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October is National Car Care Month

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How ready is your vehicle for winter travel?

Interstate 5 in southern Oregon is home to five mountain passes—Siskiyou, Sexton, Canyon, Stage Road and Smith Hill. The ten-mile stretch of Siskiyou Pass is the highest elevation on the I-5 corridor from California to Canada, so the timing is perfect for Rogue Valley motorists to stay on top of their vehicle maintenance and prepare for winter travel.

“Fall is the perfect time to prepare your vehicle before winter conditions arrive,” said ODOT Maintenance Manager Jerry Marmon. “Our maintenance crews are at the mercy of the winter weather and the public’s ability to drive in adverse conditions.

“If you’re prepared, you’ll stay warm and safe in your vehicle when a big snowstorm arrives.”

The most common vehicle deficiencies include weak batteries, worn or damaged wiper blades, clogged air filters, low washer fluid, dirty or low motor oil, and low anti-freeze levels.

“Our inspections show that commonly overlooked maintenance items if properly and routinely handled would ensure safer operating vehicles, using less fuel, lasting longer, and retaining their resale value,” said Becky Lonctot, Regional Manager at AAA Oregon/Idaho.

The potential impacts of these five neglects range from minor irritation in the case of dirty windshields to premature engine failure due to low or unclean oil levels.

“Breakdowns are most often preventable by simply ensuring that your vehicle is regularly maintained,” said Lonctot. “The state of health and durability of things like batteries, fluid levels, and tire conditions all come into question especially during the winter season when extremely cold temperatures can put even the most reliable devices to the test.”

Warning lights require prompt and proper action

Motorists need to be aware of the red and yellow indicators on a vehicle’s instrument panel that illuminate when a problem occurs.

“Motorists need to be aware of the critical warning lights, which include those that monitor engine oil pressure, engine coolant temperature, and vehicle charging system,” said Lonctot. “To reduce the chances of vehicle damage or a roadside breakdown, these warning lights require prompt and proper action when they illuminate.”

When the ignition key is first turned to the on position, all of the vehicle’s warning lights should illuminate. The critical warning lights typically remain on until the engine is started and running. If a warning light fails to illuminate at this time, have the related system checked out by an auto repair facility.

Once the engine is running, all the warning lights should go out within a few seconds. If any light remains illuminated, consult your owner’s manual.

Regular tire maintenance saves fuel and money

Tire maintenance—including proper inflation and regular rotation/balancing—also saves money by extending the life of the tires while reducing a car’s fuel consumption. Extending tire replacement intervals and using less gasoline also provide added benefit to the environment.

“Tires are essential to our vehicles, but they’re frequently overlooked,” said Dave Kelly, owner of Kelly’s Automotive Service. “Taking a few minutes at least once a month to check the tires could extend how long you can drive on them for thousands of miles, and it can improve a car’s gas mileage.”

Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and can cut fuel efficiency. Every pound of under-inflation can result in up to a two-percent loss in your vehicle’s fuel economy. That can add up. Say you’re driving a car that normally gets 23 miles a gallon, and each tire is under-inflated by just a pound. That means your mileage is as much as eight percent less than it should be, which means you’re only getting about 21 miles per gallon.

Inspect your tires, including the spare, at least once a month. Check the tire pressure and make sure it’s inflated to vehicle recommended maintenance levels and not the levels stamped on the sidewall of the tire.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when inflating their tires is referencing the wrong tire pressure level,” said Kelly. “Many incorrectly look to the sidewall of the tire. The correct pressure levels can be found on sticker on the driver’s side door jamb or in the owner’s manual.”

While checking each tire’s pressure levels, inspect the tire sidewalls for bulges, and check the tread for excessive or uneven wear that indicates the need for wheel alignment and/or tire replacement. For maximum life, rotate the tires at the mileage intervals specified in the owner’s manual.

“If you wait too long to inspect your tires, you may find that you have to replace a set of tires much earlier than expected, which can be an unpleasant hit to your wallet,” said Kelly.

Simple things ignored today can create big problems later

Following the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule found in the owner’s manual is the best way to keep a car running properly and avoid costly repairs.

According to Ken Scales, owner of Ken Scales Auto Repair, dirty air filters can also rob a vehicle of fuel efficiency.

“Engines have to be able to breathe,” Scales said. “A clogged air filter actually chokes the engine and can cause poor performance. Replacing the air filter can be a $20 fix that can help you get better gas mileage right away.”
Scales said other common issues are hoses and belts that have deteriorated, worn out wipers and low levels of anti-freeze and other fluids.

“Having proper levels of anti-freeze is especially important this time of year as colder weather moves in,” Scales said.

AAA Oregon/Idaho reminds drivers that proper car maintenance can not only save money but is also better for the environment. Many drivers believe their cars’ oil should be changed every 3,000 miles, however most late-model vehicles now can go 5,000 to 7,000 miles between oil changes.

“Having oil changes performed more frequently than needed is both a waste of money and an unnecessary additional burden on the environment,” said Lonctot. “Motorists should check their vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out the manufacturer recommendations for changing the oil.”

AAA offers complimentary maintenance checks

During the month of October, you can take your vehicle to any participating AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) shop for a complimentary 35-point visual inspection (a $60 value) for anyone who calls to make an appointment.
Certified technicians will inspect batteries, vehicle belts, hoses, tires, lights and fluid levels, and notify you if any problems are found. The most frequent problems found are due to improper tire pressure and low or dirty motor oil, antifreeze or other automotive fluids.

To find a participating shop near you, call 1-800-AAA-Help or online to AAA has more than 8,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities in North America. AAA Approved Auto Repair shops are inspected and certified by AAA. The shops must meet and maintain stringent quality standards for customer service, training, equipment and cleanliness.

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