Bumper-to-Bumper Maintenance Guide

Posted on August 1, 2002

Maintenance is something that all operators need to focus on. Not only can it cost you a lot for major repairs, but also loss of revenue due to the vehicle's down time. If operators can spend a little time each week and every month on preventative maintenance, they will be saving themselves both money and headaches in the long run.

One important factor that all operators should do is to refer to their vehicle's owner's manual and adhere to its suggested maintenance schedule. The manual is a compilation of all of the engineering that went into the making of the vehicle. You may want to alter it slightly due to the usage of your vehicle, but you should definitely refer to it when establishing a preventative maintenance program.

Operators also should include some kind of preventative maintenance program into their chauffeur training. After all, the chauffeurs are the ones who are going to be driving the vehicles, and they should be able to know if something is wrong. They should also be shown what to check to ensure that their vehicle continues to be commercially acceptable. That means that everything is operational, all the trim pieces are secure and that the vehicle is presentable.

This guide is a compilation of tips and best practices that can help you, as an operator, keep your vehicles running. You may already know some of these or you may have forgotten some. Either way, reinforcing your knowledge on maintenance and upkeep is something that will help keep your vehicles shining and ahead of your competition.

For example, one important thing that a chauffeur can do to help maintain the life of the vehicle is to not store anything behind the driver's seat. Remember, that is where the wiring is for the rear of the vehicle and there is not a lot of extra room. Operators need to look at providing chauffeurs with some type of case to hold their necessities. The less you have behind the driver's seat, the fewer problems you will have with your vehicle's electrical system.

So, use this guide as you see fit to implement a maintenance program, and feel free to refer back to it.


From brush plates to brakes, here is a look at some of the items that you need to maintain from the bumper to the driver's compartment.


Arguably one of the most important parts of the vehicle. This section of the guide covers everything inside the passenger compartment as well as outside.


Last but not least, a look at what operators need to look out for and repair at the rear of the vehicle, on top and underneath.


Chrome Panels

In today's market, according to Bud Thomas of Infinite Innovations, all of the stainless steel stick-on chrome trim panels or rocker panels are placed on with double sided tape. Operators need to inspect the panels themselves. Pull the edges back and check around the edges to see if the adhesive on the stainless chrome is still intact with the body panel. "Check to see if there is silicone around the edges," Thomas says. "That's a trick that some repair shops use to keep it on for the time being. It's repairable, but that's probably a cue that you will have this problem again down the road."

Brush Plating

The experts at Brush Plating Specialists, makers of gold trim accessories and gold-plated emblems, recommend keeping these accessories clean with a simple process. "Use 'Glass Wax' once a month," says Jane Vitti, owner of Brush Plating Specialists. "Use a wet, soft cloth or cotton for polishing, but don't polish it too much - that can cause wear and tear. It's not a real hard material." Dirt and road salts contribute to deterioriation, so it's important to keep the gold clean. "Wash it with a mild detergent, and wipe with cotton or a soft cloth, like a diaper," Vitti says. "Don't use power buffers or polishing equipment, don't use abrasive polishes or car wax, and don't expose the gold to sand or dust storms."


Regularly inspect your booster cables to make sure they're free of nicks and scrapes. "Unless you're a wrecker company, you're not going to be using them every day," says Pat Wiber, national sales manager for Superior Signals Inc., adding that the cables should be kept in a safe and moisture-free environment in the vehicle. "Cables should consist of a 4-foot harness that connects to the battery and also has a quick disconnect that can either exit the grille or bumper. "This way, you don't have to lift the hood every time you need to jumpstart a vehicle," Wiber says.


As everyone knows, brakes are one of the most important items on your vehicles. Due to their weight and constant starting and stopping, limousines tend to wear down brake pads more quickly than any other type of vehicles. "You should check your brakes every time you change the oil in a limousine," says Pete Corelli, owner of Lakeview Custom Coach. "You have to put the car up in the air to change the oil, so go ahead and check the brakes. The one thing that you don't want to second guess is your brakes."

Corelli points out the fact that it's easier for operators to replace pads and shoes than calipers and rotors. "Instead of spending $150, you'll be spending $600," he says. "And it only takes a few minutes." According to Corelli, this is especially important if you're new at it. "Because you don't know the wear pattern yet," he says. "All wear patterns differ from operator to operator. It depends on its usage."

