Automobiles are important to many aspects of African life. Those who service automobiles must understand each principle, and how these principles interact to provide smooth, efficient performance. Owners of cars also benefit by understanding how their vehicles operate. This enables them to understand why certain periodic maintenance is required to keep their vehicles in tip-top shape.
Road Safety calls not only for driver fitness but vehicle fitness too. A well maintained vehicle not only speaks volumes about the owner, but will protect the owner on the road. Many accidents caused by vehicle failure can be prevented and many stranded motorists face the preventable risk of criminals next to the road. It is important that we address the importance of vehicle maintenance for road safety and create awareness of preventative steps in properly maintaining our vehicles.
Importance of effective maintenance
Effective and proper maintenance will provide many benefits to the vehicle owner, including:
- Saving fuel and money – mechanical systems of the vehicle will affect fuel efficiency
- Reducing long-term maintenance costs
- Minimize harmful exhaust emissions and protect the environment
- Increase reliability of your vehicle and limit the risk of vehicle breakdown
- Increase the resale value of your vehicle
Basic Maintenance of your Vehicle
It is best to leave the servicing of your vehicle in the hands of trained automotive professionals / mechanics. They have the knowledge and tools to diagnose and correct problems and to put you on the road to safe, fuel-efficient driving. Preventive maintenance by the driver might however also help avoid vehicle break- down. This should be thorough, regular and frequent enough to meet the manufacturer's guidelines and common sense.
Aspects that require maintenance are:
- Air filter: Check monthly and replace it when it becomes dirty or as part of a tune -up. It is easy to reach, right under the big metal 'lid', in a carbureted engine; or in a rectangular box at the forward end of the air in a duct hose assembly.
- Battery: Remove the earth strap (usually the negative pole) on a battery to avoid activating the starter if you accidentally touch an open wire when repairing the starter or working in the battery area.
- Brakes / Brake Fluid: Check the brake fluid monthly. First wipe dirt from the brake master cylinder reservoir lid. Pry off the retainer clip and remove the lid or unscrew the plastic lid, depending on which type your vehicle has. If you need fluid, add the improved type and check for possible leaks throughout the system. Do not overfill.
- Engine Oil: Neglecting to replace worn-out oil results in poor engine performance, higher fuel consumption and possibly severe engine damage. To prevent engine deterioration, it is imperative that the engine maintains the amount of oil it is programmed to receive. Check the oil after every fill up. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean. Insert it fully and remove it again. If it is low, add oil. To maintain peak performance, the oil should be changed every 3 months. When doing general maintenance or repairs never over fill the sump with oil as this will prematurely damage the oil seals and result in engine oil leaks. When fitting a new oil filter, a light smear of engine oil on the oil filter rubber seal will ensure the vital sealing surface requirement when hand tightening the oil filters housing to engine mating block.
- Exhaust & Silencer Exhaust: Have the exhaust system checked if it sounds noisy or rattles. Look underneath for loose or broken exhaust clamps and supports. Check for holes in muffler or pipes. Replace the rusted or damaged parts.
- Fan & Belt: Inspect belts and hoses smoothly. Replace glazed, worn or frayed belts. Replace bulging, rotten or brittle hoses and tighten clamps. If a hose looks bad, or feels too soft or too hard, it should be replaced. When replacing a missing or perished fan belt ensure that the tension setting at the longest run between the engines pulleys is about 10 to 12mm (Free tension play)
- Front Wheel CV Joints/ Wheel bearing kits: When undertaking repairs to wheel bearing kits use only one sachet of grease for both wheel applications keep the other grease pack for future use on your vehicle - one pack is more than sufficient to pack both wheels
- Fuel Line & Fuel Pump
- Gearbox Oil
- High –Tension (HT) leads
- Ignition Coil
- Lights: Check that all lights are working and replace any broken or burned out bulbs. It is important for the lights to be properly focused, for your own and for the oncoming vehicle's safety. Travel on low beam so that it does not obstruct your view instead of helping you along.
- Water: If your engine uses water for cooling, take care to ensure that it is regularly changed. Water can also be used for cleaning the windshield.
- Rear Wheel Drive Shaft
- Shock Absorbers: Shock absorbers should always be replaced in pairs (or all four) ensuring that both the front and/or rear shocks are in the same condition and operate on equal settings on the same axle.
- Spark Plugs: In an attempt to rectify erratic idling after replacing your vehicles spark plugs, ensure that the plug leads are secure on both ends of the plug lead and that the leads are not perished.
