The Service You Deserve, The Quality You Expect

Procrastinating on these repairs can bite your wallet

March 9th, 2016

Is your car saying "check engine"? Heed the advice, sooner rather than later. In the world of vehicle owners, there are two camps: those who tend to things such as maintenance and repairs as soon as possible, and those who wait until something breaks. Often the latter group will scoff at the amount of time and money that drivers in the former camp spend on their chariots, and of course you’ll recognize their typical water-cooler patter (“I’ve owned my car for 10 years and never had to replace _____ [insert part/fluid here]”).

But although automakers want us to believe their products are almost maintenance-free, their owners’ manuals are filled with charts and schedules for fluid changes, inspections and service items. So what if you emulated Penny from the Big Bang Theory and ignored that persistent “check engine” light that drove Sheldon right ’round the bend? Or what would be the harm in ignoring a few fluids or turning up the radio to drown out that new, annoying noise?

Here are some of the consequences of all that procrastinating.

Check your “check engine” light: This has to be the number one headache for most drivers. Ignoring a check engine light can result in no consequences, or not making it home. Almost every carmaker now jams hundreds of diagnostic trouble codes behind this little red-eyed devil, including everything from transmission troubles to emissions faults to defective door-ajar switches. With most modern vehicles, if things get really hairy under the hood, the light will start flashing.

The most common cause for a check engine light is still a loose gas cap, so the first thing you should do if it comes on is to check and tighten the cap. The light won’t go out right away as the control computer will have to run a few test cycles before switching it off. This may take one or two days of driving.

Tire warning light giving you pressure? As more and more vehicles are coming equipped with a tire pressure warning system, this light is fast becoming the number two headache for most drivers. In extremely cold weather (below -20 C), it’s common for tires to bleed a little air out, especially those mounted on alloy rims. Some tire pressure sensing systems are so sensitive that even a few pounds lost will set off the dash warning light. More advanced systems will actually display which tire is low and by how much. If it’s a minor amount (less than about 5 psi or 35 KPA), wait until the tires warm up during a highway run; if the light goes out, you’re on your way. If not, you’re still on your way, but to the closest air pump station. It's smart to invest in a proper tire-pressure gauge and check tire pressure once a month.

Ignoring a tire with low pressure will lead you straight to the tire store to buy a new one long before you have to. Tire side walls are the first thing to give out under (low) pressure, not to mention your car will suffer heavier fuel consumption and reduced steering and braking performance. Don’t be surprised if your home-use 12-volt air pump won’t inflate a low tire on a cold day; tire valves often freeze and stick closed, and it usually takes the heavier pressure of an industrial/commercial pump to get things unstuck.

Oil will get you sooner or later: If your older ride is burning or leaking engine oil, failing to keep it topped up is a sure way to get yourself a new chariot. Engine oil isn’t only used for lubrication; it’s actually an integral part of the main bearings in the crankshaft (that large and expensive part that connects to the piston rods). Don’t expect a warning light to help you out on this one. Most engines will maintain sufficient oil pressure to keep the oil warning dash light off with as little as one liter of oil remaining.

But at that low level, the journey of ruin will start in the upper passages of the engine where the valves and their shafts are located. By the time you hear a noticeable rapping or clacking noise, the tragedy has already been written. The rapping will get gradually louder until it stops altogether when the engine seizes. Buy some cheap oil by the case and a funnel, and keep things running smooth until you can get the proper repair done.

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