Is your car ready to drive?

Courtesy of ARA Content

Americans are holding on to their automobiles longer, and this means proper maintenance is key to keeping their cars running smoothly and efficiently.

Dr. FuelGood is Sam Memmolo, an ASE-certified auto technician and automotive expert for Shell. He has the following advice on the best care for your car:

“As a master auto technician and passionate car enthusiast, I’ve worked on a number of different types of vehicles throughout the years—from hot rods to motorcycles to minivans,” Memmolo says. “I constantly stress that there’s no substitute for preventative maintenance. A little TLC can go a long way when it comes to taking care of your vehicle and avoiding costly repairs. Whether you drive a performance-oriented sports car or a more practical family vehicle, there are a few basic tips that I recommend all drivers follow to ensure your car is ready for the road.”

Change your oil: Regular service can help prolong the life of your vehicle.

A regular oil change is the service most likely to help prolong the life of your vehicle. Yet, recent nationwide vehicle inspections found 32 percent of vehicles have low, overfull or dirty engine oil, according to a 2008 study found on, indicating many motorists fail to perform this important task. Changing the oil (not just topping it off) using a high-quality motor oil that meets the specifications recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer helps your engine get the lubricant protection it needs. Don’t forget the following tips:

Check the oil level regularly and change the oil at the intervals outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Many manufacturers recommend different oil change intervals for different driving conditions. Follow the guidelines for the conditions under which you typically drive, such as “normal” or “severe service.”

Replace the oil filter with every oil change.

Go with the flow: Check all of your vehicle’s fluids.

Engine oil is not the only fluid your vehicle needs to run properly. Reference your owner’s manual to find information on where fluids are contained, exactly how to check them, the type your vehicle uses and how much should be in each “reservoir.”

If you see drops of fluid under your vehicle, you should be able to identify them by color or consistency. A few small drops are probably not a cause for concern, but you should take note of small puddles. Here is a guide to recognizing fluid leaks:

If the fluid is yellow-green, blue or fluorescent orange, it could indicate a cooling system leak or an overheating problem.

If the fluid is dark brown or black, it is most likely engine oil. The engine could have a bad seal or gasket or a loose oil filter.

A red oily spot means you probably have a transmission or power steering fluid leak.

A puddle of water is usually normal and is simply condensation from the air conditioning system or the defroster.

Choose carefully: There is a difference in the fuel you choose.

Some of the world’s top automakers—Audi, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen—recognize that current Environmental Protection Agency minimum detergent requirements do not go far enough to prevent engine “gunk” (harmful carbon deposits) that can harm engine performance. To raise the bar on fuel quality, these auto manufacturers designated the voluntary TOP TIER Detergent Gasoline Standard to help drivers avoid the problems that can be associated with using lower-quality gasolines.

Fortunately, preventing engine gunk is as easy as choosing the right gasoline. Shell recently introduced the new Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines, containing a unique, patented cleaning system designed to seek and destroy engine gunk left by lower-quality gasolines. The new Nitrogen Enriched formula helps clean and protect critical engine parts in both conventional and modern engines, and it is TOP TIER Certified.

No matter what grade of fuel your vehicle requires, it’s important to use a high-quality gasoline that meets TOP TIER standards. Industry research confirms a clean engine can result in better fuel efficiency, reduced emissions and overall optimal engine performance.

The bottom line

Next to buying a home, a vehicle is probably the most expensive purchase many people will make. That’s why it makes good economic sense for owners to take proper care of their vehicles through preventive and routine maintenance. “Most of us will switch vehicles throughout our lives, but it’s important to remember that basic car care knowledge is the same regardless of make or model,” says Memmolo. “So, even if you decide to trade in your reliable family sedan for a flashy convertible—or vice versa—following these basic tips will help you take better care of your car.”

from the Aug. 26-Sept 1, 2009 issue

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