There is no cut-and-dry rule for brakes. It all depends on the usage and operators need to check their vehicles' brakes regularly.


Bumpers are one part of the limousine that take a lot of abuse, according to Kit Dickman of L.A. Limousine Services. "Almost every car that comes through has bumper damage," he says. According to Dickman, since 1998 vehicles have been produced with a bumper cover on them that takes most of the impact. "It's a painted plastic surface, so they are constantly getting beat up," he says. "I have two extra front and two extra rear bumpers that we paint and rotate from car to car so that operators can come in and be able to drive out the door quickly with repaired bumpers."

Since they do take a lot of regular abuse, it's a good rule of thumb to inspect your bumpers for dents, cracks or scratches weekly.


"The main thing operators need to be concerned with is to know what the electrical demands are at both idle and maximum rpm," says Dave McNurlen, warranty administrator for PennTex Industries, Inc. According to McNurlen, too often people take into account the maximum alternator specifications, but if they spend a lot of time in idle (some alternators put out more amperage at idle than others), and the alternator can't keep up with demand, more heat and stress is put on the alternator and it won't last as long. "Most of the time with the charging system, the heat is produced by amperage demand, and that reduces the life of the alternator overall," McNurlen says.

"One of the first areas to consider is the bearings. The heat transfers to the bearings, and if the bearings aren't of good quality, they won't last very long."

When it comes time to purchase an alternator, McNurlen says the decision to purchase a used, rebuilt one vs. new is really a matter of budget. "If they've got a rebuilder who does good work, that's the key," he says. "Many rebuilders use a generic bearing, and they have to use a quality bearing, or the rebuilt alternator's not going to last. If the vehicle's not being used that hard, then they can get away with a standard rebuild. If it's a vehicle that's used a lot and depended on day after day, I'd probably go with a new replacement."

Fuel cleaner

Operators should be sure to use synthetic oil in their vehicles, according to David Morgan, a drag racer with 32 national titles. He explains that the workload on the engines of limousines is similar to that on his car. Constant starting and stopping and the increased weight can put a lot of strain on a vehicle's engine.

Morgan stresses that fuel has a lot to do with the longevity of a vehicle's engine. "The quality of fuel can affect gas mileage and reliability of an engine," Morgan says. "If you have dirty gas, you're going to ruin fuel filters quicker and when that happens, you'll have drivability problems and poor gas mileage."

Fuel cleaners, like Fuelone, help clean the fuel. They break down the molecules so that more fuel can burn more quickly. The more that burns, the hotter it is, which is good for combustion.

Another thing that Morgan suggests to help an engine stay cleaner is replacing the air filter. "The simplest thing a person can do to make their engine run more efficiently is put a high-performance air filter in," he says. "A vehicle can pick up horsepower and miles per gallon with a good air filter."


Wheel cleaning consists of three stages: cleaning, polishing and protecting.

Regular finish wheels. For best results, use pH neutral chemicals. "The label should read 'pH neutral' and if it doesn't, it has an acid base," says Al Eisenberg, general manager for Limo Parts.

"Acid etches into clear coats. People make the mistake of thinking they can use dishwashing soap. That's okay, but it's not ideal. Dishwashing soap has a different base to it, so it can leave a slight film." If you go to a car wash regularly, Eisenberg recommends not allowing the workers to spray your wheels. "Many times it's not pH neutral," he says. "We get a lot of people coming in with the clear coat having crackling to it. For example, if you dropped oil in water it spreads out. After a while, a clear coat will get like that if you're using an acid-based cleaner.

Car washes try to be quick, efficient and good, but their mistake is using these chemicals. So when you get in line for the car wash, tell your drivers to keep your own chemicals in the trunk. Either spray it on themselves, or ask the workers to spray it on, which they will. The chemicals are hosed off when the car goes through the car wash. The pH neutral wheel cleaner, with their jet action, will clean your wheels."

Chrome finish wheels. Eisenberg advises always using a pH neutral chemical to clean chrome wheels. "Never use anything but a pH neutral," he says. "During the winter, with the snow and dirt, and especially if the road has road salts on it, at the end of the night take the pH neutral wheel cleaner, squirt it on your wheels and hose it off," he says. "You don't have to scrub it, just squirt it on and hose it off so it gets rid of any acid." He warns that if you don't regularly do this, your wheels will start pitting within a year. "Once that happens, you can't get rid of it, you can only slow it down."

