You've probably spent a lot of money on your car. Make sure you get the maximum life and enjoyment out of it. Here are some tips that not everyone thinks of:
Avoid premature fuel pump failure
Fuel injection systems operate at pressures as high as 90psi. Fuel pumps that achieve this performance are powerful, quiet, and compact, and packaged as an integral unit with the level sender and regulator installed within the fuel tank. These fuel pump designs use internal recirculation of fuel to cool the pump motor. When the tank is less than 1/8 full, this cooling process is compromised, and the fuel pump runs hotter than normal. While this will not immediately damage your fuel pump, the cumulative effect of sustained operation at less than 1/8 full fuel will shorten the life of a very expensive component. Always fully fuel your vehicle when the level gets low.
Improve fuel economy
The following points are not expensive to address, however, if they are neglected you will see the result in substantially increased fuel bills. In decreasing order of importance:
State of tune -- Today's vehicles are designed to meet efficiency guarantees for 30,000 miles or more, with a number of key components expected to last beyond 100,000 miles. After these limit mileages are reached, however; performance tends to deteriorate quickly, with serious penalties in increased fuel consumption. This category can include spark plugs, oxygen sensors, ignition wires, and related components, and can be worth 5mpg or more.
Tire inflation pressure -- Next to state of tune, the most powerful component for maintaining satisfactory fuel economy is diligent attention to tire inflation pressure. Tires tend to lose pressure through the rubber at the rate of a pound or two per month. An underinflated tire will have greater rolling resistance and run hotter than a correctly inflated tire. Greater rolling resistance requires more power to maintain speed and can cost an additional 1-2mpg in fuel consumption.
Alignment -- Poor alignment, like underinflation, can cause an increase in rolling resistance. Misalignment causes the tire to roll in a slightly different direction than the car, resulting in the scrubbing of rubber on pavement. 1-2mpg.
Air filter -- Not only will a clogged air filter will cause reduced power output by strangling the engine of air, but the engine also has to work harder to overcome the resistance of a clogged filter. This extra work shows up as additional fuel consumption. 0.5mpg
Excessive drivetrain and brake friction -- This should not be an issue with a properly maintained automobile. However, poorly serviced drivetrain components can bind, causing excessive friction and drag on the vehicle. A common failure mode for brake hydraulic cylinders is to seize and cause drag on the brakes. For these reasons regular inspections of these components are recommended, and they should be serviced where these inspections indicate. 5mpg.
Weight -- The heavier your vehicle, the more power is required to accelerate to highway speeds. By removing unnecessary payload from your vehicle, you can use less energy every time you pull away from a stop. This issue is particularly evident with high-payload vehicles like trucks, SUVs, and minivans. Most people don't realize that even 100 or 200 extra pounds are enough to increase fuel consumption by 0.5 mpg.
Driving style/driving environment -- If you find yourself in frequent stop-and-go traffic, your mileage will suffer. Practically speaking, some of these situations are unavoidable. However, careful throttle control can go a long way in squeezing the most miles per gallon when the traffic slows. The reason is that even modest acceleration can use 2-3 times as much fuel as steady cruising. The best technique is to depress the accelerator as if there was an egg between your foot and the pedal— slow and easy. This technique will yield fuel savings anywhere you drive.
Avoid parking on unpaved surfaces
If your circumstances permit, avoid regularly parking your vehicle on unpaved or unsealed surfaces. Day-to-night temperature fluctuations will cause moisture in the air to condense on the underside of your vehicle, causing excessive corrosion to exposed metal components. If you must routinely park on gravel or bare ground, placing a sheet of plywood or heavy cardboard under the car will minimize this dewing of the underside of your car.
Drive your car weekly
If you own a "seasonal" vehicle (plow truck, sports car, etc.) or a vehicle that can have extended periods of inactivity, you can avoid substantial damage and future repairs by driving the vehicle on a regular basis. Long periods of inactivity can cause deterioration in a variety of ways:
- If the vehicle is stored outside, condensation can form on the metal surfaces under the vehicle and cause serious corrosion of the body, fuel, and brake lines.
- Condensation can form inside the engine block and contaminate the engine lubricant.
- The lubricant film can drain from bearing races and allow a damaging type of corrosion to occur at the point of contact in rolling element bearings. It is recommended that all vehicles be driven a minimum of 10 miles per week or a sufficient weekly distance to fully warm up the engine.
Prepare for extended storage
If you are unable to operate your vehicle on a weekly basis and are contemplating extended storage, here are some key points:
- Block up the vehicle to take the weight off the tires and wheel bearings.
- If storage is contemplated for 6 months or less, add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. If storage is contemplated for more than 6 months, empty the fuel tank.
- Store the vehicle in a temperature-controlled environment if possible.
- Attach a battery tender to the battery and leave it plugged in 24/7.
- Once a month, crank the engine over for 30 seconds, or start the vehicle and fully warm it up.
- Install fresh engine lubricant at the beginning of the storage period, and replace it within 100 miles of taking the vehicle out of storage.
- Take adequate precautions to prevent rodents and insects from taking up residence in the vehicle.
Don't forget chassis/driveline lube
Although manufacturers are making more use of "lubed-for-life" chassis and driveline bearings, many vehicles are still being built with serviceable bearings. These items include drive shaft u-joints, suspension ball joints, and steering tie rod ends and arms. A serviceable component will have a fitting for the periodic introduction of lubricant or grease. Most "lubed-for-life" components don't really last more than 150,000 miles. On the other hand, serviceable components will literally last for the life of the vehicle if they are lubed on a regular basis. We include a complete chassis and driveline lube with each full-service oil change.
A solution to rodent problems
Here in our rural area, it is not unusual to find rodent damage under the hood and inside the car. This damage can include:
- Accumulation of nesting material, feces, urine, and food supplies
- Chewing of wiring insulation and plumbing components
Obviously, the first approach to eliminating this problem is an effective pest control program in the areas where you park your car. If a pest control program is not fully effective or practical, we have found that strategically locating fragrant dryer sheets in the car and under the hood will frequently discourage aggressive rodent activity!
Prepare for diagnostic service
You have a poorly running vehicle, or your check engine lamp has just come on, and you have an appointment to diagnose the issue. What can you do to facilitate your technician's efforts in identifying and repairing the problem? Be prepared to help!
- Know the driving circumstances when the concern first developed. If the concern appears intermittently, know the actions to take to reproduce the symptoms, if possible.
- Be prepared to discuss any other abnormalities or concerns that might have developed over the same time period, such as unusual noises, changes in fuel consumption, unusual odors, warning lights, or fluid leaks.
- Expect that the diagnostic activity or repair will ultimately include a test drive, and make sure that the vehicle is fueled accordingly prior to your appointment.
- Be prepared to discuss any prior services or repairs on the vehicle.
- Plan on your car being in the shop for a full day, so the technicians can have ample time to complete diagnostic tests and a verification test drive. Intermittent problems that can't be reliably reproduced in the presence of a technician will take additional time.