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Author Topic: Essential car maintenance knowledge  (Read 6714 times)

paulthemapguy

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Essential car maintenance knowledge
« on: April 14, 2016, 03:11:27 PM »

So I like to go on long road trips like a lot of people here.  Therefore, I wanted to ask, what knowledge with regards to car maintenance is absolutely necessary for long road trips?  In your opinion, what do people absolutely need to know?  Oil changes?  Tire replacements?  Can you speak to your knowledge of making sure you're all taken care of when you drive?
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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2016, 03:21:20 PM »

The main thing is to be able to notice something going wrong before it becomes irreparable:  knowing the difference between normal tics and quirks and what is actually critical.  I'm afraid that stuff just comes with life experience.

The main basic things for making sure your car is road-worthy are keeping your tires properly inflated and knowing if they're leaking air before you leave, keeping fluid levels in spec, and changing your air filter every year or two.  Most everything else usually comes as a surprise anyway.
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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2016, 03:38:26 PM »

I'm a firm believer in just keeping the car maintained normally, so that at any point I can get in and take a long road trip, doing nothing more than checking tire pressure and windshield wiper blade life before leaving.

If it's a long enough trip to require an oil change or will throw me way over on some other normal service interval, I'll do it before leaving if that will prevent me from having to do it on the trip.


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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2016, 07:52:05 PM »

Here's some tips for long trips ranging from a few hundred miles to several thousand (I've taken a 10,473 mile trip once: http://www.sykotyk.com/supertrip ). I bought a new car at the end of July 2015 and already had 19,000 miles on it by the end of the year.

First, the older the vehicle the more likely something will go wrong. That should be obvious. Even if everything was in tip-top shape leaving home, extended travel can cause wear. And if things start going bad, they can snowball. For instance, a CV joint (Constant Velocity, the shaft coming from the transmission to your front tires on a front-wheel drive vehicle) can go from fine to 'growling heavily on turns' in no time. Also, wheel bearings and ball joints can go bad quickly, as well. These are some of the 'to watch for' issues with cars, especially older cars.

I've found cars tend to wear better under constant, steady use rather than intermittent travel. Sitting a car in the driveway only driving a few miles a day and then expecting it to drive 3,000 miles in a week is like you sitting on a couch for several weeks and then expected to run a marathon. It's a lot more difficult.

So, for noises: if you hear a growling sound when turning at slow speeds, it's your CV joint. A light growl might just be some contaminant (the sleeve ruptured and dirt/water got into it, sometimes you can just repack with grease and a new sleeve). But, it's usually a sign of wear among the sprocket and the ball bearings inside of it. The worse it gets, the more 'chatter' you'll hear at low speeds. The sound of the road and engine make it almost impossible to hear at higher RPMs and it's most noticeable at slow speeds making sharp turns. This is a problem that generally gets spotted well before it becomes critical. But, if you start to hear it, be aware of what it means.

Second, is growling from the wheel that picks up pitch as you speed up. Generally, this is the wheel bearing. It's known for not going away no matter what you do. Though sometimes turning the steering wheel a little left or right may relieve some of the pressure against the two parts of the bearing that are now touching. This is bad. I drove to Tennessee with a wheel bearing that had just started making noise and by the time I had it home it needed replaced. I risked it because I know the longevity of a problem compared to the need to fix it. If you're not that clearcut on what a car does, you shouldn't test your luck. A wheel bearing failing is going to require a tow, a shop bill, and some downtime. And it can cause other damage, such as to the CV joint/half-shaft.

Next up, is the ball joint. This is the pin sticking through the bottom of your wheel assembly (the A shaped bar sticking out from your frame rail). It's actually attached to the end of your strut assembly and is a 'joystick' like bearing. It allows the strut to move up and down with the road bumps and for the tire to pivot around and stay all connected to the strut and the frame. A failing ball joint is signified, at the beginning, by a slight 'tapping' sound when you hit a bump. The metal is wearing, and there's now slight space between the metal pieces of the bearing. A strong jolt smacks them together. As wear accumulates, you'll feel your tire riding rough or 'sloppy' on the road, and the tire will begin to wear funny (cupping, uneven, wavy). A failed ball joint is catastrophic and will leave you on the side of the road if not in the ditch or a bad accident. If it separates, you have lost that wheel. Ever see a car on the side of the road with a front wheel wedged up under the car or bent at an odd angle? Good chance it was the ball joint. The wheel will do what it wants after the ball joint goes as it lost it's pivot point.

Also, there is the tie-rod end. This is the rod sticking out from the steering mechanism (usually rack & pinion controlled by the power steering pump). Each side goes to each tire and includes a pin sticking down through the end into the wheel assembly. It turns the wheel. The bottom has a castle nut (looks like a rook in Chess) with a cotter pin through it and bent over (this goes through the teeth of the castle nut to lock it in place from loosening. It's bent over to keep it from falling out. Always inspect this castle nut and the one on the ball joint. If either cotter pin looks broken or missing, replace it immediately.

