9 Commonly Overlooked Auto Maintenance Tasks

Regular maintenance is essential to keep your vehicle running smoothly and avoid potential breakdowns. Neglecting your maintenance can affect your car's performance and lead to expensive repairs—especially when critical parts like the engine or transmission are involved. 

While oil changes and tire rotations are important, there are several other maintenance tasks that often slip under the radar. Here are 9 commonly overlooked maintenance tasks and how they play a role in your vehicle's performance and longevity. 

Transmission Fluid Maintenance

While most drivers know to get regular oil changes, the transmission fluid often gets forgotten. Much like engine oil, the transmission fluid keeps the various gears in the transmission cool and lubricated. Over time, the transmission fluid can become dirty and contaminated, which reduces its effectiveness. 

Transmissions are expensive to repair, so it's important to have yours serviced according to your manufacturer's recommendations. Although service intervals vary, transmission fluid should generally be checked every 30,000 miles and changed between 50,000 to 100,000 miles. If you notice issues like delayed or rough shifting, gear slipping, or strange noises coming from the transmission, schedule service as soon as possible. 

Air Filter Replacement

There are two different types of air filters that need to be changed regularly: the engine air filter and the cabin air filter. The engine air filter ensures your engine has clean air for the combustion process, while the cabin air filter keeps the air quality in your cabin clean and free of contaminants that can cause respiratory issues. 

The engine air filter should generally be changed every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, while the cabin air filter may last up to 30,000 miles. If you often drive in dusty conditions, like dirt or gravel roads, you may need to change your air filters more frequently. 

Common signs of a dirty engine air filter include poor gas mileage, jerking movements when accelerating, misfiring and starting issues, loud engine sounds, or an illuminated check engine light. If your cabin air filter needs to be replaced, you may notice poor airflow from the vents, loud fan noises, issues with the heating and cooling system, or an unusual odor coming from the vents. 

Wheel Alignment

Proper wheel alignment is essential for the longevity of your ties and fuel efficiency. Your wheels can lose alignment over time due to road conditions (like potholes), worn suspension, hard impacts (like hitting a curb), accidents or collisions, and normal wear and tear. For this reason, it's recommended to have your alignment checked yearly or after you've hit a large pothole, bump, or curb. 

Beyond reduced fuel efficiency and increased tire wear, neglecting your wheel alignment can be dangerous because it affects how your vehicle handles. Keep an eye out for warning signs like your car pulling to one side, uneven tire wear, and an off-center steering wheel. 

Coolant System Flush 

Coolant (commonly called antifreeze) prevents overheating by absorbing heat from the engine and dissipating it through the radiator. As the coolant circulates through the engine and radiator, it's exposed to extremely high temperatures; over time, this can cause it to break down and become acidic. This can eventually cause corrosion in the cooling system, including the radiator, hoses, water pump, and engine components. 

To prevent the coolant from becoming too acidic, it's important to have your fluid flushed and replaced regularly—typically every 30,000 to 60,000 miles or as recommended in your owner's manual. Common signs that your coolant or radiator needs attention include engine overheating, coolant leaks, and low coolant levels. 

Battery Inspection

Car batteries are often overlooked—until they fail. Summer heat can affect your battery life, and cold temperatures can weaken the charge and overall performance, so it's recommended to have your battery checked periodically, especially as it ages.

Although some newer batteries can last longer, many of them need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years. Common signs that your battery may be on its last legs include dim headlights, a slow engine crank, and needing frequent jump starts. Schedule an inspection if you notice corrosion on the battery's connections or the case is swollen. 

Brake Fluid Change

Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that transmits the force applied on the brake pedal to the brake calipers or wheel cylinders, which causes the brake pads or shoes to make contact with the brake rotors or drums. This creates the friction needed to stop your vehicle. However, brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it has a tendency to absorb moisture from the surrounding air.  Over time, the moisture content in the brake fluid increases due to condensation, leading to a process known as "brake fluid contamination." As moisture accumulates in the brake fluid, it can significantly impact your braking performance or cause brake fade. Over time, it can also lead to corrosion and component damage. Brake fluid should be replaced every time you have your brakes serviced—generally every 2-3 years or every 30,000 to 45,000 miles, depending on your vehicle and driving conditions. 

Fuel System Cleaning

Keeping your fuel system and injectors clean is essential for maximizing your engine's power and fuel efficiency. As you drive, deposits, carbon buildup, and other contaminants can accumulate in the fuel system and fuel injectors. These deposits can restrict fuel flow, affecting the engine's performance and fuel economy. When the fuel system needs cleaning, you may also notice rough idling. 

Regular fuel system cleaning is especially important for vehicles that use gasoline with ethanol, as ethanol can leave behind more carbon deposits. Plan to have your fuel system cleaned every 30,000 miles or as recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer to maintain peak engine efficiency and prevent potential issues caused by fuel system blockages.

Power Steering Maintenance

A well-functioning power steering system is crucial for safe and comfortable driving. The power steering system uses power steering fluid to help easily turn the wheels while providing enhanced steering control. Over time, the power steering fluid can degrade and become contaminated with dirt and debris, so, like other automotive fluids, it should be replaced regularly. 

Neglecting power steering maintenance can lead to problems with the power steering pump, which may make it difficult to steer—especially at low speeds. Additionally, inadequate power steering fluid can lead to increased wear on other power steering components. To keep your power steering system functioning properly, you should have the fluid replaced every 30,000 to 60,000 miles or as recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer. 

Timing Belt Replacement

The timing belt synchronizes the engine's camshaft and crankshaft, which ensures that the valves open and close precisely at the right time during the engine's operation. If the timing belt fails or breaks, it can cause severe (and expensive) engine damage, including bent valves or piston damage. Timing belts are made of rubber and wear out over time due to exposure to heat, stress, and engine oil. As a result, they have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced before they fail. 

The recommended timing belt replacement interval will vary depending on your vehicle's make and model. Many manufacturers suggest replacing the timing belt every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, but it's essential to follow the specific guidelines outlined in your vehicle's owner's manual. Some early warning signs that your timing belt is worn or damaged include engine misfires, unusual engine noises, or visible wear on the belt. 

Are You Overdue on Maintenance?

Vehicles are incredibly complex pieces of machinery that need regular maintenance to maintain their performance and extend their road life. By staying proactive and keeping up with these commonly overlooked maintenance procedures, you can enjoy a smoother, safer, and more reliable driving experience—and save money on repairs!

If you need maintenance or repairs, you can always rely on the expert team at RPM Automotive Services. Family-owned and operated, our team is dedicated to helping you keep your vehicle in top condition. With a wide range of services, including oil changes, wheel alignments, brake repairs, and engine repairs, we offer everything your vehicle needs. In addition, we offer a complimentary shuttle service and loaner cars to keep your life moving while your vehicle is at the shop. Contact us today at (707) 800-4586 or schedule an appointment online!

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