Car Care Basics: Engines
Car Engine and Other Systems Care Tips
1. Check engine oil at every other fill-up For an accurate reading, follow this procedure:
- Run or drive your car for about 15 minutes to warm the oil; then park the car in a level place.Turn off the engine and wait 15 minutes to allow the oil in the engine to drain back to the oil pan.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel or rag. Reinsert the dipstick, being sure to push it in all the way, then pull it out again to check the oil level. It should be somewhere between the hash marks on the dipstick.
- Add the type and amount of oil as specified in your owner’s manual, if necessary.
2. Change oil frequently Your dad knew that frequent oil changes were key to keeping his Buick on the road another year. And while owner’s manuals for today’s cars recommend increasing long intervals between oil changes, the fact remains — frequent changes flush abrasive dirt and metal particles out of the engine, prolonging its life. Most owner’s manuals recommend a more frequent interval for “severe conditions.” To maximize the life of your engine, follow the severe intervals recommendations, especially if drive regularly in stop-and-go traffic.
3. Avoid overfilling your crankcase with oil Don’t overfill your engine crankcase with oil. If you do, the oil can rise into the crankshaft, where air bubbles will get churned into the oil.Your oil pump can’t do a good job of circulating oil with air bubbles. The result can be overheating and stress on engine components. Overfilling can also foul your sparkplugs. In fact, overfilling is a bad idea with all automotive fluids.
4. Wipe oil pan plug clean If you do your own oil changes, clean the drain plug and washer with rags before reinstalling your oil pan. Some plugs are magnetized to trap metal particles.
5. Don’t forget the filters There are several filters (the main ones are oil, fuel, transmission, and air) important to preserving your car engine, and they should be changed according to the schedule in your owner’s manual or as follows:
- Change the oil filter at least at every other oil change — every change is even better because the old filter contains nearly a quart of dirty oil that will remain with the new, clean oil. If you change your oil yourself, wipe the filter threads with an anti-seize lubricant, available at auto supply stores.
- Check the air filter every two months and replace it when dirty or as part of a tune-up. Air filters are generally easier to get to than oil filters.You find them under the big metal lid in a carbureted engine or in a rectangular box in a fuel injected engine — check your owner’s manual for the exact location. Extend the life of air filters by blowing them clean with compressed air.
- Despite claims by makers and dealers that some newer fuel filters never need changing, it’s smart to have it done once a year. A clogged fuel filter will cause poor engine performance (hesitation and starting difficulties) and is an early warning that there may be corrosion in your gas tank.
- Change your transmission fluid filter after the first 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of driving and every 25,000 miles (40,000 km) or two year thereafter.
6. Don’t forget the PCV valve The PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve is an emissions control device on older cars — check your service manual to see if your car has one.The valve recirculates partially burned gases from the engine’s crankcase to the combustion chamber. Important to a properly functioning engine, the valve should be changed every 30,000 miles (48,000 km) or as specified in your owner’s manual. In addition to helping you get the most from a tank of gasoline, it helps to prevent the buildup of harmful sludge and corrosion.When replacing your PCV valve, be sure you use the correct one or you may damage your engine.
7. Heavier is not always better Use the oil viscosity grade that’s recommended in your owner’s manual for the temperature range you expect
for the coming season. Lighter grades (lower viscosity, such as SAE 5W-30), often specified for today’s smaller car engines, will deliver easier starts and better engine protection in winter and improved gas mileage throughout the year, thanks to less internal engine friction. Do not use a heavy grade of oil in cold winter climates or you will risk damage to your engine.
8. Maintain your transmission Change automatic transmission fluid and filter after the first 5,000 miles (8,000 km) and after every 25,000 miles (40,000 km) or two years thereafter, or as recommended in your owner’s manual. If you use your vehicle for towing, change the fluid and filter every year. For manual transmissions, change the lubricant (motor oil or gear oil, depending on the car) after the first 5,000 miles and after every 50,000 (80,000 km) thereafter. Use synthetic motor oil or gear lube for longer transmission life unless the manufacturer recommends otherwise.
9. Consider adding oil coolers If you plan to do a lot of towing and your vehicle is not already equipped with coolers, consider having them added. Aftermarket engine oil and transmission fluid coolers are simple, low-cost addons that operate on the same principle as your car’s radiator. The fluid flows through them, and many small fins absorb and dissipate heat. Cooler operating temperatures of engine oil and transmission fluid can add significantly to the life of your engine and transmission.
10. Spark plugs do need changing The advent of electronic ignition and on-board computers has eliminated the need for regular tune-ups, but you still need to change your spark plugs. Many manufacturers recommend changing plugs every 30,000 or 40,000 miles (48,000 or 64,000 km) to ensure good fuel mileage and engine performance. Some new cars come with long-life plugs (sometimes called double platinum plugs) that can last for 100,000 miles (160,000 km). If your car isn’t so equipped, make the switch after 30,000 miles. The extra cost is only a few dollars per spark plug. While you’re at it, change your spark plug wires as well. Their typical life is 50,000 miles (80,000 km). Deteriorated wires can cause those high-tech new spark plugs to foul.
11. Avoid hose hassles Check the hoses under your hood every month or two to avoid the hassle of a broken hose while you’re on the road. With the car cool and off, squeeze the hoses. If they are hard or make a crunching sound, replace them. Ditto if they are extremely soft or sticky.With the car warm but off, examine hoses for bulges and collapsed sections. If you find any, the hose walls are weak, and it’s time to replace the hose. Never drive with a ruptured coolant hose, or you are liable to overheat the engine and damage it. Other hoses are crucial to operation of your power brakes and cruise-control systems.
12. Test drive-belt tension Check the tension and condition of your drive belt (or, with many cars, multiple belts) every month. Belts that are too tight can wear out the bearings in accessory components, such as AC compressor, water pump, and power-steering pump. Belts that are too loose will wear out faster and may fail prematurely. Perform your examination before you start the car to avoid injury due to a hot belt or moving engine part. Check for tension by pressing in the center of the belt’s longest exposed run while holding a ruler next to it. If you can depress the belt 1/ 2 to 1 inch (13 to 25 mm), but not more or less, the tension is good. If not, adjust the belt tension yourself according to your car’s service manual, or have your dealer or auto repair service do it. Also check for belt damage, such as glazing (often due to oil leakage), fraying, and cracks. If you spot damage, have the belt checked by a pro and replaced if necessary.
13. Don’t forget the timing belt On many cars, it’s the belt you can’t see that is the most critical. If your manual says, as many do, that you should replace the timing belt at 50,000 miiles, do it! A failed timing belt can, depending on engine type, cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your engine.
14. Clean your engine There are several reasons to wash your engine at least every year or two. A clean engine will run cooler than a dirty one. You’ll be more apt to tackle routine belt and hose checks and the like if you know you won’t get covered with grime every time you do so. A clean engine will also make it much easier to spot leaks and to service components. Remember to protect sensitive engine components — including the air intake, distributor, and electrical parts — with plastic bags before getting started. Use dishwashing liquid or other grease-cutting detergents and a bristle brush to scrub engine and components surfaces. Rinse thoroughly. Heavy-duty engine cleaning products are available at automotive parts stores. Follow the directions carefully. You may also have your engine professionally steam cleaned.
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