My experience with a tie-rod end is that they tend to 'freeze' from lack of grease (there's a big grease fitting on top, fill it full of grease until you see it start to ooze out of under the rubber ring around the gap). Some cars are 'sealed' with no fitting, these are just waiting to go bad and require more work and money. If they're not greased, they will start to touch metal to metal without something protecting them. The constant turning will grind down the shank of the pin or the ring it goes through, meaning the pin gets smaller compared to the opening. If it weakens enough, it can snap. And now you have a free wheel uncontrolled by the steering wheel. Which is absurdly dangerous.

Luckily, two of these things are generally fitted with grease fittings (newer cars, sometimes don't). But, if you see grease oozing from one of these spots, it's a problem. A big big problem. The other (the CV joint) can start to leak, usually from a crack in the accordion-like sleeve that goes around the joint. When you look in at it, wipe it clean of dirt and see if there's any grease between the rubber/plastic indentations. If there are, the boot needs replaced, at minimum.

Luckily, these aren't that expensive to fix, even at a service shop. If you don't know what you're doing, they can be a pain to do it yourself (plus you would need to run to autozone to rent the tools to split the ball joint or tie-rod end so you can replace it. Also, if you do either, you will need an alignment. If you're doing it at a shop, they'll probably require you get an alignment. This isn't an upsell, but a basic requirement whenever you mess with the alignment of the front axle.

I figured brakes and rotors are 'basic' maintenance. Most brakes today have squealers on them to let you know you've reached the minimum thickness generally allowed. There's also usually a notch in the pad to show you where it is as well. Once you've reached that depth, you replace them. One good tip, for your rear/emergency brakes is to use your e-brake when you park from time to time. And especially when parking on hills. This regular use keeps that brake working. Lack of use can cause it to seize up. It's also a good idea to test your rear/emergency brakes every once in a while. Best/easiest is to park, and while you're in gear and have your foot on the brake put on the e-brake. And then let go of your service brake. The car should bite into the brake and slouch a bit and should not go anywhere. If it does, the e-brakes are bad or the mechanism to activate them failed. These brakes generally aren't used during every day driving. They're entirely a back up system. Which is why you must test them from time to time that they work.

It's also good when parking on hills to activate your e-brake before putting the vehicle in park. Set the e-brake and then put the vehicle in neutral and let it 'rock' backward or forward where the e-brake has it locked in place. Then, put the vehicle into park. This helps protect the parking gear, which is usually a pin or plate the gear stops against that keeps the gears and the connected wheels from rotating. This also makes taking it out of park on a hill much smooth and safer. And, it never hurts to turn the wheel into the curb when parked on a hill if you don't already know it (if on the right side of the road, turn the wheel to the right, so in case the parking gear and/or e-brake fails, your car will use the natural friction against the curb to stop it from rolling away. (there's a lot of people that don't seem to understand this very simple concept).

Now, back to long-distance driving. One thing to keep in mind is oil consumption. Even on a brand new car it is not unusual for a car to 'burn' through oil on a long, extended trip where you might be driving 2000 miles in just a few days. On short trips, the car's oil may heat up but it's viscosity keeps it working. When the engine cools, it thickens back up again. On a long drive, the engine does not get the chance to do this. The oil gets thin and stays thin and the longer it runs like this, the higher the likelihood the oil breaks down and you start to burn it off.

On a 3,000 mile trip (on fresh oil from the start) it wouldn't be absurd to lose a quart of oil during that time if you did 3,000 miles in 4 or 5 days. The recommendation would be: use thicker oil. Especially if you're heading further south into the southeast summer, or maybe the mountains where your engine will work a bit harder). If you usually use 10w30, maybe use 5w30 or straight 30w. Already use 5w30 (like a lot of cars recommend, mostly due to the American Southwest and humid southeast), maybe run 15w40 in an older engine. Takes longer to break down. Just don't use thicker oils in winter. Could cause excess engine wear. Especially if you're going from down south to up north in winter. Other things could be STP Oil Treatment, Lucas Oil, etc, things that help thicken the oil and make it stick to the moving parts a bit easier. I use lucas oil in all my old cars, and it really helps boost the oil pressure back to the 'like new' pressure when the vehicle was younger. Also, it helps keep the engine operating a little cooler as there's less friction, which equals less heat.

