Our car guy steers you in the right direction for 2015
I assume you already got your car the big presents for Christmas—champagne for the washer fluid reservoir, mink seatcovers, emerald tire studs. Sometimes, though, when we’re out shopping for truffle oil gear lube and mahogany bumpers, we forget the little things, and I’m not talking about ivory pedals. I mean the little things that you and your car will really appreciate for the next year. Some of these I hope you’ll have heard about, but it’s possible you never knew exactly why they’re good ideas.
1. A nice long drive
I’d bet you’ve learned that you should avoid short trips, and maybe something about it being bad for gas mileage. While that’s true, it’s irrelevant because running your car for under about 10 minutes affects how long it lasts. Water is anathema to all machinery and it’s the main byproduct of cleanly burned gasoline. Short drives allow all this moisture to condense, especially in your oil and your exhaust system. Long drives get everything hot and dry it out. This is why “highway miles” are meaningful. There are other benefits as well, like keeping your seals swelled up. Shrivelled seals are nasty.
2. A fresh tank of gas
The problem here is water again, except this time it’s a double whammy. Possibly triple. Multiple whammies, anyway. Have you ever been told to keep your tank full? Water is the reason. As air pressure and temperature change, your gas tank breathes as air is sucked in and out. When it comes in, it brings in moisture, which then condenses. Less airspace means less room for water. Whammy number 2 is that the ethanol in gas is hydrophilic—it absorbs water. It’s also unstable and starts to break down really, really fast, like in six weeks or so. Water in your fuel system makes some very expensive things like fuel injectors die. If you’re only topping off your tank every other week, take that long drive, burn off your old gas and fill it back up.
3. Shocks and struts
Shocks must be the single most neglected piece of safety equipment on your car. Safety? Yes: these are what actually keep your tires on the road. They have a finite lifespan that is determined by both age and use, so you can go through a set of shocks in a year if you’re on potholes every day. Struts, by the way, are just shocks that come together with coil springs. Don’t go to a national chain for this, or anything else. Find the local shop in its second or third generation which actually cares about its reputation and repeat customers.
4. A detailing
Detailing is the manicure, pedicure and spa treatment for your car, but it’s more than cosmetic. Detailing is an all-over in-depth cleaning that helps preserve parts of your car that don’t often get care, such as upholstery and carpets. Your car will feel newer for longer and will hold more resale and trade-in value. A good detailer will also point out little problems like dead bulbs or leaks you might never otherwise see. The golden rule of maintenance is taking care of problems as they happen and not letting them build up. That’s how they get worse, more expensive and potentially dangerous.
Whether or not you’ve noticed it, your car has accumulated many chips and scratches. When I bought a new car in October, I found three chips when I got it home. Small chips become bigger chips and turn into rust. That local service shop will recommend the great local body shop who will take care of it. You might also think about repairing any more significant body problems at the same time. The local shop can remove dents where a dealer would want to replace body panels.
6. A new windshield
If your car is more than three or four years old, pay attention the next time you’re driving at night. Hairline scratches accumulate quickly and can severely affect the amount of glare from oncoming headlights. Windshield damage also reduces visibility in rain. What’s surprising is how easy and affordable new glass can be, because for many cars, it’s in the $300 range. If you have things like a head’s up display, rain-sensing wipers or lane-departure warning, it gets to be $500-plus. But here’s the thing: In many cases, comprehensive insurance will cover preventive glass replacement. National glass chain Safelite not only has an online estimator, but will come to your car while you’re at work and do it. The difference is like night and day.