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One of the best business investments you’ll ever make is in regular check-ups, adjustments and servicing that can spare you costly repairs and produce a better performing vehicle. Below is a round-up of tips I’ve posted during the past year at my Shop Talk Blog. You also can get a complete list of maintenance-related articles at www.lctmag.com.
Inspecting your vehicle is the single most important part of vehicle maintenance. Develop routines and policies mandating inspections on a daily, weekly, and mileage-based system using different people to inspect the vehicle. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
1. The Daily Inspection
Before driving a vehicle for the first time in a day, perform the followings inspections:
• Fuel key (If fuel door is locking, do you have the key?)
• Visual inspection for exterior damage/leaks under vehicle
• Check inside engine compartment for leaks/loose items
• Oil level
• Washer fluid level
• Coolant level
• Power steering fluid level
• Start engine and check transmission fluid level (fluid should be hot)
• Check tires for wear and pressure
• Check horn
• Check heater/defroster
• Check windshield wipers/washers
• Check highlight/signal lights/hazard lights/tail lights/backup lights
• Check interior lights
• Check mirrors for damage and adjustments
• Check fuel level
• Check First Aid kit
• Check fire extinguisher (charged, proper seal & pin)
2. The Weekly Inspection
• Visible damage to exterior
• Air pressure of each tire
• Tire condition and tread depth (including spare)
• Wiper blades/fluid
• Fluid leaks on undercarriage
• Upholstery condition
• Seat belt operation
• First Aid kit contents
• Vehicle registration and insurance card present
• Vehicle is properly licensed
• Jack kit present and functional
• All exterior lights
• Exterior mirror condition
• Parking brake holds vehicle
• Heating/cooling systems
• Engine oil/replacement sticker present
• Transmission fluid
• Brake fluid
• Coolant level
• Brake pads
3. The 3000 Mile Inspection*
(*Should be performed by a qualified mechanic or fleet maintenance company)
• Transmission fluid
• Battery and cables
• Engine air filter
• Engine oil
• Chassis lubrication
• Cabin air filter
• Fuel filter
• Exhaust system
• Braking system
• Tire inflation and condition
• Power steering fluid
• Brake fluid
• Windshield washer fluid
• Coolant (antifreeze)
• Wiper blades
• Wheel alignment
Keeping Contaminants Out
Vehicles have all types of filters to separate bad from good particulates. These include air filters, fuel filters, oil filters and cabin air filters. These filters can affect engine performance.
An air filter acts similar to a respiratory mask for your engine and prevents things like dust, bugs and leaves from entering your engine.
Replace at 12,000 miles
Cabin Air Filter
The cabin air filter keeps the air inside your vehicle’s cabin clean. It filters air that comes through the vehicle’s HVAC system to prevent pollutants such as dust, pollen and mold spores from entering.
Replace at 25,000 miles
Most vehicles built after 2004 have fuel filters in the gas tank. The filters clean contaminants picked up in storage, transporting and dispensing. This prevents debris from getting into fuel injectors and clogging them.
Replace at 100,000 miles
The oil pump on a vehicle pushes oil directly to the filter, where it enters from the holes in the perimeter of a base plate. The oil is passed under pressure through the filter media to cleanse it of dirt and debris and then filter it back into the engine. It prolongs the life of the oil by constantly cleaning it.
Replace at 3,000 to 5,000 miles
Engine Oil and Lubrication: Lifeblood Of Your Vehicle
Engine oil keeps components working smoothly together and draws heat away from the combustion chamber and prevents carbon from accumulating in the engine. It’s probably the most inexpensive maintenance cost of operating a vehicle, yet the most important. Failing to change it or keep an adequate supply in the engine could spell death for an engine.
Always use manufacturer-recommended oil. While your Dad probably used 10W-40 for everything, most cars today use 5W-30. You can find the recommendation in the owners’ manual or the oil reservoir cap on the engine itself.
Professional mechanics recommend you change your oil based on mileage rather than months. The most familiar and recommended for service vehicles such as taxis, police cars and livery vehicles is 3,000 miles. However, some vehicles can go 15,000 miles between changes. Many factors contribute to how often you need to change including long idle times, extreme heat or excessive dust, or sand in the air. Changing at 3,000 miles is an inexpensive way to always keep fresh, clean oil in your vehicle.
Failing to keep clean fresh oil in your vehicle can cause huge problems requiring complete engine rebuild or replacement. When compared to the low cost of an oil change, it is simply cheap insurance for your engine.
While many quickie oil changes and even fleet service companies still refer to an oil change as “LOF service” (Lube, Oil, Filter), there isn’t much left to lubricate anymore since most newer vehicles are manufactured with sealed “lubed for life” ball joints, tie rod ends and even U-joints. However, some vehicles still contain suspension and driveline parts with proper grease fittings that may need to be greased with a grease gun, which injects grease into special receptacles.
Maintaining the Electrial System
Vehicle electrical systems are comprised of two main components, the battery and the alternator. Both can wreak havoc on chauffeured vehicles due to the heavy burden placed upon them by an array of electronics, fancy lighting and high-amp sound systems. Testing and replacing batteries and alternators before they fail is an investment in good customer service and prevention of an expensive breakdown with passengers.
