HALF EMPTY MAINTENANCE
Is your maintenance schedule optimistic or pessimistic? Optimism in general is great but pessimistic maintenance keeps cars running long and strong. In other words plan for the worst and hope for the best. Use the wrong maintenance schedule and bad things happen.
So how does optimistic pessimistic apply to vehicle maintenance? Quite simply owner’s manuals list service level options based on severity of vehicle use. Problem is it’s up to you to decide; severe or normal? Given that choice most drivers are optimistic and choose normal; which may be an expensive mistake. When you make service frequency decisions it’s always safer to be pessimistic than optimistic. Why? Pessimistic means more frequent service and no car has ever failed from over maintaining but too little maintenance kills millions of expensive parts every year.
Fall seems to stimulate drivers into overly optimistic service decisions. Everyone knows that antifreeze should be checked in the fall. But many drivers make an expensive mistake thanks to a confusing recommendation in their owner’s manual. Most cars now use long-life coolant, which can be great or really bad depending on your interpretation of your owner’s manual. Manuals often read something like this: The coolant in your new Warthog-Limited is engineered to last “up to”
It’s a recipe for disaster if you read optimistic, wishful thinking into the phrase. Too many drivers interpret those words to mean their coolant absolutely will last five years or one hundred and fifty thousand miles. Unfortunately, that’s not what it says. What you’re actually being told is your coolant “could” last five years or one hundred and fifty thousand miles. Some will, some won’t, but to be safe all coolant should be checked twice yearly.
Checking coolant requires more than a basic hydrometer to check freeze protection. Hydrometers use a rubber bulb on top of a plastic chamber with floats inside. They allow you to suck coolant into the chamber and the number of balls that float tell freeze protection. More floating balls the lower the temperature can drop before your coolant turns to ice. Hydrometers are available for a couple bucks at auto parts stores. Although making sure the coolant will keep your engine from freezing is vital you must also make sure it protects in other ways. Because engines are now constructed of multiple metal-types and plastics they need special protection. That protection comes from unique additives blended into new coolant.
Unfortunately there is no direct test for those protective additives but one sign of their demise is lowered pH. So proper testing involves checking freeze protection and clarity with a hydrometer, then pH using a coolant pH test strip. If it passes all three tests you’re okay until your next six month check. If your coolant fails any of the three tests it’s time to flush your cooling system and refill it with the proper product for your car. The really bad actor here is low pH. Lower pH means the coolant is more acidic and more acidic means rusty coolant and rust is dissolved engine.
So the next time someone starts bragging about how little maintenance their car needs, think to yourself how lucky you are to have a maintenance glass that’s half empty. Aggressive preventive maintenance guarantees a longer lasting more economical car.
© Copyright 09/15/07 Pat Goss all rights reserved, 600 words.