As parents of teenagers now old enough to drive, we have a lot of discussions about things like drinking and driving, texting and driving, and other essential safety concerns. I didn’t consider that we might also need to discuss the importance of car maintenance and safety, that is until my son returned to my car one day making a sound I had never heard before.
When I asked about the noise, he said it had started the day before and that it had grown considerably worse over the past few hours. Fortunately, we have a very responsive mechanic who, when I called, asked me to bring the vehicle right over. Lucky for me as well that his shop is just minutes from where we live.
By the time I got it there, four ways flashing and moving slowly, the steering was hard to adjust and the sound was horrible. Turned out the power steering fluid was leaking. Although it was a relatively quick fix, the fact that my son had been driving for two days with the noise and hadn’t thought much of it prompted a whole new series of talks – about car maintenance, about what to do if things don’t feel or sound right, and the importance of taking quick action.
Other under the hood fluids
Some of the other important under the hood fluids that you should either learn to check yourself, or have someone look at when you have regular maintenance are oil – most people know to get that looked at, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and transmission fluid. None take long to look at but each has a critical role in ensuring your car runs well, and safely. Sometimes a quick walk around your vehicle before you drive can alert you to a problem – visible signs of liquid on the ground for instance. At home, it’s a good idea to change up where you park your car. That way, if there is a leak, you aren’t covering its signs by continually parking over the same spot.
Older Vehicles and Rust
Depending on where you live, the weather and the methods the city uses to maintain the roads, your car maintenance could be prone to rust. While some people consider rust just an unattractive physical nuisance, rust is evidence of wear on your vehicle’s metal body and can indicate that things underneath are in equally bad, or likely worse shape.
When you consider that your car can have as many as 2,000 spot welds (places metal joined to metal) and components like electrical connections, brake lines, and the gas tank that can all be impacted by rust, you begin to see why preventative measures like rust proofing and periodic inspections to look at wear and tear are important.
As far as the physical body, beyond the nuisance of the look of rust, it’s important to consider that rust shows wear and deterioration of metal and a lot of it could indicate that the basic structure of the car – and your safety in an accident – has been compromised.
Spot issues before they become too big
I drive a lot, and that means I get oil changes, a lot. While this is part of basic maintenance. Most people recognize they need, many people don’t go the extra step of having someone look the car over while this is being done. It may not be possible if you visit one of the quick and cheap places that just does oil changes, because they focused on that one job and doing it quickly. If you use a regular mechanic though, or even make every second oil change a more comprehensive one, you can ask them to have a quick look at the vehicle for early indicators or issues you may not yet be aware of.
That kind of preventative check, in my case, identified a seized caliper that could have resulted in the need for a brake job as well if the mechanic hadn’t picked up on it when he did.
If you do find something unusual in a walkabout, or if there is a noise you can’t identify and your gut says the car may not be safe to drive, don’t. A professional tow service like can help assess the situation and get your vehicle safely to where it needs to be.
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