On very long trips, you probably will notice your MPG will drop. For instance, my brand new car gets 39mpg around home on the freeway and highway for short trips and about 31-32mpg in town. But, on a long trip with mostly highway miles, I'll get around 36-37mpg at absolute best. And that's working to try and milk it for all its worth. Longer a little gas engine works, the less efficient it becomes. It's not like a diesel where it's opposite. A diesel may be inconsistently low MPG at first, but you drive one all day, and the MPG will be steadily higher the hotter the engine gets and stays.

Fuel pump/filter, are generally maintenance scheduled items. if your pump fails, you're probably not moving. Because by the time you realize it is failing, it's because it's not giving enough gas pressure through the line to the plenum/intake. To test this, there is a small 'valve stem' like pitcock located somewhere near the plenum where the fuel line comes into it, or near the intake or throttle body. You simply stick a pin or nail or something into it, there should be gas shooting out of it when you push down. If there isn't, you have no pressure which usually means the pump failed. Turn the key on, but don't start the engine. You should hear the pump start up from the rear of the car. if it doesn't, it's the pump. If it does, it might not be working fully, or there's a blockage with the fuel filter. The fuel filter is sometimes located inside the tank with the fuel pump but sometimes located along the fuel line going to the front of the car. Usually not far from the tank, though. My old Chevy Celebrity was accessible from the wheel well, and was just a few bucks to buy a new one, and two plastic clips connected it to the fuel line. An easy 2-minute job once the wheel was off.

Next up: coolant system. If your car starts overheating, one tip is to loosen the radiator cap. AFTER YOU LET THE CAR COOL OFF. Just turn it a quarter or half turn. This helps relieve the pressure in the system. If the car wants to overheat again, coolant will overflow the radiator here, but it will keep the car's temp from skyrocketing. A lot of times, the car overheating is a symptom of the thermostat going. But, first is to listen for the fan or watch to see the fan spin up when it reaches around 210F. In my old celebrity, I simply removed the thermostat. The general purpose is to keep the coolant from flowing until the engine was hot enough to need to be cooled. Usually 195F or so. If the temp were below that, the thermostat would stay closed. if it goes above that, it opens to let the water circulate in the system. Once at 210 or so, is when the fan would then also kick on. The thermostat also controls letting warm coolant through the heater core to allow you warm air through your vents. It should open the same time the engine reaches optimum temperature and the thermostat opens. With mine removed, my car starts blowing warm air almost instantly, though it isn't that hot but it builds up slowly. Newer cars have enough sensors that a missing thermostat probably sends the computer into convulsions. Most cars, the thermostat is located near the plenum or intake along the end of the engine on the left or right side of the car (for sidemounted front-wheel drive). It's a 'gooseneck' and the coolant line runs off of it to the radiator (top hose of the radiator, follow it to the engine). Usually two or three bolts holding it in. There should be a fiber gasket between the gooseneck and the head, and the thermostate is usually in a rubber ring in a notch in the head or gooseneck. Carry a tube of RTV silicone (hightemp red). Take the rubber ring and thermostat out, use a razer blade (carry a utility knife, they come in handy) and scrape the rest of the gasket and debris from the head and the gooseneck. Take some of the silicone, spread it on the gooseneck, and put the bolts through and line it up, and then push it on and tighten the bolts. The car will run without a thermostat. If you're on a trip, this a simple fix for a potential big problem that can at least get you home. Especially if it's an older vehicle.

Anyways, there's always a lot more. But, those are the things I worry about most when taking long trips. When you work on cars, especially your own, you start to pick up on how they act and what sounds they make. Just keep an ear for when the sound changes. Keep an eye on MPG as that is an indicator of a problem. Watch for grease and keep your car clean. When you go through a car wash, spray around through the rims and the wheel housing to clear away all that road grime and get a clearer view of everything when you do take a wheel off.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2016, 07:59:42 PM by Sykotyk »
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2016, 11:36:16 PM »

Basically there has always been some essentials that I've always carried in my trip cars:

-  One full-size spare tire.
-  One donut spare.
-  One heavy duty impact lug wrench.
-  A bottle of engine coolant.
-  A bottle of windshield wiper fluid with anti-freeze in it.
-  Jumper cables and on some extreme occasions a spare battery.
-  A warm blanket.
-  Flares
-  At least one lighter.
-  An ice scraper.
-  Snow chains.
-  A phone charger for the car.
-  Tire repair kit.
-  One calculator.
-  Five dollars worth of quarters.
-  One funnel.

Basically I try to carry anything that is going to allow me to make a mild to moderate road side repair.  I often find myself in areas that are well beyond 50 miles within reach of the nearest service hence the full-size spare, tire gauge and tire repair kit.  For the most part the majority of road trip related car problems have been related to tire issues.  Always, always, ALWAYS check the air pressure of your tires before you leave on a trip....including any spares you may be carrying.  Make sure that you always carry enough change to reinflate your tires if the weather is going to be drastically colder where your destination is.  I carry the full-size spare because it will allow me to resume my trip immediately without delay while a donut is going to require me to find a mechanic.

