Maintenance tips to prevent accidents
According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 9% of all car crashes in the United States were preceded by some sort of issue with the tires of the vehicle (e.g. tread separation, under-inflation, or blowouts). Properly maintained tires improve gas mileage, stopping ability and handling of the vehicle.
Check the air pressure in your tires (including the spare) at least once a month. This will also give you the chance to check for cracks in the sidewall and the amount of tread on the tires. Rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, or as often as the vehicle's manufacturer recommends. A periodic alignment of the tires will ensure even wear and extend the life of your tires. Check your owner's manual for specific information about tire pressure, rotation and alignment.
Fewer accidents are completely attributed to failure or degradation of brakes than tires, but poorly maintained brakes still contribute to thousands of accidents every year. When brake pads wear down too far, they can damage the rotors, leading to costly repairs and possible brake failure. Inspect the pads and rotors for wear annually. Take your vehicle in for repairs if you start hearing squeaking or scraping, your vehicle veers to one side or the brake pedal pulses when braking. These are signs of worn brakes and will lead to diminished braking capability.
Windows and lights
Clear visibility gives you the extra time needed to react in an emergency situation. Keep your windows (both inside and outside), mirrors and lights clear of obstructions and as clean as possible. Try to walk around your car once a month to check that all of your lights still work. You should also change your wiper blades every six months, earlier if they begin streaking. If you are having trouble seeing the road at night, there is a possibility that your headlights are out of alignment. Luckily, this is generally a cheap and easy fix.
A fluid leak can cause the steering wheel or brakes to stop working or even cause the entire engine to suddenly lock up or overheat. Check the following fluids to keep a vehicle running smoothly and prevent an unexpected mechanical failure while on the road:
Engine Oil - Check once a month - Contrary to popular belief, most modern vehicles don't require an oil change every 3,000 miles. Check the owner's manual for the recommended frequency. Because oil lubricates all of the moving parts of the engine, if not changed at the recommended interval, the engine could seize and cause catastrophic damage.
Brake Fluid - Check during oil change - Typically needs to be changed every two years. If there is a sudden drop in brake fluid levels from a leak, the brakes will no longer work. If unchanged for a long period of time, the entire braking system could be damaged from rust, overheating or corrosion.
Power Steering Fluid - Check once a month - Check the owner's manual, but most models do not require power steering fluid be replaced, but a leak can cause the steering wheel to stop responding.
Coolant - Check twice a year - Generally needs to be changed every two to three years. Coolant keeps a car from overheating during the warmer months and freezing during the colder months. Never check coolant levels when the engine is hot.
Transmission Fluid - Check once a month - Transmission fluid should be changed according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Transmission fluid will only be low if there is a leak and should be taken to a mechanic immediately if low in order to prevent damage to the transmission.