Chrome and polished wheels. Wash the wheels as you normally would and either dry them or take the air hose and dry them. Use a wheel polish and then follow-up with wheel wax. "Once a month, when you wax your car, you should wax your wheels using a specific wheel wax," Eisenberg says. "Wheel waxes are made for higher temperatures than a car because wheels get at least 100 degrees hotter than a car body would. Apply the wax, and rub it off - that's it."


Keep your vehicle clean and avoid taking it through automatic car washes. These two steps can help reduce the possibility of minor scratches and paint chips. "Make sure the car is never dry-wiped or dry-cleaned," says Mark Rapson, brand manager for PPG Refinish Collision Repair, PPG Industries. "People tend to want to try and wipe dust off the car which is very bad and can ruin the finish."

Avoid gravel roads and, when possible, keep your vehicles from extreme hot or cold weather. "Prevent bird droppings from the vehicle," Rapson says. "Bird droppings have a lot of acid which can etch the finish, and there's also a lot of abrasive material in them, so when people try and wipe it off it scratches the finish."

When washing your car, make sure to use actual car wash as opposed to household detergent, and be certain to use the right equipment - not household sponges or hot, scrubbing types of tools. Use the proper equipment to dry your vehicle, such as a chamois or towel specifically designed for drying the surface of a vehicle.

"Make sure the car is kept waxed or polished," Rapson says. "There are a lot of polishes out there that claim they work on the car for 12 months. I would not believe that is necessarily a good practice. If a vehicle can be waxed at least twice a year, that's a good habit to get into to keep the finish looking good and prevent scratches and marring." If you have light scratches on the vehicle from an automatic car wash, or because of improper cleaning, Rapson says there are good, quality polishes on the market that can be used at the retail level or by the consumer that will help to remove the scratches.

"It's sort of a first line of repair before they actually have to take it to a repair shop to have it truly polished out mechanically or with a buffer." Rapson says it's also important to follow-up with a good quality wax or polish to protect the finish. "Fill in some of those fine scratches and then put some type of protective coating on to prevent any new scratches from coming out."


Coach or Opera Lights

According to Pete Corelli of Lakeview Limousines, the most common thing that operators need to stay on top of is their opera lights on the outside of the vehicles. "It immediately shows you someone who doesn't really care about their vehicle," he says. "It's one thing that's easily overlooked and it's easy to repair." Bud Thomas of Infinite Innovations agrees. "Maintenance on coach lights is not difficult," he says. "Operators need to make sure that there are quality parts on the vehicles."

Thomas suggests that operators should look for the chrome peeling off around the edges of the light. See if the chrome is discoloring even slightly. If it is, then that's a cue that it's going to eventually start peeling, according to Thomas.

Operators should also check the lens to see if it's discoloring at all. If it is, it's manufactured with a lower quality of plastic, and may crack the next time you go to change the bulb. The same care for quality should be exercised with LED lights as well.

According to Thomas, the quality of the LED itself and the manufacturing process determines if it's going to last as long as it's supposed to. Operators should inspect opera lights weekly on all cars, and replace any burned out lights immediately.

Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are effective at reducing odors and air pollutants. While most air purifiers use filters, Pristine Air Purifiers are 100 percent electronic and don't have filters in the system.

"The air purifier consists of glass plates, and a film can build up," says John Karmanski, co-owner of Pristine. "To clean the plates, pull out the plate, put about an inch of ammonia in a bottle, mix in water, and spray both sides of the plate. Rinse with clear water, dry off, and put back in the machine." Pristine's air purifying systems are guaranteed for three years, parts and labor.


As operators know, mirrors and plexiglass parts in the passenger compartment tend to get broken easily. Kit Dickman repairs a lot of them. "We go in and do a repair," he explains. "If it has on odd crack in it that looks like a roadmap, we just cut out a piece of Plexiglas and put it over the crack so it looks like it was supposed to be there."

Dickman explains that he does that in the mirrored ceilings also. "It's a lot cheaper for the operators than getting in there and tearing the whole car apart," he says. "In a couple of hours you can get in a car with a couple of cracks in it and get it down the road for under $200. If you had to tear the whole car apart they would have to come back in another day or two and it will be several hundred dollars. Then, the first thing you know is that someone has hit it and cracked it again."

