else, like an oil change.

The first issue boils down to comfort with car care. We don’t always feel we know enough to make good decisions. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that vehicles are so reliable these days. They almost become an appliance. Of course you love your car, but if you don’t have to worry about it breaking down all the time, you’re not forced to think as much about preventive maintenance.

AutoNetTV Auto Training VideosPerhaps your dad knew a lot about cars and always made sure they were taken care of. He was very comfortable dealing with his service advisor. People who don’t know as much about cars hesitate to ask questions because they don’t want to look ignorant.

It’s human nature. But, there’s so much to know in this world, we can’t all be experts in everything. So we specialize. It’s very important to ask questions of any specialist, whether it’s your doctor, financial advisor or your automotive technician.

Your auto technician wants your questions. He wants you to understand the recommendation and why it needs to be done.

That brings us to the next issue. People say that they don’t always know if they really need the service or if they are just being sold something.

At the heart, it speaks to trust. Do you trust your service center and your service advisor? Trust has to be earned and that takes time and experience. But you can shortcut the process when you realize that most of the recommendations are based in manufacturer’s maintenance schedules.

In other words, “you don’t have to trust me, you can trust your owner’s manual”.

Your service center has computer databases that contain the manufacturer’s recommendations for most all vehicles, so they don’t need to rummage through your glove box to look for your owner’s manual to know what to do.

Basically, the engineers who designed the car say here’s when you need to have it serviced. That’s who makes the recommendation, not the technician. He’s just reminding you.

Now you do need to trust your technician’s experience and judgment from time to time. When he inspects your vehicle, he may find problems or concerns. He will explain things so that you can prioritize the concern and make a good decision about whether or not to have something done.

That brings us to the third issue: Money. Often the concern is about spending the money to take care of a recommended service. Our money has many places it needs to go. And we have another list of places we want it to go. Auto maintenance isn’t usually on those lists.

Look, everyone who works at the service center has a family budget too. They can relate. Maybe a little look behind the scenes would be helpful.

Service centers invest heavily in training, diagnostic equipment and tools so that they can make repairs and perform services as efficiently as possible. And like any other business, they have labor costs, insurance, rent, utilities, shop and office supplies, taxes and so on.

They work hard to make sure that they diagnose the problem correctly and fix it right the first time. That’s the only way they can maintain our reputation and remain in business. If they’re not satisfying our customers and providing a good value, they won’t come back and the service center won’t be around for long.

When there is a real budget concern, your service center can help you prioritize the work that needs to be done and come up with a plan for taking care of it that works within your budget.

Let’s say you have a serious problem with your brakes. That’s a safety concern so a technician can’t ethically say, well, let’s put that off for a couple of months. What they can do is take care of the brakes now and address the cabin air filter or transmission service next month.


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Budgeting For Reliable Transportation

Life’s full of surprises, some of which cost money. A leaky roof, a broken tooth, or an unexpected car repair. AutoNetTV has done some research on how we can budget for proper vehicle care.

We all do our best to budget for scheduled vehicle maintenance. What’s hard is unexpected repairs. The truth is that our vehicles can stay on the road longer than ever before with proper maintenance. That’s because of improved vehicle design and manufacturing quality. But some of those same improvements also lead to higher repairs costs.

Let’s take the fuel pump. Previous generations were often stranded by the side of the road by vapor lock. This occurred when the gas vaporized between the gas tank and the fuel pump. Fuel just stopped flowing.

You had to sit and wait until the car would start again. To alleviate the problem, fuel pumps are now located inside the gas tank. This is a great solution, but when the fuel pump fails, it’s a much more expensive proposition to replace it.

Sealed wheel bearing assemblies are another example. These wheel bearings can’t be serviced – you just have to replace the entire assembly when it starts to fail. That costs several times as much as service on non-sealed bearings.

So we all benefit from design improvements, but we need to plan for repairs down the road.

