Car Maintenance Checklist: The 5 Other Essentials

Most car nuts consider themselves good stewards, but even the most common checks get overlooked in between regular maintenance intervals. If you're already on top of oil changes, tire rotations, and other basic upkeep, make sure to check these five things that often get overlooked: 

Keep time. The timing belt is probably the single most overlooked maintenance item in newer cars. There are no sure telltale signs that the timing belt is worn until it breaks. If the timing belt breaks on higher-compression, “interference” engines, pistons could collide with valves that are still down (open), wreaking havoc on your engine and perhaps ruining it completely.

Timing belts need to be replaced at intervals ranging from 30,000 to 105,000 miles, depending on the model. Not all cars have timing belts, and V-configuration and horizontally opposed engines have multiple timing belts, so check with your mechanic or your car’s service manual for the specifics. For information on when your vehicle needs timing belt replacement, check your owner's manual. 

Watch your temperature. Today’s tightly controlled, low-emissions engines are more sensitive than ever to changes in operating temperature. Have your car’s thermostat checked, and make sure that it still opens and closes at the right temperature. If you have any doubts, the thermostat is another relatively inexpensive item to replace.  

Keep it clean. The fuel filter does exactly what its name says — it cleans out impurities from the fuel before it gets into the fuel-injection system and engine. Fuel-filter replacement is usually easy and inexpensive, and a clogged, neglected fuel filter can lead to expensive repairs such as premature fuel-pump failure or clogged fuel injectors. 

Give yourself a brake. As brake fluid gets slight levels of air contamination in the system from the hoses and brake hardware, the air brings with it small amounts of water, and the brake fluid ages and loses its original physical properties. Most importantly, it doesn’t disperse heat as well, to the point that in extreme conditions it might boil. To ensure full braking performance, replace the brake fluid and bleed the lines at least once every two years.  

Get geared up. Replacing your car’s automatic transmission fluid is relatively inexpensive, and it can save costly transmission repairs in the long run. As transmission fluid is subjected to extreme heat and stress, it loses some of its original qualities and becomes contaminated with small metal fragments as the gears wear. Although some new transmissions are “sealed for life,” most automatic transmissions should get fluid changes every 30,000 miles or so, or as recommended by your car’s maintenance schedule or mechanic.
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