What's the reason for the cracks? Dickman believes that some may happen due to the design. "Most of the cracks are probably set up by stress from the builder," he explains. "They either didn't smooth the edge quite enough and it started a stress crack, or it might be that the lid from the icebox hits it all the time or someone pushed it or cracked it. If you put a new piece in there it may just do it again. So you'll want to check out the possible sources."

Air conditioning

Every spring, make a plan to check your air conditioning system. "Turn it on and feel the heater," says Earnie Hibdon, vice president of Manex Corp. "Make sure there's no hot water getting in there during the air conditioning mode."

Hibdon advises operators to do a visual inspection under the hood - look for oil in fittings or any indication of a leak and check belts and hoses. "Look under the hood for anything that doesn't look right on the cooling system, and if it's got condenser fans, make sure the fans are running," Hibdon says. "It's not a bad idea to take it into the shop once a year to let somebody check it out. They can do more, such as put gauges on it and check temperatures."

Hibdon suggests operators boost up the speed a little bit when idling to give the compressor more rpms and get a little more air across the condenser. "Be leery of idling for long periods of time, such as for an hour or two," Hibdon says. "The head pressure's going to build and you're going to blow a hose. It's ideal if you've got a shady place while you're waiting and the vehicle is running - it helps tremendously to get it out of the sun."

Control Panel Knobs

Operators often find that knobs, like those to control the air conditioning and sound system, end up missing. Before a car goes out, do a quick visual check to see if all the knobs are on in the rear of the vehicles. "A lot of the control panels now have little buttons that pop off easily," says Kit Dickman. "I got a car in today with three buttons off and it just looks bad. We stock the buttons so we can make the vehicle look like it's supposed to look."


"Clean up spills on your upholstery right away, so they are not allowed to soak down into the foam rubber and deteriorate it," says Judy Wilson, sales representative for Detroit Body Products. "If you clean up spills as they happen, the interior of your vehicle should stand up.

There's also a 'fade factor' that goes with these materials, but that's a strong fade factor which means your material should not fade out with a general cleanser - it shouldn't leave spots and so forth."

For rips or tears, Wilson recommends taking your vehicle to some type of trim shop. "With good care maintenance of your upholstery, if there is a cut in the leather, or a tear, sometimes you only need to replace a section of the leather, like if it's a panel," she says. "So it wouldn't be like replacing the entire interior. Basically, it's important to always inspect the interior after using the vehicle with passengers, and always maintain it."


Throughout the course of a limousine's life, the carpets and overlays get worn. Operators should be aware of the condition their vehicles' carpets are in. One suggestion is to have a second set of overlays. That way you have a clean set of floor mats. You can throw the used ones in the trunk and clean them later that night and let them dry for the next day.


Lights (fiber optic & rope lighting)

Optical fibers are almost maintenance-free. "It's a plastic, optical fiber that will last indefinitely," says Bill Grothe, marketing director for Lumenyte International Corp. "The maintenance generally comes with the projector, what we call the illuminator." The illuminator projects the light and color into the optical fiber. "The key thing to watch for with the illuminator is that the color may get a little dull," Grothe says. "It may be nothing more than the glass that's within the illuminator may be a little dusty and just needs to be wiped clean. Simply lift the lid and wipe it clean with a damp cloth."

The illuminator also has a fan inside it that has to keep cool. "Let's say an operator throws a jacket or towel over the back of the seat where the illuminator is generally kept," Grothe says. "This covers up the illuminator so it can't breathe and gets too hot. What happens is the safety switch inside the illuminator, what we call a 'thermal overload,' turns the illuminator off but keeps the fan going. When it cools off, it comes back on." Grothe says that if you see your fiber optic lights cycling, in other words, turning themselves off and on, that generally means the illuminator is not getting sufficient air, and something is blocking the air flow.

In general, according to Lumenyte, the plastic optical fiber could last 15 to 20 years, and the illumination source generally carries a life span of anywhere between 400 to 600 hours.

Video screens

"Video screens are pretty much bulletproof," says Mike Nguyen, Tech Support for The Right Connections. "Just plug it in and start using it." When it comes to maintenance, follow your owner's manual recommendation and don't use solvents. "Just use a damp cloth to clean it and get the dust off," Nguyen says. Other than regular cleaning, there is no other type of regular maintenance.

