When it comes to car maintenance, most of us know the broad strokes: oil changes, tire rotations and the like. But there are likely a few pieces you just don’t think about. April is National Car Care Month, and the simplest car components to maintain are sometimes the most critical. Luckily, there are three routine tasks that you can take on yourself.
Your vehicle may have a number of belts under the hood, especially if it’s an older car (you may remember seeing a tangle of them in your family car growing up). Most newer cars, however, have simplified the mess down to two belts.
The serpentine belt (or S-belt) is an inch-wide black belt with little ridges running along the side. It provides power to almost everything in your engine: the air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, and cooling fan to name a few. To inspect the S-belt, look for little cracks (which happen naturally as the belt wears and can weaken it). Replacing the S-belt is an easy and pretty affordable piece of preventive maintenance that could save you a bundle down the road.
The timing belt is even more critical. It’s a belt with lots of little plastic notches on it, which allow the crankshaft to turn the camshaft. In other words, it makes your engine “go.” If the timing belt fails, your engine stops dead. That sounds pretty scary—and, well, it is—but the good news is that timing belts are pretty resilient little guys. Still, like any other moving part, they do wear over time and should be checked, if not replaced, at around the 50,000 mark.
Engine hoses haven’t simplified as much as belts—there are a number of them. But, thankfully, you don’t really need to know what they all do to check them for damage and weak spots.
When your engine is cool (that’s important—those hoses get hot!), lightly squeeze the hoses and feel for “squishy” spots, especially near the clamps. The hose should be firm, but not completely hardened either. Visually inspect for cracks and, when in doubt, have your mechanic take a look too. Replacing a hose before it fails saves the inconvenience of it going down unexpectedly, and could prevent further damage to your engine.
Yes, that means the outside. Keeping your finish properly maintained means more than just looking good. Your finish is your car body’s only defense against the enemy of everything metal: rust. Rust will spread through your car like cancer if you don’t protect your finish. It’s critical to wash your car and use a cleaner wax regularly to avoid corrosion.
You should also keep your vehicle’s underside as clean and dry as possible. Look for foreign materials, including salts, road oil, tree sap, bird droppings and chemicals, and remove them as soon as possible.