Many automobile owners know two things about their car. You get in it, turn it on, and drive off, or, you get in it, turn the key, and it doesn't crank or is running very badly.
Here is a comprehensive checklist that every auto owner can follow to avoid having the car break down.
Keep your car's maintenance on schedule. This means everything from tuning the car up to tire pressure check. Below is a full list of things that should be done to maintain your auto.
Get your car tuned up on schedule. This ranges from one auto to another, so check your owner's manual, it will give you a schedule of when to tune the car up.
Change your car's oil and fluids on schedule. This is vital to your car's health. Make sure that you not only have the oil changed but have all of the fluids changed at the specific time the manufacturer states. Your brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant, and transmission fluid are very crucial to the efficiency of how your auto runs. Also, the coolant should be tested regularly. If it should go bad and the car overheats, you could be looking at a blown head gasket, cracked head(s), cracking the block, or burning your transmission up. Most people don't realize that the transmission is cooled by the same radiator that cools the engine. Regardless, if any of these occur you can look for at least $1000-$3000 on your auto repair bill. Better to spend the $39-$99 to have it checked or replaced, or better yet, check it yourself.
Also get your differential oil checked/changed on regular intervals. I think for most autos it is a standard rule to have it checked every ten-fifteen thousand miles and changed every 60,000 miles. This doesn't cost much and will save you a costly break down in your gear-boxes. You would look at about $400-$1500 to rebuild a rear/front end on an automobile.
Have your brakes checked/ replaced when needed. Most service shops will inspect your brakes free of charge and will let you know when they need to be replaced. If you don't replace the brakes, you are going to spend more money when you have to turn or replace the brake drums and rotors.
If the check engine light comes on, get the vehicle scanned immediately. The check engine light indicates a minor issue with a sensor on the engine or even a cylinder that isn't firing properly. The majority of my customers think that it is the oxygen sensor, however, the reality is that the oxygen sensor rarely fails. Most auto parts stores such as Advance Auto Parts or Autozone will gladly scan your automobile at no charge and can tell you what the fault is.
You should have any belt squeals addressed. You can buy a can of belt dressing from the parts store for about $4 and spray it on the belt itself. If this doesn't correct the problem, take it in and have it checked out. There is a chance that it isn't the belt squealing but rather a bearing on one of the components of the engine.
Clean your battery terminals regularly. This is the leading cause of premature battery/ alternator failure. Case in point, one of my customer's brought me a 2000 Chevrolet S-10 with a bad alternator a few years back. He told me the battery terminals were severely corroded so he cleaned them. Three days after cleaning them the alternator went out. The reason for this is, the alternator had worked hard to charge through the corrosion and had actually worn itself out. Once the corrosion was gone and it had a 'full load' from the battery again, the alternator burnt up. You can purchase a can of terminal cleaner and a wire brush at the auto store, or you can make a mixture of tap water and baking soda and rub on the terminals and scrape off with a wire brush.
The best advice that I can give is to be proactive instead of reactive. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.