At Sea Tac Tire and Auto Tech, we’re pretty big on the idea of preventive maintenance. Just like with your own health, it’s important to get out in front of problems before they can get away from you and end up costing a lot more money. Here are some preventive maintenance questions that we hear from time to time:
Q: What are some typical preventive maintenance items?
A: Services like oil changes, tire rotations, fluid inspections for the radiator, transmission, power steering, etc., battery maintenance, air filter and windshield wipers all fall under the heading of preventive maintenance.
Q: How often do oil changes need to be performed?
A: For years, oil companies and lube shops pushed the 3,000 mile rule. With improvements in motor oil formulations it’s now possible to easily go 5,000 – 7,500 miles between oil changes with no real buildup of contaminants. Synthetic oils, while more expensive per quart, can go much longer…as much as 12-15,000 miles is not unusual. Always check your motor oil level periodically and always refer to manufacturer’s recommendations for proper service intervals.
Q: What do I do if my Check Engine light is on?
A: Newer cars have all emissions, drivability and transmission functions governed by an engine control computer. The computer relies on a chain of sensors on various systems for readings, and when a sensor sends information that is outside of normal parameters, it will lock a trouble code in the computer, illuminating the Check Engine light. Sometimes the trouble code is something fairly insignificant, other times not. As part of routine maintenance, a technician will hook up a scanner or code reader to the computer’s diagnostic port to find any codes (on some vehicles, certain codes will not result in a lit Check Engine light).
Q: How important is the air filter?
A: Your car’s engine relies on three things to run: air, fuel and spark. Considering that the inside of an engine runs on extremely tight tolerances, even particles of pollen or dust that are barely visible to the naked eye can cause real problems in the engine. The air filter uses a paper, foam or fabric medium to trap these contaminants before they can make their way into the engine and fuel system. Once it becomes saturated, though, it will start to restrict air flow and literally smother performance. Fuel economy and power will both suffer with a dirty air filter. As a general rule, the air filter should be changed at about a 10-15,000 mile interval.
Q: How often do tires need to be rotated, and why are rotations so important?
A: The tires on a vehicle are all subjected to different stresses, due to weight distribution, cornering and braking forces. Regularly switching their positions on the car ensures longer and more even wear. It’s advisable to rotate them every 5-7,000 miles; since an oil change already has the vehicle off the ground on a lift rack, it just makes sense to perform a tire rotation at the same time as an oil change.