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Maintaining a vehicle for a long, healthy life
Monday, Sept. 24, 2012
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By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

Buying and maintaining a vehicle is a big investment. It is usually the first big investment young people make, often purchasing a vehicle before they purchase a home or pay for college.

“Autos are a very important part of life – you want it to be dependable,” said Mike Sterner of JMS Custom Service in Winsted. “I try to help customers maintain a safe vehicle.”

Along with wanting a dependable auto, finding a dependable mechanic is just as important.

A trusted mechanic is just as important in maintaining the health of a vehicle, as finding a trusted doctor is to maintaining the health of a person.

“Bring your repair work to a reputable service facility or dealer,” said Mark Hendrickson, owner of Kingston Auto in Dassel and Cokato. “Build a relationship with your mechanic. Stop in and visit. Look at the facility – does it look run down? Or does it look like they have their stuff together?”

Many mechanics recommend asking friends and family to find a trusted auto repair shop or dealer, and there are a lot of reviews on the Internet, Hendrickson noted.

However, Internet reviews are not always accurate, either, said Brad Miller of The Pit Stop in Howard Lake.

A mechanic can have a hundred satisfied customers who never write a review, and one or two unsatisfied customers who do, he added.

In a small, tight-knit community like Howard Lake, it is pretty easy to find a relative or friend who knows someone trustworthy for car repair, Miller noted.

Local shops that have been in business a long time are typically trustworthy, said Steve Jaunich of Jaunich Tire in Delano. “Word of mouth is the best,” he said.

“You see a lot (of auto shops) that are here today, gone tomorrow,” Sterner said. “You want someone who has been in business for a while.”

Another quality of a good, trustworthy mechanic is one who is able to explain what repairs are needed so the basic driver can understand, along with being able to show the customer what is wrong, Sterner noted.

For instance, when a customer is bringing a car in for typical maintenance, such as an oil change, Sterner uses the opportunity to go over the vehicle, he said.

He informs the customer what other repairs or maintenance may be necessary to save the customer from further damage and more costly repairs down the road, why the repairs are needed, and what will happen if they are not made.

“I try to use my knowledge to keep customers informed as best as I can so they are driving a safe vehicle at reasonable prices,” Sterner said, noting he often sends the customer to get other quotes on the work if they are not satisfied with the cost.

Regular maintenance for a healthy vehicle

Two of the most neglected vehicle maintenance items are checking tire pressure and changing the oil, according to Sterner and Jaunich.

“Check the air pressure at least weekly, especially in the winter,” Jaunich said, noting a tire will lose one pound of pressure per square inch for every 10 degrees below zero.

Maintaining the correct air pressure also helps with gas mileage, Jaunich added.

There is a sticker inside the driver’s door of most vehicles that states the correct tire pressure. If that is missing, or there are questions, contact a trusted tire dealer.

“Having the oil changed on a regular basis extends the life of a vehicle,” Sterner said, noting that many people wait until 5,000 or 6,000 miles. “The oil does break down and produces wear and tear on the engine.”

The recommended number of miles to go between oil changes is 3,000.

An extended maintenance item that is often overlooked is changing the transmission fluid and filters, Sterner noted.

The frequency of changing the transmission fluid and filters varies depending on the vehicle, but is generally recommended every 30,000 to 50,000, Check the owner’s manual for more information.

Other important maintenance items are proper tire alignment and balance, and good tires.

Certain vehicles have low-profile tires, which are not good in the snow. Those vehicles should have all four tires replaced with snow tires in winter, Jaunich said.

“Good tires are the most important for your safety, especially with winter coming,” Miller said.

Although some people find it difficult to part with the money needed to invest in a good set of tires, Miller noted most insurance deductibles are at least $500, about the same cost as a good set of tires.

People can either spend the money on the new tires up front; or pay the deductible and to have their car fixed after they crash, and still need a new set of tires.

Properly maintained tires should also be rotated at least every 8,000 miles, Jaunich said.

Best practices for a long-lived vehicle

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, from National Public Radio have several recommendations on maintaining a long-lived vehicle.

One of their recommendations – don’t drive. When one can get to where one wants to be by walking or biking, do that.

Short trips in a vehicle produce more wear and tear than longer trips because the engine never has the opportunity to fully heat up, leaving condensation which leads to rusting inside the engine.

If short trips cannot be avoided, the Tappet brothers recommend changing the oil every 2,000 to 3,000 miles to reduce the damage.

Another recommendation is to drive gently – accelerating and slowing gradually – rather than stomping on the gas and brakes.

In the winter, allow a two- to three-minute warm-up, and then drive slowly and easily until the engine is fully warmed up.

It may seem obvious, but don’t ignore lit warning lights on the dash board, especially if it is the engine oil light, the engine temperature light, or the brake light.

Not only can ignoring the lights prove unsafe, but it can lead to costly repairs. If a light comes on while driving, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.

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