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Experts urge spring, summer auto care

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Experts in the automotive industry are encouraging area residents to be vigilant in maintaining their automobiles, heading into the spring and summer driving season.

Car Care Council officials believe April, the council's National Car Care Month, is an opportune time for motorists to learn about the economic benefits of performing regular vehicle maintenance.

"Each year, community car care events routinely identify that consumers are not taking proper care of their vehicles," said Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. "Neglected vehicle care almost always means much higher costs down the line, either in the form of more extensive repairs or lost resale value."

About 80 percent of vehicles failed at least one component of a vehicle inspection, according to data collected in 2009 from council community car care events.

The council's data revealed that 27 percent of the vehicles had low, overfull or dirty engine oil. Low, leaky or dirty coolant in the radiator or surge tank was identified in 26 percent of the inspected vehicles, 51 percent of belts were unsatisfactory in the vehicles inspected, and 10 percent of the vehicles required at least one new hose.

White said now is an optimal time to focus on vehicle maintenance needs as motorists find themselves on the verge of the spring and summer driving seasons.

The summer driving season in the Southeast can be taxing on automobiles, particularly in areas of dense traffic like metro Atlanta, according to James Renfroe, owner and operator of Express Oil Change and Service in Ellenwood.

Renfroe said there are basic things drivers can do as part of their maintenance routine, not only to prolong the health and life of their vehicles and save on long-term car care costs, but to be safer overall when they are driving.

"Tire pressure and fuel system cleanings are definitely in line with gas maintenance and gas mileage efficiency," he noted. "There's nothing like air pressure in your tires, oil changes, and changing your air filters. Those three things do more to add to safe driving [in] the summer months than anything else you can do."

The mechanic said the poor condition of a vehicle after a frigid, wet winter can be abated with a cooling system flush, which helps prepare the vehicle for the summer heat.

"Winter can be brutal on a car," he said. "Freezing temperatures, snow, ice and salt can damage your car's mechanical abilities, limit traction, scratch the paint and give your heater a workout. That's why it's important to make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape throughout the year."

Renfroe said the cost of regularly maintaining a vehicle is far less than a repair that could have been avoided. He said his auto shop sees many cases in which patrons need to be made aware of small issues that potentially can balloon into larger problems.

"From the maintenance standpoint, we find oil leaks, transmission leaks, and tires being improperly balanced," said Renfroe, who advises customers to ask questions about their auto care.

Officials with the Express Oil Change corporate office advise motorists to change their oil according to the manufacturers' suggested intervals, which are typically every 3,000 to 3,500 miles.

Motorists should examine their automobile's hoses and belts as well, because harsh winter weather can cause them to crack and leak. Even small cracks can mean big, expensive problems down the road, if they are not taken care of promptly, Express Oil Change officials added.

"Many drivers think maintenance equals oil changes," said AAA Auto Club South Spokeswoman Jessica Brady. "In fact, most people change oil more often than they need to, but don't rotate their tires as frequently as they should. That's a big mistake. Proper rotation can add as much as 10,000 miles to the life of a set of tires."

Brady said there are additional ways to keep an automobile operating reliably, including keeping maintenance records, keeping the fuel tank at least one-quarter full, and running the engine for a few minutes before powering up its heater, air conditioner, and accessories.

Paul Abraham, owner of G.P. Automotive in Rex, said that in addition to not rotating tires often enough, two other things people neglect to do as often as they should are getting battery checks, and making sure there is plenty of air in their cars' spare tires.

Abraham said motorists should have the internal parts of their car batteries, specifically the battery cells, checked every three to four months, or at least every third oil change. This is to ensure motorists know of any problems with their batteries before they die, he said. "Sometimes, the batteries are bad, and they [motorists] don't know it until it stops working on them," Abraham said.

Abraham said checking the air pressure in spare tires, to make sure they are not close to going flat, is the one thing people need to do, but are least likely to think of doing. "That is the last thing people think of," he said. "Then, they go to put the spare on the car, and it's flat."

To learn more about proper car care, visit the AAA web site at www.aaa.com. There is also a free, digital, car care guide available at the Car Care Council web site, at www.carcare.org.

Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article.