Skip to main content

Office of Consumer Protection

Return to A-Z

Getting the Most Out of Your Automobile

Consistently, vehicles we have encountered with high mileage here at the Office of Consumer Protection have been of relatively simple design, have been driven carefully, and maintained regularly. Conversely, we see many owners that choose to scrap or sell automobiles before their time due to the excessive cost to repair major components, or high tech options. Ironically, some expensive options needing attention are the ones that initially attracted people to that particular model of automobile.

Many major repair costs can be postponed or avoided altogether with proper care. While modern design, materials, lubricants, and precision production techniques have produced automotive engines capable of outlasting the rest of the car, owners can expect to maximize their vehicle's life expectancy best by maintaining the other components as well. Anti-lock brakes, automatic transmission, power steering, and the engine cooling systems are examples of these items. Periodic replacement of belts and hoses as well as the fluids associated with these systems can prevent costly repairs, thus extending the useful life by hundreds of thousands of miles. Our mileage champ for a consumer with a complaint here in Montgomery County is a 1978 Chevrolet with over 530,000 miles.

Read Your Owner's Manual  One of the most effective ways to prolong a vehicle's life is by becoming familiar with your particular vehicle's owner's manual, and following the guidelines and cautions. Vehicles in general, and especially those with special equipment, such as all wheel drive, load leveling systems and other modern options, may have special requirements, special fluids, and or other warnings in the owner's manual that owners should be aware of to avoid unnecessary damage when the vehicle is being towed, or serviced by someone unfamiliar with that model. Some vehicles are equipped with required maintenance items, timing belts for example, that must be replaced at various intervals to prevent catastrophic engine failure.

The owner's manual will also give instructions about items you are able, or even encouraged to check yourself. Engine oil level, automatic transmission fluid, engine coolant level, power steering fluid, and washer fluids are generally covered in this section of the manual. Schedules for service, replacement of maintenance items, and recommendations for changing of things like the air-filters, brake fluid, and other items including service of the crankcase ventilation system are included here. These are some of the things which will help extended a vehicle's life by reducing contamination and abrasive wear, as well as aiding the lubrication and cooling of critical parts.

Preventable Leak Repairs  Even the best vehicles driven, beyond the age and mileage of the factory warranty, can be expected to develop leaks at some point during its life. Rubber parts, such as drive belts, hoses and seals, become less flexible over time. Hoses and seals can develop cracks causing leaks. If fluid levels are kept up, a good portion of the resulting leaks are, in many cases, relatively inexpensive to correct. Fortunately, the most common causes of mechanical failures due to leaks are preventable. Inspection of the cooling system upon replacement of hoses and belts can also prevent the danger of break downs, towing charges, and mechanical damage from overheating.

Check Your Oil  We routinely review complaints where engines have failed between oil changes as a result of being low on oil. Typically, the loss of lubrication was due to the fact that older engines consume oil as a normal symptom of age and wear, or the engine had started to leak externally. Almost every one of these engines could have been saved if the low oil condition had been discovered, and oil added by the owner before it became critical.

Consumers would do well to note that in most cases it is too late when the oil warning light comes on to prevent damage to the internal engine parts. Adding oil when the light comes on is not the answer. Running low on oil causes friction from poor lubrication, higher internal temperatures, and there is less oil to absorb the high heat which, only breaks down the oil further.

Modern engines also run relatively hot in order to be able to meet emission standards. Additionally, newer engine designs use light-weight aluminum and plastic parts which are vulnerable to heat beyond the engine's normally high operating temperatures. These heat sensitive parts are prone to damage if the vehicle is driven, even a short time or at low speeds, after a coolant temperature warning light has appeared. Our  Emergency Mechanical Information contains more information and tips related to these situations.

Check Your Tire Pressure  Most owner's manuals suggest checking tire pressure every other time you fill up with fuel, which would be ideal, but no less than once per month.  Tire pressure greatly affects fuel mileage, vehicle steering, handling, and braking.  Driving on under inflated tires increases their temperature, which can contribute to high speed blowouts. It also destroys the interior sidewall of the tire, which is not seen until the tire comes apart in a complete failure.  For information on monitoring systems, view Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems.

Know Where Your Car Is Serviced  Is it clean, organized, and well run?  If not, why would the employees treat your car any better than their work environment, where they spend a large portion of their lives each week? If the shop is dirty, some of that is bound to end up in your car.  Check to see if a car shop is properly licensed.  OCP licenses car repair shops.  Call our Licensing Unit at T: 240.777.3718 to inquire about a shop.

Regular maintenance, including new air filters, inspection of belts, hoses, fluid levels, and replacement of fluids, are the most important things any owner can do to avoid preventable mechanical failures, which in turn lets you get the most mileage for your automotive buck. Get second opinions if you are in doubt about what to have serviced, and consult your owner's manual for the official time and mileage guides for servicing the various components.


Go Top