The Dirty (Almost) Dozen: 10 Common Maintenance Mistakes


Today’s advanced vehicles practically drive themselves (actually that’s no joke, as driverless demonstration cars were recently displayed for the press). And they quite nearly maintain themselves, what with on-board computers diagnosing problems and reminding drivers regarding regular maintenance.

What today’s cars can’t do is: (A) Pick up a phone and call your mechanic to set an appointment; and (B) Shuffle out to the curb at 6 a.m. on a 27-degree morning to check tire pressure. In other words…your job.

Without further adieu, here are the 10 most common car maintenance mistakes:

  1. Tire Inflation and Rotation.

    Any tire expert will tell you that underinflated tires cause poor gas mileage. They’ll also tell you that both under- and overinflated tires wear more quickly and handle poorly. While each of these negative effects may not be readily apparent to the average driver gliding down the street, well, you read it here first: Do yourself a favor and check tire pressure once every 2-3 months, and ideally every month. And after checking your inflation regularly, reward yourself by keeping up with regular tire rotations as well. Front and rear tires wear differently, and regular rotation will extend the life of your tires. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended rotation interval.

  2. Out with the Old, Wipe with the New.

    Here’s an easy one. Change your wiper blades every 6-12 months. You’ll know when it’s time (let the windshield streaks guide you!), but a great time to change is early fall – after the wipers have experienced the baking heat of summer and before the’ve had a taste of those harsh winter conditions.

  3. The Obsolete “Tune-Up”.

    Don’t spend money on tune-ups, which today are for the most part antiquated. Ignition timing is now controlled by the on-board computer; valves no longer need adjusting; and cars today have no carburetors to check. While your vehicle does still have spark plugs, they are often made to last as many as 100,000 miles. Our advice: Skip to Number 4 below!

  4. Octane Envy.

    More is definitely not better when it comes to fuel choice. Your engine was built for a certain gas rating, and you are best served by sticking with that grade of fuel. Filling a tank with 91 when the engine was constructed for 87 has one and only one effect: Increased profits for oil companies.

    Note: Some premium (91) rated engines can also burn regular 87 octane fuel, due to the presence of knock sensors. If your engine falls into this category, use regular gas for surface street puttering, but premium fuel if your typically driving day includes full-throttle operation.

  5. Oil Changes – One Size (well, Schedule) Does NOT Fit All.

    Gone are the days when nearly every vehicle on the road was best served by 3,000-mile oil changes. The combination of advanced engines and more effective lubricants means some cars require oil changes only every 5,000 (or even as high as 15,000!) miles. True, some cars still call for oil changes every 3,000 miles, but check your owner’s manual, or with your mechanic, for the right schedule on your vehicle.

  6. The Deceptive “Hardly Driven” Tire.

    To put it simply, the accumulation of 50,000 miles in 4 years is much different than 50,000 in 8 years, when it comes to your tires. Older tires lose integrity after years of exposure to heat, sunlight and ozone. If you’re a low mileage driver, take 7 years as a good benchmark of when it’s time to change your tires, regardless of appearance. Keep in mind that operation in harsh conditions (excesses of the above factors) are going to shorten that recommended interval. When in doubt, check with your mechanic.

  7. Can a Humble Engine Get Some (Clean) Air?

    When it comes to air filters, not unlike many components of your vehicle, driving conditions will dictate your maintenance schedule. Heavy driving on grimy city streets or dirt-filled country roads can mean you need to change filters up to twice as often as the suggested maintenance schedule. Majority driving on cleaner, perhaps small town streets is more in line with the recommended filter change interval.

  8. Get to Know Your Brakes.

    When it comes to brakes, let those guys talk to you. Well, hopefully not, but when they do start making noise – or develop a different feel or response – bring your vehicle in for an evaluation, regardless of where the mileage is on your maintenance schedule.

  9. Those Renegade Gas Caps!

    Perhaps the worse kept secret in car maintenance land is the fact that a loosely applied gas cap can cause the Check Engine Light to illuminate, with resulting unnecessary concern. If you check the cap and it is loose, after you tighten it the warning light should go off within 20-50 starts with many car types, although for some, such as Audis and VWs, the light will remain on until a mechanic has scanned the computer and reset the system.

  10.  “

    You Mean the Garage is for Parking?”

    In a nutshell, yes! While many homeowners use their garage to store, well, let’s not go there – what they often DON’T store there is their cars! Give your vehicle a break and protect it from, well, careless drivers for one; and potential harsh weather conditions as well.