I've had numerous problems over the years with desert heat killing batteries.  When I used to travel 60,000 to 80,000 miles a year I would always carry a spare battery in my trunk during the summer time, it can save you from a battery that is completely exhausted and won't be jumped.  Granted I'm talking about sustained 6-8 hour days in 110-125 F degree weather.

Coolant is always a good thing to carry since you never know when you might spring a leak in your coolant system.  I've noticed that most cars even the new ones have always had a tendency to have leaks in the water pump or the seal itself.  Basically it should be part of your routine to check during even stop for gas.  Spare coolant is cheap and easy fill back up provided you do it only when the vehicle has had a chance to cool down...nobody wants to get steamed by a hot engine.  Always have a funnel since this will make not only the coolant refill easier but any topping off of oil or windshield wiper fluid.

I carry the calculator because I've had my fuel gauge go beserk in several cars.  The worst that I had this in was a 2012 Ford with a capless fuel filler system that had a sensor go back and thought the tank was full.  Always know the capacity of your fuel take and calculate your mileage manually in a pinch.

The flares are obvious and a lot more effective than the road side hazard signs at night.  I worry a lot of being stuck in winter weather hence why I have snow chains to go along with a warm thermal blanket and butane lighters just in case I have to venture out for shelter.  The windshield wiper fluid with anti freeze can pull your butt out of the fire in winter conditions since which can change from warm to cold in the range of an hour out on the west coast.  Always carry tires that are winter coded on a road trip car too, summer tires can burn you big time even with chains.

The main thing you really need to know about maintaining a car in general is listen to the owner's manual above all else, follow the maintenance schedule to a tee.  Basically if you follow your scheduled maintenance you should be golden in avoiding most mechanical issues.  Most people don't follow their maintenance book and usually somewhere down the line it comes back to bite them in the ass or the next owner.

Speaking of ownership, I tend to buy almost exclusively new for one reason....I don't know what the previous owner "didn't" do to maintain their vehicle.  Most people maintain cars extremely poorly and have a very small knowledge base about what vehicle maintenance entails.  Most expensive repairs come from something that wasn't maintained properly and those are the ones that can get you into trouble.  Never buy a used car off someone who doesn't have their service receipts or maintains their maintenance logs.  Also this isn't so much a road trip maintenance thing but always someone you are buying a car from how often they detail their car, if they have no idea what that entails that's a BIG red flag.  There is zero reason why a car can't last 200,000 miles from new and still be presentable if someone is smart and listens to their owner's manual.

Oh one more thing....rental cars always check the tires and fluids before you go somewhere.  Rental car companies may have standards but they don't necessarily have employees that adhere to them.  Do yourself a big favor and perform a walk through of fluids and inspect the general health of a rental vehicle before taking off into far flung road trip.  You can't trust your safety with anyone but yourself, even a rental car can burn you....always get the insurance and tow assistance too.  I would recommend adding tow assistance to your car insurance policy also, if you need them they literally can be a god-send in an emergency break down.

oscar

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2016, 12:22:44 AM »

I'd add to Max's list an air compressor, to add air to your tires when needed without having to search for a gas station with an air hose. Also a basic toolbox, a first aid kit, and some sturdy rope, both to assist other travelers as well as to possibly save your own ass. I don't carry some of the bulkier items on Max's list such as coolant, especially in my compact car that doesn't have a lot of space available (especially with a full-size spare filling up half my small trunk).

I bring a CB radio (plug into the power outlet, magnetic-mount roof antenna) in one of my vehicles, though I've never used it and sometimes forget to move it to the vehicle I'm taking on the road. I once rented a satellite phone, for travel in super-remote areas where not only is cellphone service nonexistent, but you can't count on other travelers being around to offer assistance.

As for maintenance, I just depend on my local car dealer to do regular service (with an extra dose of preventive maintenance), supplemented by regular oil changes and other checkups on the road if my trip exceeds a standard service interval (sometime a Jiffy Lube or the like will do for mid-trip maintenance). I've been lucky to have few breakdowns on the road other than flat tires, but while I don't know how to fix many potential roadside problems, my toolbox can help other travelers who have knowledge but not tools in their vehicles.
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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2016, 12:44:31 AM »

I'll also add to Max's remark about rentals. ALWAYS walk around. Not just for the dents and dings when you pick it up, but check out the trunk and engine compartments thoroughly. If you can see the rotos through the rims, check them and see if they look good. It doesn't take long for someone rough on the brakes (or several dozen someones) for the brakes to start wearing. Also, hitting objects or potholes messing with the alignment. They also have a tendency for tires to be low and no one checking them at the rental place.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2016, 12:47:55 AM »

I'd add to Max's list an air compressor, to add air to your tires when needed without having to search for a gas station with an air hose. Also a basic toolbox, a first aid kit, and some sturdy rope, both to assist other travelers as well as to possibly save your own ass. I don't carry some of the bulkier items on Max's list such as coolant, especially in my compact car that doesn't have a lot of space available (especially with a full-size spare filling up half my small trunk).