Nguyen adds that many monitors are manufactured to work in the U.S. as well as other countries. "Basically, it's capable of working multiple systems," he says. "A lot of times, by accident, owners can change the monitor to a different system. When that happens, they get a black and white picture, or maybe the picture is jumping, so they think it's defective and send it back. But it was basically on the wrong system. Even shops don't know about this because they don't read the owner's manual. So it's best to consult the owner's manual before assuming it needs to be sent in for repair."



One thing that operators should do when conducting their preventive maintenance checks is inspect the cars for leaks. One of the areas that operators need be sure to look at is the differential.

According to Dickman, differential covers come in leaking because tire shops put the floor jack underneath the center section and while jacking it up they hit the cover and break the seal. "I've had guys come in on a flatbed with the back end locked up and welded together," he says. "We see so many cars, and that's one of the first places we go to look."

Coil Springs

According to Dave Pflum from Coil Spring Specialties, the fatigue on springs varies from vehicle to vehicle. Usage and weight of the vehicle are all factors of how long springs will last. Pflum explains that tire pressure and vehicle alignment play a major role in the life of your springs. A technician doing your alignment will be able to properly tell you if and when you need new springs.


Generally speaking, antennas are passive devices and require no maintenance. However, there are some preventative steps you can take to ensure you are getting optimal performance from your antennas. "Check all your connections to make sure they're good," says Jeff Wingard, president of Wintenna Inc. "I would say that 95 percent of all failures in antenna systems are in the cabling or in the connections. If an antenna shows cracking or splits open, it needs to be replaced."

Wingard cautions that antennas located on the trunk of the car pose special concerns. "If it's located on the trunk of the car and the cable runs from the trunk into the car, the cable can get cramped or pinched when there's too much luggage put into the trunk, especially in an airport limousine situation. Any time a cable passes through an opening or is flexed, it should be inspected to make sure it's not frayed, cut, crimped or crushed." And if the antenna can be removed or detached for car washes, that should be done. "That way the car wash equipment can run over the vehicle without damaging it," says Robert Truthan, director of engineering at Antenna Specialists. "Antennas are built robust - they are intended to survive the environment, but don't over-abuse them."

Getting a Lift for Service

Everyone is looking to cut costs where they can. One place where operators can look to control their expenses is with maintenance. Many operators decide to do regular maintenance work themselves. In order to do the work more efficiently, operators may consider buying a vehicle lift. But how many cars do you need to justify purchasing a lift?

"About 10 and certainly at 15 vehicles," says Steve Pearlstein of Mohawk Lifts. "Even if you have all new vehicles, you're still going change the oil and the basic of vehicular maintenance on them." With the amount of mileage that operators put on their vehicles, they can require approximately 15-20 oil changes a year. In addition, tires need to be rotated and brakes checked. So with all of this other maintenance, owning a lift is not out of the question. But what kind should be purchased? "

A four-post lift is more sturdy than a two-post lift," says Bob Corum of Rotary Lift. "A four-post lift is good for stretched limousines." Operators who are doing their own regular service work on their vehicles should consider purchasing a vehicle lift. The lift can allow them to get their cars serviced and back out on the road.

Finishing Touches

The importance of keeping your vehicle clean cannot be overstated. Regularly detailing your vehicle helps to extend the longevity of it, as well as the image you project to the end user - the person who rents the limousine.

"After every use, the vehicle needs to be cleaned inside and outside," says Tom McCollum, northeast regional manager for Ryko Manufacturing Co. "Depending on the amount of use, more detailed cleaning can be applied if necessary.

The exterior and interior should always be spotless for every customer. And as far as doorjams and other areas that don't get dirty as quickly, but do project an image when you open a door, those should also be inspected and cleaned as needed."

McCollum says that regular, professional detailing depends on the size of the operation. "Most limousine companies under a dozen vehicles would probably take care of the detailing in-house," he says. "For your average fleet, probably just having a detail person and the proper products would suffice." 





Related Topics: accessories, alternators, carpet and upholstery, coach lights, detailing your limo, exterior vehicle care, interior vehicle care, maintenance, tires and wheels, waxing

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