Keeping Engines Cool
Coolant/anti-freeze is circulated through the engine and carried back to the radiator to cool off and circulate again. The system is considered a “closed” system so no fluid should ever leak out. The system is comprised of radiator and heater hoses and a belt or belts that operate the radiator cooling fan, power steering, alternator, water pump and air-conditioner compressor. All of these components will be disabled if the belt breaks.
The 7-Point Annual Check-Up
1. Visual inspection of all cooling system components, including belts and hoses.
2. Radiator cap pressure test to check for the recommended system pressure level.
3. Thermostat check for proper opening and closing.
4. Pressure test to identify any external leaks to the cooling system parts; including the radiator, water pump, engine coolant passages, radiator and heater hoses and heater core.
5. Internal leak test to check for combustion gas leakage into the cooling system.
6. Engine cooling fan test for proper operation
7. Other things to check during daily and weekly inspections:
• Replace belts that are worn, frayed or glazed.
• Adjust belts when more than 1/2 inch can be depressed between the pulleys.
• Replace bulging, rotten or brittle hoses.
If headlights dim at idle, this is a sign of a bad alternator. The same applies about noticeable reductions with internal fan speeds falling. This means the alternator is not putting out enough amps and shifting part of the load to the battery. The action will eventually wear the battery down. A loose belt can cause an otherwise okay alternator to malfunction. A simple belt adjustment can fix this problem. Alternators can easily be checked to show their voltage output with special equipment.
Battery cables inherently collect corrosion. A dirty cable connection will prevent power from flowing to the starting system and may cause the symptoms of a dead battery. It will also hamper the ability of the alternator to recharge the battery, resulting in a dead battery. A light coat of grease on the post will help keep them clean.
A battery shop can easily check your battery for you with a “load tester.” This device simulates to your battery the maximum load or draw. The tester also can tell how much energy your battery is storing when fully charged. Over time, a battery diminishes in how much power it can store and eventually will not be able to hold a charge. Replace at least every four years.
Starters & Solenoids
These two components work together to start your engine. Grinding noises during start up can indicate the starter is not properly meshing to the flywheel.
Tips for Maintaining Electrical Systems
• Replace your battery every four years.
• Check alternator belt frequently for cracks and tension.
• Clean battery connections at least once a year.
The Braking System
Braking systems are either drum-based or disc-based. The braking system is comprised of calipers, rotors, shoes or pads and a master cylinder holding brake fluid used to apply the brakes. It also includes your parking brake system that is sometimes referred to as an e-brake or emergency brake. However, if depressed while in motion, it will likely induce your vehicle into an uncontrollable skid. The entire system should be checked every 12,000 miles.
The lifespan of brake pads can vary widely from 30,000 to 70,000 miles based on a driver’s application of the brakes, vehicle loads, terrain traveled (downhill traveling kills brakes), and if the driving is in-town or on the highway. Vibration in the steering wheel or brake pedal can indicate you need to change the pads. Brake pads also are designed to emit a clear signal when they need to be changed. It will sound like metal scraping when the brakes are applied. This is an indication the brake pads should be changed immediately! Failure to do so will result in damage to your rotors and a much more expensive repair. You may be able to see the pads through open slots on the wheel. If it appears to be less than 1/4 inch thick, replace them.
The type of pads you choose make a difference. Here is a list of the four types and their characteristics:
This pad is a mix of organic material and metals ranging from steel and iron to copper that are molded and bonded to form the pad. These pads are harder and much more resistant to heat. Heat can cause failure.
Made from non-metallic fibers bonded into a composite material. The material is treated with friction modifiers including graphite, powdered metals and even nutshells. Fillers are added to reduce noise and to affect heat transfer.
This material is formed of a variety and mix of pressure bonded metals. Advances in organic and semi-metallic pad composition have made metallic pads a favorite of race car drivers on a track but not much use in most vehicles.
Often referred to as ceramic pads, these pads are made from a composite of non-organic and nonmetallic material such as fiberglass. They weigh about half the weight of a semi-metallic pad. They are strongest in terms of stopping power and last longer than any other type of pad but cost twice as much. Considering our precious cargo of humans, this is a worthwhile safety investment.
Brake fluid is used to pump fluid to the brakes when you apply them. It should be checked regularly and kept topped off. Brake fluid should be exchanged about every five years as condensation, extreme heat or cold can break it down over time and cause moisture to get into the braking system and lead to rust and corrosion.
Brake pads squeeze against the rotors to stop a vehicle. They serve as an integral part of the system. Like brake pads, rotors have a life that depends on driving habits, loads and even the type of pads used. Failure to change pads can cause severe damage or warping of rotors. Sometimes the rotors can be refinished to their original smooth level by a machine, but if they get too thin of a groove and it’s too deep, you must replace them. Never put new pads on warped rotors.
Road Testing Rotors
Step #1: At 30 mph, apply the brakes firmly without completely stopping. If there is a severe vibration, the rotors are severely warped. If no vibration, go to Step #2.
Step #2: At 60 mph, apply the brakes firmly without completely stopping. If there is a vibration felt, the rotors are slightly warped.
Basic Warning Signs
There are basic warning signs that indicate your brake system should be checked.
|Warning Sign||Possible Problem|
|Fading or sinking brake pedal||Possible leak in the brake system|
|Pulling to one side||Uneven brake pad wearing or contaminated brake fluid|
|Grinding or growling||Brake pads are worn out|
|Vibration||Rotors are warped|
Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
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