I bring a CB radio (plug into the power outlet, magnetic-mount roof antenna) in one of my vehicles, though I've never used it and sometimes forget to move it to the vehicle I'm taking on the road. I once rented a satellite phone, for travel in super-remote areas where not only is cellphone service nonexistent, but you can't count on other travelers being around to offer assistance.

As for maintenance, I just depend on my local car dealer to do regular service (with an extra dose of preventive maintenance), supplemented by regular oil changes and other checkups on the road if my trip exceeds a standard service interval (sometime a Jiffy Lube or the like will do for mid-trip maintenance). I've been lucky to have few breakdowns on the road other than flat tires, but while I don't know how to fix many potential roadside problems, my toolbox can help other travelers who have knowledge but not tools in their vehicles.

Actually it might surprise you that the car in question in my case to which I'm referring is a sub-compact Chevy Sonic.  Basically a lot of what I carry is from my old off-roading playbook, it's amazing what you can actually fit in a trunk with some good organization and use of tote boxes.  You mentioned having a basic tool box which I neglected to mention in my previous post.  Anything like a good socket wrench set is a must since it will likely be among your go to tools for most minor automotive repairs.

The one omission that I can't believe I had in my last post was water, always carry it.  I usually bring a 24 pack with me on trips, you never know when you might need it.  If you have a break down that might have you staying in place for a long time, at the very least you'll have plenty of hydration.  Also...this isn't mechanical but always carry what you might need for a...cough...road side emergency.  It's always good idea to carry proper stomach medicines to relieve anything you might acquire on the road and ample amounts of soap in addition to toilet paper.  Most people might not even think this would be an issue on a road trip but trust me if you have a 500 mile drive ahead of you and you've had a stomach problem you'll NEVER forget it...prepare in advance.  :-D

Also I usually have at least one jacket in the trunk to go along with the blanket I mentioned earlier....there is an umbrella in there somewhere also.  I used to carry two small planks and a shovel at one point but I tend at one point but I tend be a lot more cautious about dirt roads now with a low clearance vehicle.  I tend to travel light but I would imagine that I would have enough room for two full-size bags along with a smaller third as it all stands right now.  One more minor thing is to pay attention to your gross vehicle weight on the driver's side door and never exceed it.  If you are carrying heavy loads, make sure you evenly distribute the weight through the vehicle if you think you'll be close to the limit.

I'll also add to Max's remark about rentals. ALWAYS walk around. Not just for the dents and dings when you pick it up, but check out the trunk and engine compartments thoroughly. If you can see the rotos through the rims, check them and see if they look good. It doesn't take long for someone rough on the brakes (or several dozen someones) for the brakes to start wearing. Also, hitting objects or potholes messing with the alignment. They also have a tendency for tires to be low and no one checking them at the rental place.

Also in addition to checking the fluids like I mentioned earlier it's always a good idea to ask when the last time the vehicle had an oil change.  Nothing is quite as fun as being mid-way through the trip and the change oil light comes on, most rental car companies won't swap cars for you mid-trip and make you either change it or keep going to your ultimate destination.









........One more thing...if you happen to find yourself traveling the wasteland after the end of the world I would recommend the following:

1.  Removing the trunk lid and back window from your car to add an over-size gas tank.
2.  Add a time delay fuse to said gas tank in case desert biker gangs try to steal your gas.
3.  Keep a blue heeler with you at all time in case people in auto-gyros get the jump on you and try to take your supplies.
4.  Remove the lower part of your front bumper to get extra ground clearance for those rough desert roads.
5.  If you have to make sure you have the ability to cobble back together tires from spare rags you might happen to find in your travels.
6.  Always travel with an over-size super charger that you can turn on and shut off at a moments notice.  You'll want to be economical but able to get away from all pursuers at a moment notice.  Basically your end result should be something like this:

« Last Edit: April 15, 2016, 01:13:51 AM by Max Rockatansky »
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kphoger

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2016, 07:31:34 AM »

I don't carry an air compressor, just a very efficient bicycle pump. I usually only need to add five or ten pounds of air, and that's not too terrible with a hand pump.
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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2016, 08:51:30 AM »

Some of the stuff mentioned here is needlessly adding weight to the vehicle.  While having 2 extra tires in the car is good safety-wise, the chances of needing two are very remote.  Unless you're going to be in the desert off-roading for several hours, you're really not that far away from anything where a phone call will resolve the problem.

