A properly functioning engine ensures optimal fuel economy and performance, and it wards off a laundry list of serious mechanical issues too. Therefore, it pays to keep your engine in good health. Regular tune-ups, routine maintenance and the right driving habits are essential to keep the engine in tip-top shape.
An engine break-down costs a fortune and requires extensive repairs. Sometimes the only solution is to replace the engine. This will set you back thousands of dollars, so if you’re not already taking steps to protect yours, now is the time.
Check and Change the Oil Regularly
One of the best ways to keep your engine in good shape is by being fastidious about checking and changing its oil. Oil is the lifeblood of an engine. It keeps components lubricated and absorbs dirt and other debris. By keeping components adequately lubricated, it wards off friction and wear, which also keeps the engine from overheating.
It’s far better to proactively check your oil than to assume it’s fine and wait until it’s due to be changed. Modern cars can typically go 5,000 miles between oil changes, but refer to your owner’s manual, as each model has slight differences. Most car owners bring their cars to the shop for oil changes, but it’s not so hard to change oil by yourself. If you decide to do it on your own, you will save both time and money.
Here’s how you do it: To check the oil, pull out the dipstick. Wipe it off with a clean, lint-free cloth. Put it back in the reservoir, and then pull it out again. The oil film should reach fairly close to the “full” mark. If it falls below that, more oil is needed.
At minimum, check the oil level once per month. It only takes a minute, and it can save you a lot of headaches.
Also, check the clarity of the oil. If the oil has a deep brown or black color, it needs to be changed. If the oil is golden brown, it’s still good to go.
Make Sure the Engine can Breathe
It’s quite common to forget to check the air filter. The air filter is of vital importance when it comes to protecting the engine because it keeps the dirt and debris out. Air filters tend to get clogged over time, so they need to be replaced regularly to ensure optimal efficiency and fuel economy. It’s far cheaper to replace an air filter at regular intervals than it is to repair a damaged engine or have more frequent refuelings due to poor fuel economy.
The frequency at which the air filter is changed depends on your driving habits and on the amount of driving you do. If you engage in a lot of stop-and-go driving or drive on a dirt road often, your filter should probably be replaced more often as well. At any rate, check the filter every 6,000 miles or so, and refer to your owner’s manual for additional information.
Protect the Engine from Overheating
Engines generate quite a lot of heat. Coolant or antifreeze removes the excess heat from the engine. Once the thermostat detects that the engine is approaching temperatures that are above the optimum, it prompts the radiator to distribute coolant throughout it. If there is not enough coolant, the engine can’t cool off and there’s a risk of major engine damage. By the time the check coolant light comes on, you may already be in trouble. Therefore, it’s best to be proactive about checking the coolant.
Depending on the vehicle model, the coolant typically needs replacing every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, but you should still check it every month or so to ensure that it’s not running low. Simply open the hood and look for the clear coolant tank, which should be filled with orange or green liquid. If the liquid doesn’t reach the “full” line, more needs to be added. If you notice an oily or sludgy film on the top, take the car to the shop right away, as this might indicate internal leakage.
Check for Leaks and Unusual Sounds
If a leak is caught early, it’s usually much easier to address. Therefore, periodically use a flashlight to check around the engine for signs of leaking. Look at the space where you park for signs of leaking too. If you notice any leaks, smudges or spills, take the car to a mechanic. Before you panic, however, make sure that the “leak” you are worried about isn’t just water condensation from the air conditioning unit.
Strange noises should not be ignored either. From time to time, turn off the radio and listen for unusual noises like knocking, high-pitched screeching, low-pitched rumbling, clattering or knocking. If you notice any strange noises at all, bring your car to the shop and let the mechanic check it out.
Don’t Ignore Warning Lights
Warning lights, including the check engine light, the oil light and the engine temperature light, are there for a reason. Do not ignore them. Typically, a blinking light is worse than a regular one, and a red one usually indicates more serious issues than a yellow one. Regardless of what the light looks like, it means that something needs attention, so you should take the car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
If a warning lights up on your dashboard and you don’t know what it is, refer to your owner’s manual. Don’t simply assume that it isn’t important. This can have serious repercussions for the health of your engine and car, as well as your safety on the road.
Don’t Drive on an Empty Tank
Gasoline contains trace amounts of sediment and other debris. Over time, it collects in the bottom of the gas tank. When you drive with very little gas, your car pulls that dirty gas in, and it can slip past the oil filter more easily and get into the engine.
It’s generally best to keep your tank at least half full at all times. Sure, this means stopping to refuel more frequently, but it can go a long way toward keeping your engine in great shape. If your fuel reserves plunge dangerously close to zero, refuel as soon as you can.
Go Easy on Start-and-Stop Driving
Modern engines are designed for consistent and continuous driving. The problem is, this is pretty much unavoidable in the city, especially during rush hours. Try to steer clear of stop-and-go driving whenever possible. Stick with the freeway whenever you can. Maintaining a steady speed and steady RPMs protects the engine and helps you achieve better fuel economy.
Before heading out the door, think about the most efficient way to get where you’re going. Plan your route to ensure your vehicle can maintain a steady, continuous speed as much as possible. Make sure that you coast slowly to stops and accelerate gradually when you start moving again.
Treat the Engine Properly on Cold Days
Cold weather is tough on any engine. Gas is harder to burn when it’s cold, and cold oil is thicker. The battery has a lower charge in cold weather, which means more energy is needed to start the engine. It’s generally best to allow the engine to warm up a little before driving.
The engine block, which consists of the cylinder block and the cylinders that power the engine, is usually made out of cast iron. Meanwhile, the pistons, which move within the cylinders and produce the energy that powers the vehicle, are typically made out of aluminum alloy.
Aluminum alloy expands more – and more quickly – than cast iron, so the pistons fit loosely when the engine is cold. They have a tighter fit at proper operating temperatures, which makes for better fuel economy, less wear on the engine and fewer emissions as well. The coolant also has a chance to warm up when you let the car run for a bit, but don’t let it warm up for too long. It takes less time for modern engines to warm up – usually not more than one minute.
Taking care of the engine helps keeping it in optimal shape and ensures its longevity. Regular maintenance and care also helps the car operate more efficiently, which means better fuel economy and more money in your pocket.
When a warning light pops up, regardless of what it looks like, it means that something requires attention.
Do you have a story or advice about maintaining a vehicle’s engine? Please share it in the comments below!