The best way to keep your vehicle running clean, lean and green is to
follow the maintenance instructions in the owner's manual. It will tell
you everything you need to know, from what type of vehicle oil to use and
how often it should be changed, to recommended intervals for engine and
transmission checks. Failing to follow this maintenance regime could void
your vehicle's warranty.
If you don't have an owner's manual for your vehicle, contact the
dealer or manufacturer and ask for a copy. Don't guess at maintenance, and
don't rely on the advice of friends, neighbours or family members.
Maintenance requirements vary widely from one vehicle to another.
To ensure maximum fuel economy and to keep the manufacturer's warranty
valid, your vehicle must be maintained to the standards recommended in the
owner's manual. A poorly maintained vehicle can boost fuel consumption by
up to 15 percent and increase toxic emissions by even more.
With today's sophisticated engines and on-board computer systems, it
just makes sense to leave the servicing of your vehicle in the hands of
trained automotive professionals. They have the knowledge and tools to
diagnose and correct problems and to put you on the road to safe,
That doesn't mean you should ignore your vehicle between scheduled
maintenance checks or until you have a breakdown. By understanding how
different vehicle components affect fuel efficiency, you can better
appreciate the importance of maintenance and your role in keeping your
vehicle in peak running condition.
Perform a monthly check
Most maintenance should be left to the professionals. However, once
a month you should perform the following checks to help identify and
head off problems that can cost you fuel and money down the road:
1) Measure tire pressure and
look for signs of uneven wear or embedded objects that can cause air
leaks. In winter, measure tire pressure whenever there is a sharp
change in temperature.
Check around the car and under the engine for fluid
leaks. You can often identify the type of fluid that is leaking by
its colour. Oil is black, coolant is a bright greenish yellow,
automatic transmission fluid is pink, and power steering and brake
fluids are clear, with a slight brown tinge. All of these fluids are
oily to the touch.
Check fluid levels, including engine oil, engine coolant
level, transmission fluid and power steering fluid, according to the
instructions in the owner's manual.
Check under the hood for cracked or split spark plug
wires, cracked radiator hoses or loose clamps and corrosion around
the battery terminals.
Check for problems with the brakes. On a straight, flat
and traffic-free stretch of road, rest your hands lightly on the
steering wheel and apply the brakes gradually. If the vehicle
swerves to one side, one of the brake linings may be worn more than
the other, or the brakes may need adjustment.
Use a similar test to check for problems with wheel
alignment. On a straight, flat and traffic-free stretch of road,
rest your hands lightly on the steering wheel and drive at an even
speed. If the vehicle pulls to one side, the wheels may be
A guide to Auto Smart
Changing the engine oil regularly according to the manufacturer's
recommendations is one of the best ways to keep your vehicle in top
operating condition. Oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine,
preventing metal-to-metal contact, minimizing friction and carrying
away excess heat – all of which promote better fuel efficiency and
reduced emissions. Motor oil also removes dirt, metal shavings and
other impurities from the engine and captures them in the oil
filter. You can pay a severe penalty for neglecting engine oil,
possibly even needing to replace the engine itself.
For best engine performance, fuel
efficiency and reduced emissions, use only the oil recommended in
the owner's manual. Some manufacturers specifically advise against
using oil additives.
The best oils for fuel economy carry
the label "Energy Conserving." With energy-conserving oils, you may
use as much as 2.7 percent less fuel than with other oils.
You might want to consider using a
re-refined motor oil in your vehicle as an alternative to "virgin"
oil products. Engine oil recovered from oil changes is taken to a
recycling plant and rejuvenated. The necessary detergents and
additives are replaced in the oil, and impurities are removed. The
result is an oil that has similar properties to mainstream motor oil
products. Re-refined oil certified with the EcoLogo mark performs as
well as motor oil from original sources.
If you change the oil yourself, take
the old oil to your service station for recycling. One litre of
engine oil can contaminate 2 million litres of water.
Synthetic oils also offer an advantage
over mineral oils, particularly under extreme weather or performance
conditions. Synthetic motor oil is manufactured, rather than refined
from crude oil, which means it can be specially formulated to have
extremely good flow characteristics and resistance to viscosity
breakdown. However, keep in mind that synthetic oil is more
expensive than conventional motor oil.
Your owner's manual will tell you what
type of oil to use and how often to have it changed.
A guide to Auto Smart
The role of the cooling system is to keep the engine at its optimal
operating temperature. Outside this range, fuel consumption
increases, as do emissions and engine wear.
