There are no secrets to keeping a car in good condition for many years. Anyone can do it, and you do not have to be mechanic either. Nor do you have to spend a fortune on gimmicks, gadgets, and mysterious liquids in bottles that claim they can make your car last forever. There is however a trick to making your car last, and it has to do with the quality of the oil, and other fluids and lubricants you use. And of course how regularly you replace these fluids. So read on, and we will tell you how to make your car last.
Change The Oil
There is no doubt that regular oil and oil filter changes are the most effective way to add years to the life of your engine. However, there is little point in changing the oil every week if you use poor quality oil, just as there is no point in buying the best oil on the market and then not changing it for 100 000 kms.
Engine oil degrades over time, no matter how much you paid for it. The effects of heat, contact with oxygen, interactions between water vapour in the atmosphere, un-burnt fuel, and host of other factors all contribute to the diminishing of the effects of additives that increase the lubricating properties of engine oil.
When oil degrades, the first additives that stop working are the various detergents that are meant to clean the inside of the engine. The next group to stop working are the additives that are meant to prevent the formation of sludge, which means that with the main additives out of action, the formation of harmful sludge goes on unabated.
Sludge blocks the oil filter, small diameter oil passages, and inhibits the working of hydraulic valve lifters. So by keeping the oil and fresh and oil filter clean you provide proper lubrication, which is the single biggest factor that contributes to long engine life.
Keep The Engine Cool
The ability of anti-freeze compounds to provide protection against freezing or boiling of the coolant only lasts for about a year. Moreover, anti-freeze also provides excellent protection against corrosion of internal water passages, and components such as the water pump.
So even if you live in an area that never gets cold enough the freeze the coolant, you still run the risk of allowing corrosion to damage your engine. Corrosion can cause overheating when coolant is allowed to seep in under the cylinder head gasket, or when the engine loses coolant through external leaks caused by the corrosion of some components.
While it is possible for some engines to survive a single episode of overheating for some time, that single overheating episode will have caused serious degradation of the engine oil. Even if the oil was new, the degradation caused by the elevated temperature will reduce, or even destroy the oil’s ability to provide adequate lubrication. Thus by keeping the anti-freeze active, you prevent corrosion, which improves coolant circulation, which in turn, protects the engine oil from accelerated degradation.
Replace Transmission Fluid/Oil
How well your automatic transmission works depends primarily on the quality of the fluid in it. Transmission fluid provides both lubrication and the working pressures required to shift gears, so it stands to reason that the cleaner the fluid is, the better it is able to perform its primary functions.
Transmission fluid contains several additives to reduce friction, prevent foaming, inhibit the formation of corrosion, and the formation of sludge. Just like engine oil, transmission fluid also degrades due to the effects of heat and contact with oxygen, which means that over time, the fluid loses its ability to provide adequate protection against mechanical wear and the formation of sludge.
Moreover, by virtue of an automatic transmission’s design, it cannot cope with the formation of sludge, because the sludge causes the valve shuttles that regulate gear shifts to stick in the valve body. In some cases, it might be possible to free sticky valve shuttles by flushing the transmission, but in very often happens that the only remedy is a transmission replacement. By never skipping transmission fluid replacements, and always using the recommended or specified fluid, it is possible to never suffer transmission problems.
Replace Brake Fluid
Just like with a transmission, your brake system depends on the quality of the brake fluid to work effectively. Over time, brake fluid absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, and when it reaches a certain point of water saturation, you can run the risk of experiencing sudden, catastrophic brake failure when the brake fluid boils.
Boiling water in brake fluid destroys the incomprehensibility the brake fluid requires to transmit pressure effectively, by forming microscopic steam bubbles- which are highly compressible. Moreover, water contamination of brake fluid causes corrosion in all the metal parts of the brake system, which could conceivably cause brake failure long before the brake fluid boils.
Some brake fluid leaks are difficult to detect unless you know what to look for, so to prevent nasty surprises in the form or reduced braking, or sudden brake failure, check the brake fluid level once a week, at the same time you check the oil and coolant levels. Any sudden or significant drop in the brake fluid level is a sign of trouble, and it must be investigated and corrected immediately.
Lubricate, lubricate, lubricate
All moving parts of a car need lubrication to work effectively, and to last for a reasonable amount time. Some components like tie-rod ends and ball joints are lubricated during assembly, but in many cases, there is provision for lubrication of these components by means of grease nipples.
Other components like U-joints in drive shafts require regular lubrication to prevent failure through mechanical wear. Worn U-joints cause vibrations that can, and do, damage transmissions, differentials, and support bearings. One sure way to extend the life of your car is to lubricate everything that can be lubricated, so familiarize yourself with all the components that need regular lubricating, and insist that they be lubricated during every scheduled service.
Maintain Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings are service items, and your maintenance schedule specifies regular inspection, repacking with suitable lubricant, and even replacement. Wheel bearings are often overlooked or even deliberately ignored during routine servicing, but insist on having all bearings checked during servicing.
The cost should be included in the service, and even if a bearing needs replacement, the added cost is small in comparison with replacing a hub, or even an entire axle. Wheel bearings can also cause uneven or accelerated tyre wear, which in turn, places added stresses and strains on suspension and steering components.
So don’t think of replacing wheel bearings as a financial burden- replacing them now could save you from an even greater financial burden when you have to replace unrelated parts that were damaged because you did not replace a wheel bearing in time.
A final thought…
There are of course much more to proper car care and maintenance than the six tips outlined here, but these six tips are by far the most important, since they bear directly on how long your car will last on the one hand, and on your safety on the other.
Other issues such as keeping the car clean, maintaining wheel alignment, wheel balance, removing salt deposits, using the correct fuel and other are also important, but we will deal with them in a next article.