Mechanics insist you take your car in for regular maintenance, including oil changes, tire rotations, and inspections for damage. But maintenance is time consuming, and can be costly. If you’re inspecting and tweaking your car all the time, you could end up paying hundreds of dollars a year to keep it in good condition. Is it really that important?
The Snowball Effect
Maintenance is all about keeping your vehicle in good condition—either giving it what it needs to function efficiently, so it suffers less wear and tear, or fixing small issues before they become big issues. Cars are complex machines with many intricately dependent, moving parts. When there’s an issue, even a small one, with one part of the system, it tends to get worse over time. It also starts to affect surrounding systems.
Accordingly, maintenance is the cheapest and most efficient way to keep your vehicle in operating condition. For example, motor oil is used to keep your engine properly lubricated. It’s required to be changed every few months (depending on your vehicle). If you don’t, the oil gets dirty, thick, and unable to do its job. If neglected long enough, the engine may suffer internal damage to the extent that it must be fully replaced. In other words, your $20-30 oil change is staving off a $4,000 engine replacement.
Safety and Liability
You also need to think about safety. Your car running at peak efficiency isn’t just about getting good mileage, or avoiding that rattling noise when you’re on the highway. It’s also about keeping your safe. In good condition, cars are able to start and stop reliably, and have built-in features to keep drivers and passengers protected in the event of an accident. For example, if your brake pads are heavily worn, you may not be able to stop as quickly or as reliably as you could previously. Taking even an extra few seconds to come to a complete stop could mean being far more likely to rear-end a quickly stopping driver in front of you, or rendering you unable to respond to sudden changes in your environment.
This is also a liability issue. If an accident is caused by a mechanical failure that could have been prevented, the driver who neglected the maintenance of their vehicle will be held liable for damages. In other words, if you don’t keep your car in good shape, and you end up causing an accident, you’ll be held responsible for any damages that accident causes.
Basic Strategies for Better Car Maintenance
If you’re interested in keeping your car in better condition, there are a few important steps you can take:
- Get an inspection at least twice a year. If you understand the moving parts of your vehicle, you can inspect it yourself. Otherwise, take it to a professional to get it inspected top-to-bottom. This is a good way to find sneaky issues that don’t come with strong auditory or visual clues to their existence.
- Keep your fluids changed and topped. Fluids play a powerful role in how your vehicle operates—especially oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. Some of these fluids are self-contained and shouldn’t need to be replaced unless there’s a leak. Others need to be changed regularly. In any case, make sure they’re clean, topped off, and fully functioning.
- Keep your tires and brakes in top quality. Your tires and brakes are vital to the performance and safety of your vehicle. If there’s even a small problem in the traction of your tires or your stopping power, it could easily result in an accident. Inspect these components and upgrade or replace them as needed.
- Get to know your car, and pay attention to aberrant signs. Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, get to know your car. Understand things like the proper tire pressure, and learn how it feels while handling it in various conditions. Then, pay attention to aberrations from this standard of normalcy. If you notice any weird noises or feelings while driving it, get it checked out immediately.
- Address any issues proactively. Finally, when you do notice any issue—even if it seems small—don’t delay taking it to a mechanic. The longer you let it go untended, the worse it’s going to get.
The bottom line is yes, car maintenance is as important as people claim it to be, and for many different reasons. Keeping your car well-maintained will keep you and your passengers safer, and will keep the roads safer overall. It’s also going to prevent small issues from gradually escalating to become bigger issues, ultimately saving you money. No matter how you look at it, the time and money you’ll invest in car maintenance is well worth it.