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Be Kind to Your Car 

A few easy ways to keep your automobile in great shape

Whether you drive a new car or a well-traveled vehicle, regular maintenance can add years to the life of your automobile, save you money on fuel and repairs — and make your commuting experience more trouble-free and enjoyable. You should use the owner's manual as a guide for what you should have checked, replaced and renewed and at what intervals.

  Following your car manufacturer's recommendation for changing the oil is one of the most important habits to establish. Depending on your car model, recommendations for changing the oil range from every 3,000 miles to 7,500 miles or more. Just check the levels regularly in between. Keeping your oil clean extends the life of your engine by keeping the moving parts properly lubricated and the pistons firing on cue. This makes your ride smoother, plus helps your vehicle optimize its horsepower. Low oil levels or grit in the lubricant can cause the moving parts to grind against each other, putting stress on your engine and sometimes leading to costly parts failures. You should get the oil filter changed along with the oil, and it generally is recommended that you change your air filter every other oil change. Driving with a dirty air filter can adversely affect your gas mileage.

  You can check your oil, brake, power-steering and engine fluid levels yourself using the dipsticks under your hood. You want to keep them within the "full" range, but make sure you don't overfill the reservoirs.

  You don't need a mechanic to tell you when to change your windshield wipers; just observe when they are squealing, streaking or aren't clearing water from your windshield. You may want some guidance on installing new ones, however, to make sure you get the right size and type for your vehicle and put them on right-side up.

  Correct tire pressure also is important for a comfortable and safe ride. Proper inflation levels for your automobile can be found in the owner's manual or the inside driver's door of your car. The pressure level printed on the side of the tire indicates maximum safe inflation — not what is recommended for specific vehicles. Keep a tire gauge in your car and check your tires often because uneven pressure, over-inflation or low tire pressure can lead to a lack of maneuverability, drag down your gas mileage and cause uneven wear on your tires, which affects your car's performance and the comfort of your ride. Another tip is to have your tires rotated every 6,000-8,000 miles to ensure the tread wears evenly so you can get the maximum life out of them.

  It's a good idea to have a mechanic give your car a checkup every 30,000 miles or so (again, check your owner's manual) to determine the health of your water and fuel pumps, radiator, belts, hoses and brakes. Make the appointment earlier if you hear whining, knocking or other abnormal noises. Taking care of these problems when they first start can save you money on repairs since the cost usually escalates as parts become more damaged. Unusual squealing, whining or grinding when you brake is a real indication that you need to clean or change your brake pads or have other maintenance performed before you damage your brake drums (an expensive mistake).

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