Neglected Maintenance

If you grew up in the pre-Interwebs, pre-computer world, you’ll remember how often cars needed This or That. Which is probably why people were more aware of car maintenance in those days. You really didn’t have much choice. Today, it’s easy to neglect maintenance stuff because there’s less to do – and less often. Spark plugs that last 100,000 miles. Oil changes every 10,000 miles. As opposed to spark plugs that lasted 12 months – and oil changes every 3,000 miles.

But cars are still machines and machines still need maintenance. Just not as often – and for different things. Here are some of them:

* Spark plug wires – 

Spark plugs may be good to go for 100,000 miles (chiefly because modern engines – assuming no mechanical issues – operate at near-ideal air-fuel ratios and so the plugs almost never get fouled before 100,000 miles) but the wires that transfer electric current to them often require replacing – or at least, checking – much sooner. This is because unlike plugs – which are made of sturdy alloys and ceramics – wires are made of materials like rubber (external casing) and graphite (conductive material inside) that are more susceptible to physical damage and degradation over time. Conductivity decreases – and (eventually) your plugs aren’t firing properly, which means your engine isn’t running as well as it could be. Plug wires should be checked for degradation every 30,000-40,000 or so and most will need to be replaced by 50,0000 miles (or after five years from new). If you car has a distributor cap and rotor underneath the cap, these should be checked – and probably, replaced – at about the same time.

PS: It’s still a good idea to remove and check the plugs before 100,000 miles roll by. Not so much to replace them (probably not necessary) but to make sure you’ll still be able to easily remove them after 100,000 miles roll by. Few things are more miserable than fused-in-the-head threads (or plugs that snap off in half as you try to remove them). By removing and reinstalling (with fresh anti-seize, if the plugs were not factory coated with a compound) at 50k or so, you’ll make that less likely to happen at 100k.

* Power steering fluid –

Many people forget to even check the fluid level – let alone replace the fluid when specified. Until the day when a death groan or squeal begins to emanate from under the hood whenever the driver tries to turn the steering wheel left or right. And by then, of course, it’s probably too late. And replacing a dead power steering pump is neither cheap nor easy. On the upside, replacing the fluid is. You hardly need any tools. A clean (ideally, new) turkey baster will do. Plus a quart or so of fresh fluid (be sure to get the right type; sometimes it’s brake fluid or automatic transmission fluid – check your owner’s manual to be sure before you pour). Run the car until it’s warm. Then, with the engine off, remove the fill cap for the power steering reservoir (the cap will often have information about the type of fluid to use – e.g., “use only Dexron III or equivalent”). Use the baster to suck out as much of the old fluid as you can. Then fill to the “full hot” line. Put the cap back on, start the engine and let it run for five minutes or so – then repeat until the fluid in the reservoir looks like the fresh fluid you just poured in. It may take 2-3 rounds with the turkey baster to get all the old fluid out. But it’s easy, inexpensive – and doing this every three years ago could save you having to buy an expensive new power steering pump… and having to pay someone to install it for you.

PS: You can do the same basic job – using similar tools – to avoid expensive brake system (and clutch) work. Use the turkey baster (or, if the access is tight/the reservoir opening too small, a syringe obtained from a drug store or doctor/nurse/vet) to suck out the old fluid in your car’s brake master cylinder and clutch master cylinder. This is much easier than bleeding these systems and requires no tools – other than the baster/syringe. Just be careful not to suck out allthe fluid – you want to leave the little hole(s) at the bottom submerged, or else air might get into the system and then they will have to be bled. Of course, you won’t get all the fluid this way. But if you suck out/replace most of what’s in the reservoir every six months or so and continuously replace with fresh fluid, over time, you’ll get to the point where most of the fluid in the system is perpetually fresh (you can tell by looking; it’ll be clear-translucent-yellow instead of brown-headed-to-black) which will put the brakes on expensive repair work like having to have the clutch’s slave cylinder replaced or the brake system’s ABS pump or calipers replaced.

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