E015 - Basic Vehicle Preventative Maintenance

This time on Across The Peak, Rich and I tell you have to perform basic vehicle preventative maintenance checks and services to keep you on the road. We open the show taking about what we’re drinking, and doing things the hard way versus doing things the smart way. In this episode we also introduce our ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook!

Intro Stuff

Why You Should Do PMCS

Today's vehicles are better than they've ever been. They are safer, more comfortable, get better gas mileage, and last longer than ever before. Vehicle PMCS will:

  • Ensure your vehicle is reliable,

  • Let you learn about your vehicle,

  • Give you the opportunity to observe little problems before they become big problems,

  • Keep your vehicle safe,

  • Help you get the maximum life out of your car (which saves you money), and

  • Help you resell the car.

Vehicle PMCS is a component of the idea of "taking care of your stuff." As competent and dangerous individuals, the gear we rely on on a day-to-day basis should be in a good state of repair. This is especially true for your car, which we rely on for safety, convenience, and livelihood.

The ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook

Rich and I just put together a logbook to help you with your vehicle preventative maintenance checks and services: the ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook! The ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook helps you in several ways. First, having a checklist provides motivation for you to get out and conduct vehicle PMCS. Second, it guides your preventative maintenance checks and services by listing the things you should check and keep an eye one. Third, the ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook helps you maintain a record of everything that has been done to your vehicle; this can help you when seeking corrective maintenance, in identifying little problems before they become big problems, and with resale of the vehicle. The ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook is available at Amazon.com.

Free PDF! If you don’t want to purchase the logbook, I will provide pages that you can print out yourself. In the episode we mentioned a PDF download. Due to technical difficulties involved in getting a downloadable PDF on the site, we haven’t done this. However, if you reach out to us via the Contact page we will gladly email you a PDF containing one of each logbook page in the ATP Vehicle Maintenance Logbook.

How to Do Vehicle PM: Under The Hood

How Often: Weekly. Pick a time and day (like every Saturday morning) and stick with it. The other time you may want to deviate from your weekly PMCS session is right before a long road trip.

US Army POV Safety Inspection Checklist

Read the Owner's Manual: The owner’s manual will tell you what type of fluids, and in what quantities, are optimized for your vehicle. It will also provide part numbers for certain products like your air and oil filters. The owner’s manual will also provide information about recommended service intervals.

1. Fluids: The first step here is knowing what fluids your vehicle takes and how much.

  • Windshield washer fluid: This might be the most important fluid in your vehicle for safety! Make sure you are using an product that is rated for your climate; if you live in a place that experiences extreme cold, you probably want windshield washer fluid that is rated for colder climates. Never use water as a substitute for windshield washer fluid. If it freezes it could damage the windshield washer fluid deliver lines.

Windshield Washer Fluid.png
  • Anti-Freeze: check the reservoir. You should dilute anti-freeze 50/50 with water, but check the bottle first; a lot of antifreeze now is sold pre-diluted for convenience. We recommend you always keep a gallon of antifreeze and a gallon of water in your car. If your anti-freeze/coolant is consistently low, you probably have a leak and should get it corrected immediately!

Antifreeze Coolant Reservoir.png
  • Engine Oil: Look for both the appropriate quantity and quality. You can probably trust your vehicle’s oil-change sensors, but we also think you should, “trust, but verify.”

    • Quantity: Check your owner’s manual to find out how much oil your engine takes. Also check it to find out how to correctly read your car’s dipstick.

    • Quality: used engine oil (in gasoline engines) will appear honey-colored to a dark amber. Oil that is deep brown or black is at the end of its life cycle and should be replaced.

The engine oil dipstick.

The engine oil dipstick.

Engine Oil Check.png
  • Brake Fluid: Make sure you have plenty of brake fluid in your car’s master cylinder. You may want to invest in a brake fluid test pen that measures the quality of your brake fluid. If your brake fluid is low, you need to seek repair immediately!

Brake Fluid Master Cylinder.png
  • Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF): Transmission fluid should be bright red. Look for an ATF dipstick to measure the quantity in your car.

2. Battery: While you’re under the hood, take a look at your car’s battery terminals. They should be clean and free of corrosion. If terminals are corroded, clean them off with a wire bristle bush or battery terminal brush.

This is how your battery terminals should look.

This is how your battery terminals should look.

This is how your battery terminals SHOULD NOT look. Coating the terminals with a little Vaseline may prevent this from recurring.

This is how your battery terminals SHOULD NOT look. Coating the terminals with a little Vaseline may prevent this from recurring.

How to Do Vehicle PM: Tires

Tires: Your life quite literally rides on your tires. There are a number of things you should look for in your tires. We discussed a lot of this stuff way back in Episode 6: How to Change a Tire. Remember, it is imperative that you check your tire pressure when the tire is cold (i.e., hasn’t been driven recently).

  • Check the tire pressure. If your tire pressure is low, you need to add some air. Many service stations require you pay for air from a machine. This is another excellent reason to have some change in your EDC bag as we discussed in Episode 13. You will need two things to be able to do this:

    • Your tire’s recommended pressure. This can be found on the tire, in the owner’s manual, or on the information sticker one the body of you car, just inside the driver’s door.

    • A tire pressure gauge. These come in a variety of flavors including dial readout gauges, digital gauges, or my favorite, the simple (and inexpensive) “stick” gauge.

Checking Tire Pressure.png
  • Check the tread depth. Your vehicle’s tires have built-in tread depth indicators. Ensure that these are below the tread.

  • Check the wear patterns on the tire. This article will show you some bad wear patterns and what they mean.

  • Tire rotation. You should have your tires rotated every 7,500 miles. This coincides with the oil change interval when using full synthetic oil, so have them both done at the same time.

How to Do Vehicle PM: Lights, Safety, & paperwork

Lights: Your lights are an important safety feature. Correctly function lights will also prevent you from getting pulled over. The lights you need to check are:

  • Headlights, low and high beams

  • Tail lights

  • Turn signals and hazards

  • Brake lights

  • Reverse lights

  • Daytime running lights and fog lights

Paperwork: Your paperwork should be in order. If you get pulled over you will want to make sure everything is complete, correct, and up-to-date, including:

  • Registration

  • Insurance card

Getting routine & corrective vehicle service

  1. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance intervals.

  2. Find an expert! Go to a mechanic that is licensed and insured.

  3. Find an expert NOW! Don’t wait until you need service to find a mechanic. Find that guy now!

Book of the week

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Persig

Affiliate Disclosure: Across The Peak uses Amazon Associates to earn a small commission when you click Amazon links on our site. This helps to support the blog and the show. Thank you!

Justin Carroll