There’s a tool that can be found on Edmunds.com that you can use to prepare your service and repair budget.

Let’s suppose you have a 2003 Toyota Camry – a very popular car. It’s now paid for and you’d like to keep it running for the next three years. You can go to Edmunds’ True Cost to Own calculator and enter your vehicle’s data. The calculator will provide estimates of what it’ll cost to service and repair your vehicle over the next five years. The estimate’s based on where you live, manufacturers’ recommendations and repair experience for your particular model.

Of course these are just estimates – there’s no way to predict what’ll actually happen to the car in your driveway, but it’s a good starting point.

The calculator also has estimates for depreciation, financing, insurance, taxes and fuel costs.

Let’s focus on maintenance and repair. This table shows that the average monthly cost of maintenance and repairs is eighty-three dollars. That may sound like a lot, but compare it to a new car payment.

Budgeting for Maintenance

So if you set aside eighty-three dollars a month, you’d go a long ways towards taking care of routine maintenance and being prepared for the unexpected repairs that arise.

Of course, you can’t predict when something will go wrong or what it’ll cost, but at least you have a reasonable target to shoot for.

Some people are afraid of what can go wrong with their older car so they buy a new one. That’s fine if you really want a new car, but if you properly maintain your older vehicle, you’ll save a lot of money on new car payments and insurance. It just makes good economic sense.

Get with your service advisor and work out a plan for keeping your vehicle on the road.


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Transmission Maintenance

Let’s talk about transmission service.  It can be easy to forget about getting your transmission serviced because it doesn’t need it very often.  It’s easy to remember to change the engine oil – you know, every 3,000 miles or 5,000 kilometers. But proper transmission servicing keeps your car running smoothly and helps you avoid costly repairs down the road.

The transmission undergoes a lot of stress.  The grit you see in used transmission fluid is actually bits of metal that wear off the gears in the transmission.  In addition to that, the transmission operates at very high temperatures.  Usually it’s 100 to 150 degrees higher than engine temperatures.  Those high temperatures eventually cause the transmission fluid to start to break down and loose efficiency.

As the fluid gets older, it gets gritty and doesn’t lubricate and cool the transmission as well – leading to even more wear.  The fluid can actually get sludgy and plug up the maze of fluid passages inside the transmission. At best, your transmission won’t operate smoothly.  At worse, it could lead to costly damage.

When your transmission is running properly, it transfers more power from your engine to the drive wheels, and improves fuel economy. That’s why manufacturers recommend changing your transmission fluid at regular intervals.  Your owner’s manual has a schedule for transmission service and, of course, your service center can tell you what the manufacturer recommends.

Hot and dusty conditions; towing, hauling, stop and go conditions and jack rabbit starts all increase the load on the transmission and its internal temperature. That means you need to change the fluid more often. A good rule of thumb is every 35,000 miles, 55,000 kilometers or two years.  If your manufacturer suggests more frequent intervals or if you’re driving under severe service conditions, you will need to change it more often.

Most service centers have the ability to perform a transmission service while you wait and the cost is quite reasonable. It’s downright cheap when you think about how much a major transmission repair can cost! Your service technician will know the right type of transmission fluid to use. If it’s getting to be time to have your transmission serviced, do your car a favor and have it done.  If not this time, then on your next service stop.


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Brake Service

Brakes really aren’t optional equipment.  And taking care of them isn’t optional either.

A regular brake inspection is on every car’s maintenance schedule.  An inspection will check your brake system and let you know if there are any problems. Of course, if you’re having trouble with your brakes, get your car into a service center right away.  And watch out for these problems:

  • Low or spongy brake pedal
  • Hard brake pedal
  • A brake warning light that stays on
  • Constantly squealing or grinding brakes
  • Vibrations or clunking sounds when you apply your brakes

There are two types of brakes: disk and drum.  Disk brakes have a rotor that’s attached to the axle. Calipers straddle the rotor, kind of like the brakes on a bicycle.  Drum brakes are more common on back wheels.  Pads, called shoes, push against the inside of the drum to slow the vehicle.

