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3 simple tasks to keep an aging car in good shape

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While the car market has grown immensely over the past five years, the vast majority of motorists still own, drive or maintain an older car, usually 5-7 years old, if not more. Common knowledge says that five-year-old cars tend to manifest most of the serious problems in car ownership. I hope to help you become more proactive and identify common problems, which can lead to more serious and costly ones down the road if left unattended.

1.) Flat-tires—tires, when inflated with ordinary oxygen can lose as much as 5 pounds of pressure in a week. It is crucial to check the tire pressure every time you gas up and monitor how much tire pressure you’ve lost. If your car feels or handles weird, funny or feels extra-harsh and you can really feel the big bumps on the road, the tire pressure is too low, or at least is less than ideal. If you are losing more than 5 pounds of tire pressure, chances are you have a slow puncture, like a small nail of sharp metal debris stuck between the tread, or the tire valve stem is old, worn and leaking. A simple twist-in tire sealant is a few hundred pesos at most, whereas the more expensive tire patch is about P500 and a quality tire valve stem is also about P500 to P700 pesos each, depending on brand.

All in all, having any one of these tasks performed/parts changed on your vehicle’s tires will be much less than replacing a complete tire and/or having a tow truck come over to rescue you, especially when these things happen at the worst possible time, such as manic rush hour traffic, or on long holidays such as Holy Week or Christmas. Having your car’s wheels aligned at a minimum of once a year not only allows your tires to last longer, get maximum fuel efficiency, and chassis stability and grip, it also gives professional mechanics a chance to inspect your car’s suspension, make sure nothing’s leaking and tighten everything up to ensure a rattle-free drive.

As a general rule, most modern cars and tires are designed to run slightly higher pressure for better fuel efficiency and performance as well as support today’s breed of heavier cars capable of higher levels of speed and grip. Gone are the days of inflating to sub-30 pounds of tire pressure. A good rule of thumb is to inflate to 33 psi cold, then adjust higher or lower from there. 33 psi is right smack in the middle of the recommended range of regular sedans, SUV’s and pick-ups and even high-performance cars. And keep your tire valve stem caps in place too. They prevent loss of pressure from old, worn and leaking tire valve stems when threaded on properly tight.

2.) Noisy belts—serpentine belts, fan belts, v-belts, accessories belts, are all different names for the same rubber bands that connect your engine ancillaries to one another, powered by the engine’s crankshaft. As the engine spins, it spins the water pump, oil pump, a/c compressor, alternator and power steering pumps together because they are connected by belts. If you notice that your car feels sluggish, your power steering feels heavier than what it used to be, your car’s electrical system feels weak (such as when you turn on all your electrical components and your headlights look dim or weak at idle in traffic), chances are your belts, and the associated bearings and tensioners that keep the belts tight, are old, loose or binding. Let’s not forget the screeching, whining shrieking noise associated with old, worn or binding rubber belts. Replace the belts immediately, and be amazed at how light-footed your car will perform. Change the bearings and tensioners too, as new belts won’t last long with old bearings and tensioners as they can be the cause of binding.

Left unattended, your battery can drain out faster and leave you stuck on the road due to poor charging, or the belts will break and/or tear off, again leaving you stranded on the road or, worse, your oil and water pumps seize, causing overheating due to lack of lubrication and cooling, or other serious engine damage, not only leaving you stranded on the road, but with a hefty repair bill coming soon after.

3.) Overheating—most people never really realize how effective their cooling systems are until subjected to intense traffic in the midday heat on a very hot and humid summer day. I’ve said it so many times, and I’ll say it again: Never ever fill your radiator and the rest of your cooling system with regular tap water as sediments and impurities in tap water can gather together and cause rust, creating more impurities in your cooling system. These impurities can clog your radiator’s tubes, the thermostat and thermostat housing, tear up old rubber seals and joints and cause pitting on the water pump’s vanes, which impede it from pumping water and coolant effectively into your engine, thereby causing even more damage.

If your car is five years old and has over 80,000 kilometers, replace the water pump, flush out all the coolant and replace with distilled water and high-quality coolant. Some shops like Caltex Dallas and DTM Motorsports offer Lavramon coolant flushing, which ensures that all impurities are flushed out of the engine as the Lavramon machine pumps water mixed with special chemicals designed to remove all coolant imperfections, impurities and sediments from your engine’s cooling channels.

Another often overlooked cause of overheating is the rubber hoses and the special jubilee clips that hold them in place. Rubber wears out, and the jubilee clips and clamps are like springs which loose tension over the years especially when subjected to intense heat from the engine bay and the elements. Small pinhole leaks, normally invisible to the naked eye, only start until there is intense pressure and temperature from the engine and pushes out from the old and worn rubber hoses and joints where clamps hold the hoses in place. You don’t see this normally because you’re inside the car with the hood closed. Change the rubber hoses, change the clips and clamps every five years at the most to ensure that you have absolutely no leaks at all.

Lastly, change your radiator cap once every three to five years, too. The spring tension on the radiator cap loses its strength over time, and the rubber under-seal underneath the radiator cap gets worn-out as well. And while you’re at it, have a soft hand brush and low-pressure water handy to wipe away clean the radiator and the a/c condenser. The dirtier these two heat exchangers are, the less effective they are to radiate heat as the dirt blocks and prevents incoming air to cool these down and radiate heat into the ambient and passing air.

Three simple things to look out for. Three simple tasks to do, which will cost no more than P5,000 thereabouts. And three things to help further ensure that you, your loved ones and your car will be safely on your way, every day.

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