Regular maintenance keeps cars in check

If your vehicle’s running fine, you might not think about getting your timing belt checked after 70,000 miles, or whatever distance the owner’s manual recommends.

That’s something Dan Drayer, owner of Performance Auto Service in Waterford, sees a lot of, often when people come in with bent valves and other damage resulting from a broken timing belt. While replacing the timing belt isn’t exactly inexpensive, it costs a lot less than addressing those larger problems, he said.

“It’s just a lot cheaper to do it now than to pay the big price later,” Drayer said.

Drayer and other auto service professionals around the area say regular maintenance is important to keep vehicles running longer and avoiding bigger repairs down the road. But their customers don’t always heed that advice.

“A lot of people will just let it slide until they have an issue,” said Dave Calhoun, service manager at Summers Buick GMC in Marietta. “I had a car towed in here once (where) the air filter was so clogged up the car wouldn’t run.”

Air filters, by the way, usually need to be changed every 15,000 to 20,000 miles, depending on the environment in which one is driving, Calhoun said. His department checks them when they do an oil-and-filter change – another piece of regular maintenance that some people tend to put off.

The general rule of thumb for oil and filter changes has long been three months or 3,000 miles. Some manufacturers are putting greater distances in the owners’ manuals, but folks like Drayer still recommend 3,000.

“I’ve seen the oil that comes out of five and 6,000-mile engines, and it isn’t pretty,” he said.

Dave Everson, auto mechanics instructor at the career center, said the mileage means more deal than the time period.

“The 3,000 is more important than the three months,” he said.

If it takes him six months to put that many miles on a vehicle, then there would probably be six months between an oil-and-filter change. But no matter how much or little a vehicle is driven, Everson said it shouldn’t go more than a year without an oil change.

“If you just drive 50 miles, once a year ought to be a-plenty,” he said.

Failing to replace the oil and filter can allow contaminants to build up in a vehicle.

“Your car doesn’t last as long. You end up having problems you wouldn’t have if you’d spent a few dollars on maintenance,” Everson said.

Rotating tires regularly also evens out the wear on them, allowing more time before replacement.

“I try to do it every other oil change myself,” Everson said. “Most of the shops that I’ve worked in, they recommend every 15,000 miles.”

Everson also recommends regular checks of air pressure in tires. Not only can it improve a vehicle’s gas mileage, it’s a safety issue.

“If it gets low enough, as you’re going around the bend, the tire will roll over on the side wall … which is not designed to be driven on, and that’ll allow the tire to blow out,” he said.

Everson said he checks his tire pressure once a month. People can do this themselves with an inexpensive tire gauge, although Everson said they aren’t always the most accurate devices. To compensate, he suggests having a service professional set the pressure and then compare the tire gauge’s reading to theirs. That way, if there is a difference, a person knows and can adjust their reading accordingly.

Marietta resident Lynn Petty, 54, said she regularly gets her tire pressure checked in the winter, since the change in temperature can cause fluctuations. She tries to stay on top of other maintenance issues as well.

“My father always told me as long as you keep up with the maintenance, your car will last longer,” Petty said.

She relies on service professionals to keep her updated on more technical issues, like replacing power steering and transmission fluid, when she has oil and filter changes and other work done.