The cooling system will perform
properly only if it receives regular maintenance. This includes
monitoring the coolant level in the overflow tank, regularly
inspecting hoses for cracks or loose clamps, and adjusting belts,
where applicable (most new vehicles have self-tensioning belts).
Coolant degrades over time, and it's important to change it as
specified by the manufacturer. Antifreeze concentration should also
be tested every fall so that the engine will be adequately protected
for the winter.
A guide to Auto Smart
vehicle maintenance : Ignition
Regular maintenance of your vehicle's
ignition system is critical in maximizing fuel efficiency. The spark
plugs in a gasoline engine ignite the air-fuel mixture. If one or
more of the plugs is worn or malfunctioning, the engine will
misfire, and some fuel will remain unburned. Worn or damaged spark
plug wires can also cause misfiring. A misfiring engine wastes fuel,
produces higher levels of emissions and generally performs poorly.
Signs of misfiring can be subtle, which
is why it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations
on engine checks and spark plug and ignition wire replacement.
Regular spark plugs typically last 48 000 kilometers, while platinum
plugs can last 160 000 kilometers. Some manufacturers recommend
changing spark plug wires at 96 000 kilometers; others suggest they
be replaced only as required.
Vehicles with distributors require
additional ignition system maintenance. This is another good reason
to have your engine tuned up regularly.
A guide to Auto Smart
vehicle maintenance : Emission-Control
Modern vehicles are equipped to treat exhaust emissions before they
are released into the atmosphere. The emission-control system must
be inspected and maintained according to the manufacturer's
recommendations. If it is not, your vehicle could be a major
If you experience problems such as
stalling or poor acceleration, or if your exhaust produces black or
blue smoke, your vehicle is probably polluting the air and needs
Vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an on-board diagnostics system
that monitors emission-related components and alerts the driver to
problems by triggering the "Service Engine Soon" or "Check Engine" light.
By detecting problems before they become noticeable to the driver, this system can help you avoid hefty repair bills. Whenever one of these
warning lights comes on, consult your owner's manual for instructions. For
vehicles manufactured before 1996, the only way to be sure the
emission-control system is working is to have it tested.
A guide to Auto Smart
vehicle maintenance :
Your vehicle's air systems need to be inspected annually. Air for
the engine passes through the air filter, which removes dust and
dirt that could damage the engine. A dirty air filter reduces
performance and increases fuel consumption. Replace the air filter
according to the recommendations of your owner's manual.
Fuel also passes through a filter on
the way from the tank to the engine. Consult your owner's manual for
how often your fuel system should be inspected, including the fuel
lines, tank and cap. A leaking fuel system is dangerous, increases
fuel consumption and gives off evaporative emissions when the fuel
is released into the atmosphere.
Although most maintenance should be
left to the professionals, you can perform a monthly check to help
identify and head off problems that can cost you fuel and money down
A guide to Auto Smart
vehicle maintenance :
Tires & Wheel Aignment
Here's where the rubber meets the road! Rolling resistance is a key
factor that affects a vehicle's fuel efficiency, and the best way to
reduce rolling resistance is to maintain correct tire pressure.
Operating a vehicle with just one tire under-inflated by 8 psi (56 kPa)
can reduce the life of the tire by 15 000 kilometers and increase
the vehicle's fuel consumption by 4 percent.
You might find resistance in your tires
if you don't maintain them. Rolling resistance results in premature
tread wear when your tires are under-inflated, increasing fuel
consumption. Measure tire pressure (when tires are cold) at least
once a month and on days when the temperature has dropped
significantly. Also check your tires for uneven wear, which could be
a sign of over-inflation, under-inflation or improper wheel
Rotating your tires helps prolong their
life and improve fuel economy. On most vehicles, they should be
rotated every 10 000 kilometres, or about twice a year. Consult your
owner's manual for the recommended rotation pattern and frequency
for your vehicle.
Tire pressure needs special attention
in cold weather. It can be expected to drop by about 1 psi (7 kPa)
for every 5°C drop in temperature. Tires also lose a certain amount
of pressure due to their permeability – by some estimates, as much
as 2 psi (14 kPa) per month.
Regular tire inspections are therefore
crucial to improving your vehicle's fuel economy and reducing
emissions. This inspection should include the following:
Measure tire pressure at least once a month when the tires are cold.
