You’re an expert at a lot of things, but car care isn’t one of them. Find out which common car issues need to be fixed immediately and which can wait a while or be skipped entirely.
Brake pad wear
Details: The mechanic says your brake pads are worn out and need to be replaced.
Verdict: If the pads are worn, don’t wait. If you’re not sure if your mechanic is yanking your chain, ask for the old parts to make sure they are really worn through. This is both a cost and safety issue. If done in time, you may only need pads, but if you wait too long, you’ll need to replace both pads and disks. From a safety point of view, if the pads or the disks are worn past their limit, the car should not be driven.
Details: The guy at the quick lube shop says you need to change your oil every 3,000 miles.
Verdict: This was true a long time ago, but both oil and engines have come a long way, baby. Follow the information in your owner’s manual. Some vehicles can go well in excess of 7,500 miles if they are using synthetic oils. Vehicles with non-synthetic oil should have oil and filter replaced every 5,000 miles. Use the manufacturer-recommended oil type to improve mileage and prevent damage to the engine.
Rotate all tires each time you have your oil changed. The extended life you get out of your tires is well worth it.
Details: Your owner’s manual says your car is due for a coolant flush, but you haven’t had any problems with leaks or overheating.
Verdict: You can wait a short while to have your coolant flushed, but make no mistake, it should be done at the factory specified intervals. Coolant is a serious workhorse. It not only keeps the engine cool, but it also lubricates the water pump and keeps corrosion in check inside the radiator and engine. Coolant is exposed to very high temps and over time it becomes acidic, which can damage the radiator, water pump and hoses. Yes, this is a bad thing.
Details: You’ve gone over a lot of big speed bumps lately and think you may need to have your tires aligned. Is this something you need to do and what are the risks of waiting?
Verdict: If you take your car in to the shop and say you’ve been going over a lot of speed bumps, the mechanic is more than likely going to tell you that you need a tire alignment, even if you don’t. Unless you’ve been flying over speed bumps, you may not need the alignment. Take a look at your tires. Do you have unusual tire wear? If you see wear only on the outside of both front tires or on only on the inside of both tires, you do need to have your tires aligned. If there is no unusual wear, you don’t. If you hear clunks or rattles, or if the car pulls in one direction, you probably need a tire alignment. If you’ve determined your vehicle does needs an alignment, take care of it as soon as possible to extend the life of your tires.
Check engine light
Details: Your check engine light went on. Do you need to take your car to the dealership immediately or can it wait until your regularly scheduled maintenance appointment next week?
Verdict: If the light is on, but not blinking, and the car runs well, wait a couple of days. A very common cause is a loose gas cap. Ask yourself if the light went on shortly after you got gas. Can you see where gas has leaked around the cap? Tighten the cap and the light may go off in a day or two. If it doesn’t, take it in and have it checked. It could be something more serious that if not repaired can cause more damage.
Now this is important… If the check engine light is flashing, shut the car off as soon as safely possible. Do not drive the car! This is an indication that it is dumping raw fuel into the catalytic converter, and that can be unsafe and very costly. On some cars a catalytic converter can cost over $500 and there can be as many as four on certain cars.
Source: Bruce Olds, automotive expert with over 30 years’ experience.