There are several things that need to be serviced on the brake system. First, the brake pads and shoes wear out with use, and become too thin to really help. If the brake pads wear away completely you can damage the rotors. The calipers can grind grooves in the rotor.  Then the rotor must either be resurfaced or replaced and that can be expensive.   But putting it off is dangerous because your vehicle won’t stop as quickly.  Sometimes rotors warp or crack and must be replaced.

Brake fluid is also important. When the brakes are applied, the pressure in the fluid actives the brake pads or shoes.  Not enough fluid, not enough pressure to brake properly.  Also, water builds up in the brake fluid over time, which leads to corrosion, leaks and brake damage, and with hard use, the brakes could severely fade or even fail.  You should change the brake fluid when your manufacturer recommends it.

There are different grades of brake pads.  There are regular, metallic and ceramic – higher grades cost more, but give better braking performance and smoother operation. It’s OK to upgrade your brake pads.  But, never use a grade that’s lower than what the manufacturer recommends.

Be sure to properly maintain your brakes because it’s a lot cheaper than paying the body shop after an accident.

When winter approaches, we break out the sweaters, coats, boots and mittens.  We want to be ready for winter conditions.  Your vehicle needs to be ready for winter as well.  The last thing you want is to get stranded out in the cold.  You need your vehicle to be safe and reliable.  It’s a good idea to get caught up on any neglected maintenance items anytime – but the stakes are higher in the winter.

There are some specific things that we need to do to have our vehicle ready for winter. The most obvious is having the antifreeze checked.  If the antifreeze level is too low, it can’t properly protect your engine, radiator and hoses from freezing.  If your car does not seem to be making enough heat to keep you warm, your antifreeze level may be low or you could have a thermostat problem.  Get it checked out.  If you are due for a cooling system service, now is a perfect time to have it done.

In the cold months we always worry about being able to stop in time when it’s slick out.  The first thing to remember is to slow down and allow yourself plenty of room to stop.  Of course, you want your brakes to be working properly.  A thorough brake inspection will reveal if the pads or any other parts need replacing.  Check with your service consultant to see if it is time to replace your brake fluid.  It accumulates water over time which really messes with your stopping power.

It is a really good idea to have your battery tested.  A battery’s cranking power really drops with the temperature.  If your battery is weak in the fall, it may not be up to winter.  There is nothing like a dead battery in a snow storm.

Which leads us to an emergency kit.  You should always have a blanket or something to keep you and your passengers warm if you get stranded.  If you will be venturing away from civilization, pack more items such as food and water to help you survive.  Keeping at least half a tank of gas is a good precaution if you get stuck and need to run the car to keep warm and it will help keep your gas lines from freezing up.

Winter always makes us think of our windshield wiper blades – usually during that first storm when they aren’t working right. That’s why it’s a really good idea to replace your blades in the fall before the winter storms.  If you live where there’s a lot of snow and ice, you might want a special winter blade that resists freezing up.  And be sure to have enough windshield washer fluid.

The final thing to consider is your tires.  Any tire can lose pressure over time – up to one pound every six or eight weeks.  For every 10 degrees the temperature drops you lose another pound of pressure.  So if it was 80 degrees outside when you checked your tire pressure two months ago and now it’s 40 degrees out, you could be down 5 pounds of pressure. That’s enough to be a real safety issue and it wastes gas too.  You may need special winter tires as well.  Your tire professional can help you find the right tire design for your expected road conditions.

If you’re getting winter tires, it is always best to put them on all four wheels.  If you are only getting two, have them put on the rear – even if you have a front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle.
This is a very important safety measure recommended by tire manufacturers.  Sliding or fish-tailing on ice and snow is a matter of not having enough traction at the rear end.  That is why your newest tires should always be on the rear.


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