Think about it...how often have you passed by someone stranded on the side of the road?  (And if you have, have you bothered to assist them?)

For me...it's always good to know how to change a tire.  I don't know how to change my oil, but that's fine...if I'm on vacation, I'm not exactly going to be in a hotel parking lot changing my oil.  If it needs changing, it can be done at any one of thousands of places across the country.  I get about 8,000-10,000 miles on an oil change anyway, so unless it's an epic road trip, it's not going to be necessary.

If I need new wipers, I'll just stop at a dealership, buy them and they'll put them on for free.

Generally I have snacks in the car already, so that will include some bottles of water and/or soda.

If anything else comes along, I'm not going to have the parts to fix anything on the side of the road anyway, even if I knew what to do.  I have free roadside service via my insurance company.  I'll call them, have it towed, and have it fixed.

And honestly, all of this is true, regardless if I'm 20 miles or 2,000 miles from home. 

Yeah, I know...be prepared because you never know what's going to happen.   For the most part though, nearly anything that may happen on a trip can be avoided via routine maintenance, or taken care of by stopping by an appropriate repair facility.  In my travels, I had to do that twice.  One, I got a nail in a tire.  Stopped at a Goodyear or other tire place; they plugged it.  Another, a light came on the dash (the TPMS light, which indicated the system wasn't working properly).  I looked up some Honda dealerships along the way; stopped at both of them, and both told me what the issue was and it wasn't anything I needed to worry about right away.  The next time I was getting the car for service, I inquired about it and basically said it would be several hundred bucks to fix.  I still have that light on, and instead just check my tire pressure manually on occasion!
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2016, 10:13:00 AM »

Some of the stuff mentioned here is needlessly adding weight to the vehicle.  While having 2 extra tires in the car is good safety-wise, the chances of needing two are very remote.  Unless you're going to be in the desert off-roading for several hours, you're really not that far away from anything where a phone call will resolve the problem.

To give some context for me as to why I carry two it's because like you said my trips usually involve long extended journeys through desert or mountain territory.  Recently I was just out on U.S. 95 out in Nevada heading southward from Death Valley.  From Hawthrone to Beatty there are twin 90 plus mile intervals where there is no services, not even a single active gas station save for the middle in Tonopah.  It's like you said, the level of your prep really should come down to where you are going and where you live.  Even a trip from L.A. to Phoenix can go south fast out on the desert, even I-10 has huge stretches where you are your own help for a good long time unless you want to rely on the kindness of a stranger passing by or possibly spotty cellular coverage.  Even dirt and gravel roads are a much larger reality than they were back east.  About sixteen of the last twenty years I've spent in the western states with the other four in Florida.  I always felt much safer in relying on a tow truck being able to get to me due to the greater population density and better cellular cover that was available.

Also something probably worth while keeping in mind that isn't exactly maintenance but is notable for emergencies is to carry your networks cellular coverage map traveling in remote areas out west.  For the most part Interstates and U.S. routes are covered very well but once you leave a town the coverage can get spotty even after five miles.  There still sporadic areas where cellular coverage didn't exist at all or for some reason my phone would connect to a tower.  Some notable examples I ran into with Verizon several years ago were Mohave County Arizona and Eddy County New Mexico.

Also I'm with you on the oil change intervals.  The lowest interval I've had on any car I've bought in the last ten years was 6,000 with my Challenger.  I had another performance car prior to that which would have easily gone 12,000 to 13,000 miles between changes save for the fact I would never accumulate that many miles in a 12 month period.  Synthetic and synthetic blends used today are much higher quality than the crappy conventional oil that used to be so common place.  In fact there was a huge push by the automakers about 5 years back to educate new owners that the 3,000 mile oil change interval was oil news and to go with what the owner's manual said instead of some fly by night shop.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2016, 10:17:50 AM by Max Rockatansky »
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kphoger

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2016, 11:06:13 AM »

In July 2014, I was leading a mission team in northern México (long-time users on here know that I do this every year).  There were two vehicles:  our 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan and our best friend's 1999 GMC 1500 pickup.  About an hour into the trip, his front wheel bearing totally went out—meaning it came off in pieces.  We were in the middle of the desert, in a foreign country, in the heat of the summer, and we were stuck.  Here is a GSV of the approximate location, as well as I can recall.

Fortunately, we had picked up two hitchhikers on our way out of town.  One stayed with the vehicle, our friend's new fiancée (they got engaged the day before), and one other person; the other rode along with the rest of us to find a mechanic.  Finally, fifteen miles down the road, we found this mechanic's shop, which was operated by a man who had had a tracheotomy and could speak in consonants only.  We then drove 30 miles farther to Auto Zone, calling the bank along the way to make authorize an international purchase on our debit card, to buy a new wheel bearing and drop off the hitchhikers.  The clerk tried to sell me one for a slightly different model by mistake; thank goodness for cell phones!  We then picked up picnic lunch supplies, stopped off so the mechanic could grab his tools and follow us, and returned to the pickup.

