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What every car owner should know
Many car owners can expertly maneuver through rush hour traffic, but far fewer can expertly navigate their way under the hood. Automotive issues can leave many of us wondering “What’s that sound?” and “Do I really need this repair?” or even worse, ignoring a problem altogether.
Drew Torrey and Matt Saunders are the national champions of the 62nd annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Their automotive know-how helped them beat 10,000 other high school automotive technology students from across the country to earn the championship title and tens of thousands of dollars in automotive scholarships and tools. These highly qualified students offer the following advice to help car owners properly maintain their vehicles while protecting themselves, their passengers and their wallets.
Do a little light reading. Read your owner’s manual and service booklet carefully. The auto manufacturer created this information specifically for your car, and it can answer a lot of questions, including which maintenance services you can do at home and which ones require a trained service technician. Heeding this advice can save you time and money in the long run.
Pump it up (or deflate it). Make sure your car’s tires are inflated to the proper pressure (measured in pounds per square inch or PSI). Improperly inflated tires wear out more quickly and can increase the possibility of a dangerous blowout. To find the recommended inflation pressure for your tires, check the tire information decal that is likely located on the driver’s doorjamb, or in your owner’s manual. Do not, however, rely on the PSI figure molded into the sidewall of the tire. You’ll need just one small tool--an air pressure gauge--to check your tire pressure.
Pay attention. Do not ignore your “check engine” light just because you don’t know what it means. It can actually alert you to a variety of different problems, from a loose gas cap to a faulty oxygen (02) sensor. If the check engine light comes on, first tighten the gas cap to see if that solves your problem. If that doesn’t work, visit your auto technician for further diagnosis, as the problems at-hand could cause increased exhaust emissions and decrease your fuel economy by up to 40 percent (according to the U.S. Department of Energy), potentially costing you more money in the long run than a professional repair would.
Put on the brakes. If your car’s brakes squeak while you’re driving but stop making noise when you apply pressure to the brake pedal, your brakes may be in need of professional service. Your auto technician will be able to make a definitive diagnosis, but it’s possible you could need new front disc brake pads and additional brake system work.
Fill ‘er up. If your car’s automatic transmission seems to be shifting erratically you could be low on transmission fluid. You can check the level and add fluid using the procedures described in your owner’s manual. If it’s time to change the fluid, visit your local automotive shop. In either case, pay attention to this condition--ignoring a small problem with your transmission now could mean you’ll have to shell out the money for a whole new one later on.
For more information on the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition, visit www.autoskills.com.
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