When it comes to today’s high tech cars and trucks, most drivers understand that following a scheduled maintenance program almost always costs less than paying for expensive repair surprises down the road. But which mistakes, bad decisions and missed maintenance items can do the most damage to your vehicles? CarMD.com Corporation surveyed its team of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified Master Technicians, which has more than 840 years of combined experience repairing cars, to reveal the following top 10 maintenance mistakes car owners make when caring (or not caring) for their vehicles.
- Putting off recommended / scheduled maintenance
- Ignoring the “check engine” light
- Not changing the oil, or not having it changed on time
- Not checking tire pressure
- Neglecting coolant, brake, transmission and other fluid services
- Continuing to drive when the vehicle is overheating
- Not changing fuel and air filters
- Having unqualified shops service your vehicle
- Using inferior or incorrect parts for your vehicle
- Trying to service difficult repairs on your own high-tech vehicle
“When consumers fail to properly maintain their vehicles, the resulting repair costs dwarf the money that could have been budgeted to maintain their car,” said Art Jacobsen, vice president, CarMD.com Corporation. “As a result, we set out to capture a consensus among our Master Tech committee regarding the top 10 most damaging mistakes they have seen drivers make. We believe this information will help consumers save money in the long run as they care for what is often their second largest purchase.”
No. 3 in the top 10, “not changing your oil” was also listed by technicians as by far the single most damaging car maintenance item that their customers neglect that they wish they could change. Dirty oil ruins today’s high-tech engines. Camshaft actuators can freeze when restricted by dirty oil, and a faulty camshaft actuator can in turn cause the “check engine” light to illuminate, resulting in complete engine failure if ignored for too long. Simply following the factory-recommended oil change schedule helps vehicle owners avoid this problem, along with potentially hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in extra repair costs. In some newer model vehicles, the recommended service interval may be as long as 12 months, and other vehicles are now programmed to track oil life versus mileage.
Ignoring the “check engine” light is another example of how putting off repairs on a small problem can escalate to an expensive repair. The most common reason for a “check engine” light is a faulty oxygen (O2) sensor. A dirty air filter (<$20 repair) can result in an O2 sensor failure (<$250 repair), which can in turn result in substantial gas mileage reduction, cause the vehicle to misfire and eventually result in the need for an expensive catalytic converter replacement (>$1,000 repair). That’s why it’s so important to have your car’s air filter replaced as recommended by your service manual, and to address “check engine” warnings as soon as possible.
And while these top techs encourage their customers and all drivers to follow a regular maintenance program, they don’t want consumers to get lured into spending extra money on unnecessary items. According to CarMD’s Master Techs, the best rule of thumb is “any service other than what is recommended in your owner’s manual is unnecessary.” They recommend servicing your car according to factory requirements, but suggest avoiding gimmicks like injector flushes and nitrogen in the tires, which are a waste of money.