Safely Maintaining Your Vehicle

Defensive driving habits are important, but they can only keep you safe if your vehicle itself is in good working condition for safe operation. Hazards like overheated engines, worn down or low tires, even old windshield wipers can make your vehicle dangerous to drive. Even if you can't follow every maintenance recommendation, stay on top of these basic car maintenance tasks for safety so that your car will always be okay to drive.

  • Change your oil: Your car needs oil to lubricate the engine's moving parts. Without adequate or clean oil, there will be too much friction and heat, potentially leading to an overheated engine. In extreme cases, this can even cause a fire. Most manufacturers recommend oil changes every three months or 3,000 miles. Of course, you can go a bit longer than this and still drive safely, but it's best not to push your vehicle too far. Oil changes are easy to do on your own, or they run about $20 at most oil change service centers.
  • Tire pressure and wear: Your tires are what keep your vehicle safely on the road. With under inflated, over inflated, or worn tires, you can lose control of your vehicle. Use a tire pressure monitor to make sure your tires are inflated to the right level (as indicated on the inside of your driver door as you open it). And don't forget your spare tire. When inflating your other four tires, check the pressure on your spare in case you need it. You should also check the wear on your tires. Most experts recommend the penny test, placing a penny head first into your treads. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, you need to replace your worn out tires. Your tires should also be rotated and you should get an alignment to ensure proper wear and avoid pulling your vehicle to one side or the other.
  • Brake pads: It's essential for your car to go when you press the gas pedal, but even more important is stopping when you hit the brakes. Your brake pads will wear down over time, becoming less effective at slowing down your vehicle when you step on the brake pedal. They will need to be changed when worn out to remain safe. You can check your brake pad wear indicators visually, or simply listen to your vehicle as you drive. A worn brake pad will squeak or squeal to let you know it's time for a change. If you go too long, you may even hear grinding, indicating that you must change your brake pads as soon as possible.
  • Lights: Even though some drivers may treat turn signals as optional, they're not. And the rest of your lights are essential as well. Headlights will light the way for you at night, alerting you to dangers up ahead. Brake lights can help you avoid a rear collision, alerting other drivers as you slow down or stop. Light bulbs on your vehicle will burn out occasionally, and they must be replaced. Take the opportunity to check your lights when parked in your driveway or in front of a store window. Turn on your headlights, use your blinkers, and flip on your brights to see if they are all working. Most vehicles will have a blinker flash faster than the other if the bulb is going out as well. Ask a friend or family member to view your brake lights, reverse, and rear turn signals for safety as well. Note that having properly operating lights will not just keep you safe, but will also help you avoid being pulled over, as police officers and constables will want to alert you to to lights that are out.
  • Windshield wipers: Just like lights, windshield wipers help you stay safe on the road with better visibility. They clear rain and snow so that you can see ahead of you safely, and though they may seem minor, they are essential. You should always replace windshield wipers any time they appear cracked or brittle, or when they are not performing as well as they should. Don't neglect your windshield itself, either: a cracked or chipped windshield can seriously impact visibility.
  • Battery: Nothing stops a vehicle from moving like a dead battery. Check your battery terminals to make sure they are clean, and ask technicians to check your battery's charge level when you get your oil changed.
  • Fuel economy: You should be tracking your vehicle's fuel economy regularly, if not for an understanding of your driving habits and fuel performance, at least for safety and maintenance. A drop in fuel economy can indicate that something is wrong with your vehicle, such as an engine problem or under inflated tires.
  • Fluid levels: Oil isn't the only important fluid in your vehicle for safe operation. Brake fluid, antifreeze, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid are all essential. Learn how to check your fluid levels, and keep an eye out for fluid leaks around and under your vehicle.
  • Belts and hoses: A blown belt or hose can send you straight to the side of the road if left unchecked. When changing your oil or checking fluid levels, you should take a look at hoses and belts. Do they seem brittle or cracked? It's probably time to replace them before you end up with an unfortunate surprise.
  • Follow scheduled maintenance: Many safety maintenance updates are a part of your regularly scheduled maintenance prescribed by your vehicle's manufacturer. This schedule will include inspections of your brakes, belts, and hoses, oil changes, spark plug replacements, and more, all designed to keep your vehicle running safely on the road.
  • Respond quickly to check engine lights: Don't ignore any warnings that your vehicle gives you. When the check engine or other warning light comes on, find out what codes you're dealing with and resolve the issue right away. Vehicle problems don't just go away on their own.

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