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Give your car some TLC and save money, lives

A spring tune-up could save you money and cut the odds of a nasty road accident, experts say. By’s Roland Jones.
A few simple car care tips can ensure your vehicle’s dependability in the months ahead.BW file
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Spring is in the air and drivers’ thoughts are turning to relaxing summer jaunts and extensive road trips. But while you’re planning your vacation, you also need to think about a tune-up, experts say. After all, the physical state of your vehicle can save you money and cut the odds of a nasty road accident.

In case you hadn’t heard, April is National Car Care Month, and if you’re not the sort of vehicle owner who’s obsessed with checking every fluid level or lug nut on your car, this month the Car Care Council has you covered.

The not-for-profit car care awareness group has teamed up with independent repair shops, auto parts stores, and local businesses and civic groups to offer car owners free vehicle inspections and safety checks. The events, referred to as Vehicle Check Ups, are held in parking lots at shopping malls and schools.

Car Care Month might sound like a marketing gimmick dreamed up to sell more car care products, but there are economic, safety and environmental benefits to performing regular vehicle maintenance, notes Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council.

“Neglected vehicles do cause accidents, or a breakdown on a highway, which in itself can be dangerous,” White says. “During last year’s National Car Care Month we found that about 85 percent of the cars inspected had some sort of problem and needed some work, whether that’s low oil, frayed belts, battery cables that need cleaning or a dirty air filter.”

With gas prices expected to rise to the dreaded $3-a-gallon level in some parts of the country during the key summer driving season, good car maintenance now is all the more important. “There are things you can do to keep your car running efficiently, and you can squeeze out a few more miles to the gallon,” White says.

“A vehicle’s air filter is very important because it keeps dust and dirt out of fuel system, so if it’s dirty is can decrease gas mileage,” White added. “Last year, about one in four of all the vehicles we checked need a new air filter — that’s a lot of wasted fuel.”

Data collected by White’s organization in 2005 also show many car drivers are traveling America’s roads with defective lighting. Thirteen percent of vehicles inspected needed work on their left, right or third brake light, while 9 percent of vehicles needed work on at least one of their license plate lights. Six percent had their “Check Engine” light on.

Tires are also important, says White. If they are not inflated properly, it’s like driving with the parking brake on. Twenty-one percent of the vehicles inspected by the Car Care Council in April 2005 had improperly inflated tires, he said, and 16 percent had worn tread and were in need of replacement. Another 11 percent of vehicles had damaged tires.

“One in every five cars is running around without the proper tire pressure, so it’s wasting gas and wearing its tires out,” White said. “The thing is, most of these issues are relatively simple and inexpensive to fix. I think of it as preventive maintenance; it’s a lot like going to the dentist regularly — it’s a whole lot better to keep your teeth clean and go for regular checkups rather than go through the pain of having a crown, or a root canal.”

White also points out that there’s a far more important reason to check tire pressure, lights and other parts of your vehicle, like transmission and brake fluids, which can impair driving performance and damage internal parts if not properly maintained.

Neglected vehicle maintenance leads to more than 2,600 of the approximately 43,000 deaths each year on America’s road and nearly 100,000 disabling injuries according to the National Car Care Council. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that motor vehicle crashes are the eighth-leading cause of death among all age groups in the United States.

“When we got this campaign going, we did research and we found that consumers are motivated by safety and dependability,” said White. “They don’t want a vehicle to break down and be left in a dangerous situation, so we worked on how we could best educate consumers on vehicle care.”

Keeping a car clean, maintaining it according to a manufacturer’s specifications, maintaining good car maintenance records and giving it an “annual physical” can also keep your car in better shape, and maintain its resale value, said Dave Kinney, an accredited automobile appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers.

“Cars are usually the second largest purchase for most people, right after their house,” Kinney said. “It makes sense to take care of your automobile, not only for sustaining its worth, but for safety purposes as well.”

Last year, National Car Care Month pulled 400 vehicles into check-up events, but this year the Car Care Council expects over 1,000 cars to participate, as big automotive manufactures like Subaru of America and Honda throw their support behind the initiative with free car clinics and check-ups.

In the events, which will involve technicians and other vehicle experts performing visual inspections, but no actual hands-on maintenance — just visual inspection, participants will also give demos on how to install a child safety seat, or how to polish a car said White.

“People realize these events can be great for the community,” White said. “The advice is free, but for us its great way to monitor the conditions of vehicles on the highway and help teach consumers how to take good care of their vehicles.”