Oil & Filter… It's a Start

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by Eric Peters EricPetersAutos.com

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Imagine if all you did for exercise was bicep curls with your right arm. Or tried to lose weight by eating one moderate-sized/lower calorie meal a week. It might do some good — kind of like only changing your vehicle’s engine oil/filter regularly. But by neglecting the rest of it, you’re not doing as much as you could. Or should. Yet it’s exactly what a lot of people do — probably, because many of them don’t know much about — or think much about — other (and just as important) routine maintenance items. For instance:

PCV valve

This is a simple one-way valve that permits engine suction (vacuum) to scavenge combustion byproduct gasses from the crankcase (hence Positive Crankcase Ventilation) that would otherwise contaminate the oil rapidly or build up pressure inside the engine — and feeds these gasses back into the engine to be consumed harmlessly. But the valve does not last forever — and if it sticks or gets stuck, the PCV circuit no longer works as it should. Gasses can now build up — and in a modern, “closed system” emissions controlled engine, this can lead to problems that will cost you a lot more than the typical $10 or so a replacement PCV valve costs. Check your owner’s manual for the factory recommendations as far as mileage/time intervals for replacement — and heed them. You might even try to replace the valve yourself as the job is often very DIY-doable, even for people who are not mechanically inclined. The PCV valve is commonly located on top of the engine, near (or built into) the cam/valve cover. It’s typically a press-fit part, secured by a clamp. Removal/replacement usually involves loosening the clamp(s) and twisting/pulling out the old valve and popping in the new one. But whether you do it or have someone else do it — just make sure it gets done!

Power steering fluid

Talk about a wallflower — when it comes to people noticing (much less thinking about) this important service item. Well, it’s important if you’d prefer to spend maybe $10 on fresh power steering fluid once every four or five years vs. $200 (or more — probably a lot more) on a new power steering pump. Automotive fluids do not last forever (nothing does). They get heated — and cooled — and these cycles eventually result (along with the build of contamination of the fluid with small particles, moisture, etc.) in fluid that ought to be replaced. If you don’t wait until the fluid is badly contaminated — which you can usually tell just by looking at it (if it’s turned black when it was originally clear or red, it’s gone bad) — you can DIY this job, too. Use a clean turkey baster — or syringe — to draw the old fluid out of the reservoir and top off (there will be a “full” line) with fresh fluid of the appropriate type. Check your owner’s manual or read the warning on the filler cap. Some cars use different fluids. Dexron automatic transmission fluid is one common type — but check before you add.

Fuel filter

This one used to be one that most people (well, many people) knew to keep track of because the filter was obvious — it was right there under the hood, usually spliced into the fuel line that led to the carburetor. But carburetors have been history since the late 1980s. All cars built since then are fuel injected. And the fuel filter is typically located out of sight — and so, out of mind. It is either (typically) underneath the car, or in/near the gas tank. Very easy to overlook. Yet changeout intervals have not changed. Gas is still gas (well, if you don’t count the 10 percent ethanol) and particles and other contaminants still get pumped into your gas tank from gas pumps — as well as accrue there from internal sources. But there’s a twist: With a modern fuel-injected car, the computer will sometimes shut the system down if pressure drops below a certain pre-set value, which can happen if the filter gets clogged up. That means you’re stuck — and because the filter is often not easily accessible it is not easily fixable by the side of the road, as in the good ol’ days. And — because so many people have dropped the fuel filter from their To-Do lists, it’s easy to forget about it — until the car reminds you. As a general rule, fuel filters last about two years and 15,000 miles. Check the “service and maintenance” chapter of your vehicle’s owner’s manual to know the score for your particular car. Then, don’t forget to do it — or have it done!

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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