Some of the mechanic's tools were insufficient, but fortunately our friend had better tools in his toolbox (heavier sledgehammer, heavier-duty wrench).  The only missing tool between the two of them was the right size of Torx driver, but by then a roving serviceman (Ángeles Verdes) had arrived and had one in his truck.  All told, we ended up with same-day roadside service for only fifty bucks in labor.

Afterwards, our friend admitted that he had considered leaving all his tools at home to save space in the pickup.  I am so glad he decided against that.

All that is to say, things can go sideways no matter what.  By the time he noticed a noise coming from under his pickup, we were 700 miles into our trip southbound and had already cleared Mexican customs.  400 miles later, there we were.  There's only so much preparation you can do.
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SP Cook

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2016, 11:41:09 AM »

As long as we are talking about the 48 states plus the parts of Canada within 100 miles or so of them, a recent vintage automobile that has been properly maintained is designed to operate without the need to carry spare parts and fluids around with you.  A $100 bill is a whole lot lighter than a spare battery, air compressor,  or much of anything else.   

As far a knowledge, before leaving the safety net of one's own network of hometown friends to help out, IMHO, one should:

- Know what each dial and light on the dash means, how serious it is, and what continued operation of the vehicle therewith will do in terms of further damage.
- Know how to put air in the tires.
- Know how to fill all of the customer servicable fluids, know which goes where and what they do, and know what continued operations with a shortage there of will do in terms of further damage, if any.
- Know how to change a tire.  That includes how to get the spare from under a truck or SUV.  And know how to reset the flat tire indicator light.

As far as what one needs to have in the car,  IMHO:

- A properly maintained (that means, IMHO, following the manufacturer's schedule as if it was the word of God Himself) recent model car.  I see people all the time at places like Advance Auto Parts (which loans tools) doing major repairs to cars that are simply too old and in too poor of a shape to safely be taken away from home to work service. 
- Four good tires that have been rotated as recomended, with the proper amount of air.  And a spare that you have looked at and, even if you have never used it, replaced if it has aged out of the recomended use (6 years or so).
- $500 in cash, plus at least 2 credit cards with ample credit.  And $5 in quarters.
- A PAPER map of every place you plan on going.
- Jumper cables.  Really everying in the roadside emergency kit that German cars come standard with is good to have.  You can get one for about $100 anywhere.   The kit that VW includes is jumper cables, warning triangle, multi-tool, multi screwdriver/boxcutter, blanket, poncho, whistle, gloves, electrical tape, cable ties, and bandaids.  That is about right.  To that I add a highly reflective vest, a tire gage, and a level 2 first aid kit.    And a .45.
- It is not a bad idea to have at least some water and a little food, like peanut butter crackers or such.
- Cell phone, even if you don't have one regularly.

In winter, add:
- Ice scraper
- Prestone's Overnight Ice Preventer (it really works)
- Maybe some cat litter or other traction aid.  (IMHO, if you really need chains on long distance trip, you are asking for it.  Stay home.)

Then know what is what.  If you are really long distancing, then you can get an oil change in any town at any quick lube place or Wal-Mart.  Any fluids can be found at Wal-Mart or any auto parts store. 

As to trouble, if you are out of waranty, any good tire store can plug a tire or sell you a new SET (NEVER replace one tire, yes I know it costs money, that is why we have jobs).   And the donut is for getting you to the next town, that is all.  Do not be a dumba** and drive on it for 100s of miles.  Any chain garage or dealer can fix whatever else is wrong.  Most auto parts stores will do a code scan and see why the check engine light is on (80% of the time it is nothing important, often EPA bulls***)
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hbelkins

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2016, 03:03:33 PM »

Caveat to what SP said -- if you have a vehicle with odd-sized or hard-to-find parts, carrying a spare of whatever that part is might not be a bad idea. My disaster with a broken serpentine belt in Missouri a couple of years ago is a cautionary tale in that regard. If the belt can't be found anywhere in a city the size of Springfield, Mo., and your belt breaks on a Friday afternoon and it can't be replaced until the ordered part arrives on Monday, then it might be prudent to obtain and keep a spare.
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Rothman

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2016, 08:05:30 AM »

What am I going to do with $5 in quarters when I've already got the cash?

Reminds me of my brother-in-law who recently took a road trip from Wisconsin to Washington D.C. to Hartford, CT.  He brought some change to "cover tolls."  The cost of tolls took him totally by surprise (i.e., tolls that could be measured in dollars, not cents).
« Last Edit: May 02, 2016, 08:07:37 AM by Rothman »
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jeffandnicole

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2016, 08:16:30 AM »

What am I going to do with $5 in quarters when I've already got the cash?

