With average commutes stretching longer than ever and more cars on the road, it’s no surprise we’re spending more time behind the wheel. But what part can you play in making your commute the best it can be? “There are things people can check, and there are things they can actually do,” says Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. “You hear all kinds of recommendations but you always have to ask, is that reasonable?”
Being more attuned to your vehicle is as much a state of mind as it is a prescription to avoid the repair shop. With some easy maintenance maneuvers, the perfect drive is within your reach, and you don’t necessarily need to don a pair of mechanic’s rubber gloves to get there.
Experts offer five ways to start your day as a master of the road.
Clean your windshield wipers
That nasty streak deposited across your wipers every time the snow is less than pristine? It doesn’t have to be that way. Remove grit from your wipers regularly, running a cloth along the bottoms. Replace wipers annually, either sliding or snapping them out by hand, tilting the wiper arms upward for easy removal. “When the weather gets tough with heavy rain or slush or snow, visibility can be compromised and safety impacted,” says James Bell, head of consumer affairs at General Motors GM +0.6%. In warmer weather, the rubber in the wipers can lose elasticity.
Check your oil
“Rule No. 1 is oil changes,” says NASCAR champ Clint Bowyer. “Your engine is your heartbeat and without it, all systems are dead.” Low oil causes premature wear in your engine, as byproducts from the combustion process break down and form a layer of sludge inside the engine block. An engine that’s not properly lubricated could swig more fuel than necessary or worse, die. Check the dipstick every 1,000 miles to make sure you’re not running low, and plan to change the oil at least every 5,000. Four and six-cylinder engines usually require four to five quarts of oil. Be sure to let the engine cool before attempting a D.I.Y. job.
Monitor tire pressure
A flat tire can ruin your day. Be sure to inflate your tires to the guidelines usually found on the sticker inside your driver’s door, especially in extreme weather. Low tire pressure will wear out the tires, creating a mushier ride that’s harder to steer. One in of four vehicles on the road are operating on low tire pressure, says Raymond Cox, automotive expert at AutoMD, a D.I.Y. repair site based in Carson, Calif. “They just get in and drive, and it seems to work fine, and they don’t realize their fuel economy has dropped 3 percent because there’s more resistance on the road.” But be careful not to overcompensate – tires that are too taut create a stiffer ride.
Especially in winter, a wash protects your car’s paint job from the snow, road salt and bird droppings that can leave a permanent mark. Give the undercarriage a good scrub each spring. “When the water evaporates, salt and other winter road clearing solvents can cause chemical corrosion over time that may impact the stability of the vehicle’s powertrain, suspension, and body structure,” GM’s Bell says.
Keep gas in the tank
It’s tempting to run down the fuel gauge and postpone those tiresome trips to the pump, but once the indicator light blinks, it’s time to think about stopping to fill up. “Letting it run all the way to empty on a regular basis is not good for the car,” says Brian Moody, site editor at AutoTrader.com. When the gas tank is nearly empty, the fuel pump is likely to suck up the gunk that accumulates at the bottom of the tank. Hitting empty once or twice isn’t detrimental to your car, but for routine offenders, that debris could clog fuel injectors or damage the fuel pump.