The vehicle manufacturer's recommended pressure for the front and
rear tires is specified on a plate or sticker attached to the edge
of the driver's door, the door post, the glove compartment or the
fuel tank door (the pressure marked on the tire itself is the
maximum pressure and is not likely to be the same as the
manufacturer's recommended pressure). If you can't find the plate,
check the owner's manual or consult your dealer. And don't forget to
measure the pressure of the spare tire – you never know when you
might need it.
Check for uneven wear, which can be an indication of chronic
under-inflation or over-inflation, improper wheel alignment or tire
balancing, or a problem with the suspension system.
Check for imbedded stones, glass or other foreign objects that could
work into the tread and cause a leak.
Measuring Tire Pressure
Measure tire pressure when the tires are cold – i.e., when the
vehicle has been stationary for at least three hours or has not been
driven more than two kilometers.
Note: If you have an under-inflated tire, return it
to the proper inflation as soon as possible. If you must drive more
than two kilometers, measure the tire pressure again. Using the
following example, inflate the tire to the correct pressure:
If the correct pressure is 35 psi (241 kPa), and three tires are at
that pressure but one is at 28 psi (193 kPa), this tire is 7 psi
(48 kPa) under-inflated (20 percent under-inflation, which means
4 percent excess fuel consumption).
If you drive eight kilometres to find an air pump, all of your tires
will warm up. The three correct ones may rise to 37 psi (255 kPa),
and the under-inflated tire could be at 30 psi (207 kPa). The low
tire is still 7 psi (48 kPa) under-inflated.
Inflate the low tire to 37 psi (255 kPa). It's all right to exceed
the normal recommended pressure, because the tire is no longer cold
and warm tires gain pressure (tire manufacturers allow for this in
tire design). The three tires that were correctly inflated when cold
should not be adjusted.
It's advisable to purchase your own tire pressure gauge because
those at air pumps are often inaccurate or missing.
It's also a good idea to rotate your
tires regularly to distribute the wear evenly among all four tires.
In addition to promoting long tire life, this will help your tires
deliver the best possible economy and safety. The recommended
rotation pattern for your vehicle is shown in the owner's manual.
The general practice is to rotate tires every 10 000 kilometers –
twice a year for most drivers.
Not all tires are created equal.
Bias-belted tires are stiffer than radial tires and have a higher
rolling resistance, which makes the engine work harder to move the
car down the road. If you need to replace a tire, consult your
owner's manual or a tire professional for information on the right
type and size for your vehicle.
From an energy efficiency point of
view, the most desirable attributes of a replacement tire are low
rolling resistance and long tire life. Most tire professionals are
aware of the importance of rolling resistance and can discuss tire
choices accordingly. Generally, a 10 percent reduction in rolling
resistance will result in a 2 percent reduction in fuel consumption.
For the best performance, ask a tire
professional to help you choose quality tires with a low rolling
resistance and a long projected tread life that will meet your
vehicle and driving needs.
Wheel alignment and balancing
Wheel alignment should be checked once a year. Misaligned tires will
drag instead of rolling freely. This will increase fuel consumption,
reduce tire life and cause problems with the vehicle's handling and
Wheels should also be balanced. If they
are out of balance, the driver will feel a pounding or shaking
through the steering wheel. This pounding will shorten the life of
other suspension components and will produce uneven tire wear, which
will increase fuel consumption. Tires that are not balanced exhibit
"cupping," a wear pattern that looks like a series of bald spots.
A guide to Auto Smart
vehicle maintenance : Brakes
While keeping your car going is important, so is getting your car to
stop. Brakes that are squealing, grinding, pulling the vehicle to
one side or are "soft" could be dragging, meaning the brake pad or
shoe is not releasing from the disc or drum. If you wait too long to
have your brakes serviced, the pads and shoes can wear to the point
where they damage other components and increase your repair costs –
not to mention that your engine is working harder to overcome the
Dragging brakes (when the brake pad or
shoe fails to release from the disc or drum) can significantly
increase fuel consumption because the vehicle must work harder to
overcome the resistance. This also reduces brake life and
effectiveness, making the vehicle harder to drive. It is important
to have your brakes inspected and the brake fluid checked and
changed at the interval specified in the owner's manual.
signs that your brakes need servicing include squealing and grinding
noises, brake fade (loss of braking effectiveness because of excess
heat in the brakes), pulling of the vehicle to one side, or a "soft"
or pulsating brake pedal.