Reminds me of my brother-in-law who recently took a road trip from Wisconsin to Washington D.C. to Hartford, CT.  He brought some change to "cover tolls."  The cost of tolls took him totally by surprise (i.e., tolls that could be measured in dollars, not cents).

Coming North on 95, by the time people hit the NJ Turnpike that weren't used to tolls, they were pretty fed up with tolls (and they hadn't even hit the NYC area yet!).
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #16 on: May 02, 2016, 08:22:25 AM »

What am I going to do with $5 in quarters when I've already got the cash?

Reminds me of my brother-in-law who recently took a road trip from Wisconsin to Washington D.C. to Hartford, CT.  He brought some change to "cover tolls."  The cost of tolls took him totally by surprise (i.e., tolls that could be measured in dollars, not cents).

For me they aren't for tolls they are for inflating or deflating tires.  On some of my trips there is a temperature variance of 60F plus out in the mountains and/or deserts.  For what it's worth I've never found that any rental company properly inflates tires before shuffling a car off to the next customer and definitely not the spare.  So usually the first task at hand on a rental car bound road trip is to the gas station air compressor and then to the grocery store to find at minimum a 24-pack of water.

Rothman

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #17 on: May 02, 2016, 08:35:58 AM »

I've got a little air compressor in my car for filling up tires.  I like the convenience of not having to drive around finding a place.

I'm wondering what the threshold is, though, for not carrying things around with you with the assumption that they'll be available wherever you go.  I could always get quarters at a local bank or laundromat or wherever else, for instance.  There must be some personal balance between one's tolerance to go hunting for stuff and one's ability to take preparations with you from the get-go.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #18 on: May 02, 2016, 08:44:26 AM »

I've got a little air compressor in my car for filling up tires.  I like the convenience of not having to drive around finding a place.

I'm wondering what the threshold is, though, for not carrying things around with you with the assumption that they'll be available wherever you go.  I could always get quarters at a local bank or laundromat or wherever else, for instance.  There must be some personal balance between one's tolerance to go hunting for stuff and one's ability to take preparations with you from the get-go.

Usually I have about $5 dollars in quarters laying around my daily driver from just things that I've bought.  For the most part I just grab what I need before a trip (assuming I'm flying somewhere) and I'm good to go from that end.  Usually I try to avoid baggage fees at airlines so I'll bring about five changes of clothes and just use hotel laundry facilities.  Since it's frustrating to keep up on the current TSA liquid guidelines usually it's just procure on sight once I arrive where I'm going.  But then again usually I kind of plan the first day as a travel day  which gives me that time to prepare.  But you'd be surprised how widely unavailable certain things get in the western half of the country once you leave a decent sized city and enter the boondocks....still the land of Mom and Pop Generals Stores if anything at all.

SP Cook

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #19 on: May 02, 2016, 09:43:02 AM »

Having a good supply of quarters in your car is always good practice.  Air compressors, vending machines, and  parking meters.    I keep $5 in quarters plus a few random other coins, plus some dollar coins.   
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jeffandnicole

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #20 on: May 02, 2016, 10:41:48 AM »

I've got a little air compressor in my car for filling up tires.  I like the convenience of not having to drive around finding a place.

I'm wondering what the threshold is, though, for not carrying things around with you with the assumption that they'll be available wherever you go.  I could always get quarters at a local bank or laundromat or wherever else, for instance.  There must be some personal balance between one's tolerance to go hunting for stuff and one's ability to take preparations with you from the get-go.

For most people, if you're on a trip that requires renting a car, you're not going to have that compressor with you unless it's packed in your checked luggage.
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Jardine

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #21 on: May 02, 2016, 11:41:25 AM »

take the mouse nest out of the air cleaner before you go
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texaskdog

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #22 on: May 02, 2016, 02:25:43 PM »

When we didn't have newer cars we'd rent cars.  I drove my old car from Minnesota to Wyoming when I lived there for the summer.  Of course it broke down and cost a $400 tow out of Yellowstone.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #23 on: May 02, 2016, 02:49:13 PM »

When we didn't have newer cars we'd rent cars.  I drove my old car from Minnesota to Wyoming when I lived there for the summer.  Of course it broke down and cost a $400 tow out of Yellowstone.

Same tow would probably cost a grand today.  Apparently it's running close to $2,000 for one out of Death Valley nowadays.  I carry tow coverage on my insurance plan just on the off chance that I don't have any other recourse other than to call for a truck. 

Rothman

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Re: Essential car maintenance knowledge
« Reply #24 on: May 02, 2016, 03:07:24 PM »

I suppose that's a key part, too:  Roadside assistance plan of some sort.  I've got AAA Plus.
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