- Tyres- Mechanical irregularities will show up early on tyre wear patterns. It is important to have professionals check your wheel alignment and balance. (The following mechanical components can lead to irregular tyre wear - Grabbing or unequal brakes, Spread axles, bent axles, sagging axles, Twisted or cracked chassis, Worn or loose wheel bearings, damaged or worn suspension, damaged or worn wheel assembly, worn bushes or ball joints, damaged of worn steering components, etc.)
- Tyre Pressure: The required amount of air pressure needs to be strictly maintained if your car is to get the right mileage and pick-up.
- Clutch Kits: Worn individual clutch plates pressure plates and/or release bearings should not be seen as quick fix loose unit repairs. Replacing all the corresponding components, pressure plate, clutch plate and thrust bearing in kit form is highly recommended; these components operate in conjunction with each other and have equal mileage and wear evident, replacing one only loose clutch component is a risk that could prove expensive and time consuming.
- Wiper Blades: It is recommended you change your wiper blades every six months, even if they haven't been used very often. The rubber deteriorates over time when exposed to the atmosphere.
- Seat Belts: Keep seat belts clean to prevent dirt and moisture from damaging the mechanism.
- Keep your vehicle clean, inside and out.
There are many ways to perform maintenance of the vehicle - You can start from simple things and allow professionals to do the more technical maintenance.
The best and most efficient method of knowing about your car and keeping track of it is through the owner's manual which provides complete information on how to go about it. You can inspect your car every time you enter it, or on a daily or weekly basis or at intervals specified in the manual. Read the owner's manual carefully to become familiar with your vehicle's maintenance schedule and requirements. Maintenance regimes vary widely from one vehicle to another – the manufacturer of your vehicle knows best.You can also use the senses to identify aspects in need of maintenance.
Smell: Strange smells may emanate from inside your car. This could be an early warning signal that requires attention if much more time and money are to be saved later on.
Possible causes might include:
- The existence of some trapped water, usually under the carpet. This will ruin the carpet and also speed up corrosion.
- Variety of smoky smells. Electrical smoky smells are the most dangerous and it is advisable to shut down, open the bonnet, disconnect the batteries and seek professional help. Other smoky smells may occur when the sound or heat proof lining inside the engine space burns. Trace the cause.
- Fuel smells might occur when the fuel tank venting gets choked or if there has been an overflow.
- Oil or exhaust smells from the engine. This maybe caused either due to too much engine oil, or if the engine oil has grown old and is burning, or if it has been overheated.
- A typical sweetish smell emanates when varnish is being burnt which occurs when your dynamo or alternator is about to pack up and would, usually be accompanied by flickering lights.
- Burning rubber smells tend to come when you drive with your brakes on or when tyres are overheated.
Sound: Strange sounds tend to be sidelined by external noise on the road, the noise of radio, passengers etc. However, if the problem persists, the car will make its condition known every time you take a corner or ride over a bump.
Easily recognizable sounds are
- Strange clicking while taking a turn from the front wheels means that the front shaft is about to fall apart. Get it fixed before it actually does.
- A fan-belt squeal means that another one is needed.
- Rhythmic clicks from the wheel indicate faulty bearings at worst or just large pebbles stuck in the tread pattern at the best.
- A change in engine tone usually indicates engine overheating, especially if you have been driving at constant speeds for a long time. Stopping or varying the engine speed should be enough if there is no severe problem. Otherwise, let the car cool down and then check radiator and water levels.
- Backfiring while normal driving means serious problems and should be properly investigated.
- Engine knocks means that it is time to get into a lower gear. If it persists, however, it is time to get your engine and engine oil checked.
Additional “Maintenance Friendly” Suggestions
- Always use genuine spare parts.
- Give your vehicle anti-rust coating.
- Avoid accelerating and braking abruptly.
- Shut up the engine whenever you expect to wait.
- Drive at a moderate speed to maximize fuel efficiency.
- Use air-conditioning only when necessary.
- Avoid riding on the clutch pedal, and release the clutch pedal fully while driving.
- Maintain optimum air pressure in your tyre to improve mileage.
- Try to avoid hitting your tyres against kerbs, especially when parking. It can cause the tyre to weaken without showing any damage on the outside.
- Check your spare tyre from time to time -you never know when you might need it.
What do we always forego in relation to Automobile Maintenance in Africa? Is it risky to forego Automobile Maintenance for all car owners and possibly for all road users of which all humans are???