Do You Know the Reason for These Common Auto Maintenance Services?


By: Justin Cupler

7 Min Quiz

Image: 1001nights/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Car ownership is a long-term arrangement where you promise to take care of this machine as long as it continues to reciprocate by giving you lifts wherever you need to go. If you fail to live up to your end of the bargain, your car will forgive you for a while, but the eventual lack of maintenance will catch up and make the car give up on you. 

Car owners often forget about their responsibilities when owning a car, expecting it to be ready to go the second they turn the key. Without regular maintenance, though, the wear on your vehicle's moving parts can lead to complete failure and leave you stuck hailing a cab or grabbing a bus until you save the money you need to fix your mistake. 

Do you know why your car needs all that maintenance listed in the back of the owner's manual? Is this all just a brainwashing tactic to get you back into the dealership to spend money? No, there are specific reasons for each regularly scheduled maintenance item. Think you have a bead on why you need to perform each maintenance item? Take this quiz to see just how much you actually know about automotive maintenance. 

Why do you need to change the engine oil in your car?

Oil has several key functions, including lubricating moving parts and washing away contaminants. Over time, the heat from the engine breaks down the oil's viscosity and the contaminants become too dense for the oil, causing it to lose its effectiveness. This is when it's time to change the oil.


What happens if you do not change your oil filter?

The oil filter removes all the contaminants from the oil as it flows back through the engine. If left unchanged, these contaminants can eventually become too much for the filter to handle and can flow back into the engine. In severe cases, the filter can even become clogged and cut off the flow of oil to the engine.


Why do tires need to be rotated?

Each corner of your vehicle has a slightly different angle for your vehicle's tire to sit at. Leaving it in this angle for too long can cause premature wear. Rotating the tires ensures you constantly change the way the tire contacts the road.


If you do not rotate your tires, what will happen?

Leaving your tires in the same spot on the vehicle will also leave them contacting the road at the same angle, which is never exactly perpendicular to the road. This eventually leads to excessive wear in the spot of the tire that bears the most weight. This can dramatically shorten the life of your tires and void any warranty.


Why do tires need balancing?

The tire manufacturing process is an imperfect one that results in natural heavy spots in the tire. Balancing the tire counters these heavy spots with small wheel weights. If you do not balance your tires, the vehicle will shake at certain speeds and potentially cause damage to the chassis.


Why is it important to inspect and replace belts regularly?

Belts are often out of sight and out of mind, but checking them frequently can catch early cracking that can result in sudden breakage if left unchanged. Your car's accessory belts power the alternator and, in some cases, the water pump and fan.


What makes brake fluid go bad?

Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water from the surrounding atmosphere. This water can impact its ability to function properly and result in brake system damage or failure.


What can happen if you do not replace your car’s brake fluid?

Brake fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere, and water will lower the brake fluid's boiling point. This can result in the fluid boiling and introducing air into the system or damaging the rubber seals within the system. Water can also cause the brake line and components to rust from the inside.


Why do we need to replace engine coolant?

Coolant goes through constant heating and cooling, which can break down its viscosity. This breakdown reduces its ability to absorb heat and lubricate the cooling system's moving parts. Changing the coolant as the manufacturer recommends will prevent these breakdowns from causing any overheating issues.


Why do you need to check and adjust your tire pressure?

Tires are very sensitive to pressure, and having the pressures off can result in excessive tire wear. Always set your tires to the "Cold PSI" setting noted on the tire placard inside the door.


What happens if you drive with underinflated tires?

Underinflated tires hold most of the vehicle's weight on their outer edges. This unbalanced weight distribution can cause excessive wear on the outer edges of the tires.


What happens if you drive on overinflated tire?

Overinflated tires will bulge in the center, putting most of the vehicle's weight on this part. This will cause the center portion of the tire to wear out quicker than the rest of the tire.


Why do our vehicles need regular alignments?

Rough roads and normal driving slowly pull the chassis out of alignment. This causes the tires to sit at an angle the manufacturer did not intend them to and can cause excessive tire wear. Regular alignments keep the chassis within spec and prevent this issue.


What happens if we never align our vehicles?

If you continue driving without having your vehicle aligned regularly, your tires will constantly sit at an angle the manufacturer did not intend. This will cause excessive tire wear and lead to you replacing tires more frequently than you should


Why are clean battery terminals better?

The battery is the heart of your vehicle. All the power runs through it and having corroded terminals interrupts the flow of power. Keeping the terminals clean allows power to flow freely, making it easier to start the vehicle, and may even run better too.


How do we prevent corrosion on our battery terminals?

Auto parts stores sell an anti-corrosive spray that helps keep corrosion to a minimum while not interfering with the flow of energy . Applying this according to the instructions on the spray will help minimize corrosion and keep your battery in top shape.


Why is waxing your vehicle so important?

Wax adds a thin coat that protects your car's expensive paint job from all the environmental fallout in the sky. Instead of attaching to your car's paint and potentially causing pitting and other damage, the fallout lands on the wax and is easily swept away by water.


What can happen if you do not replace your timing belt as recommended?

The timing belt is what synchronizes your car's valves with the piston stroke. If the belt snaps, the valves can fall and contact the piston, which can cause major engine damage. Replacing the timing belt at the recommended intervals can prevent this issue.


Why change the water pump, all pulleys and the tensioner when replacing a timing belt?

The timing belt tensioners, pulleys and the water pump all make direct contact with the belt and can wear out over time. While you have the belt off, it is best to replace these items to prevent their failure from damaging the new belt. Many timing belts come in kits that already include these parts.


What is the purpose of greasing front end components?

Many trucks and SUVs use greasable front-end components that require regular greasing. Failure to grease them regularly can cause excessive wear and eventual failure. Some of the components you need to grease include the ball joints, steering rack, steering linkage and tie rod ends.


What can happen if you do not grease front end components regularly?

As front end parts run dry, they will begin to squeak louder and louder. Eventually they will rub metal against metal, which causes them to become loose and eventually fail. Best case, they fail but remain intact. Worst case, they fail and you can lose control of the vehicle.


Why does your engine air filter need replacing?

The air filter plays a huge role in keeping sand, dust, bugs and other debris out of the engine. Over time, these contaminants get caught up in the filter and clog it. If the right amount of air cannot get into the engine, it can reduce power and fuel efficiency.


What is the point in replacing the cabin air filter?

The cabin air filter prevents pollen, dust and other debris from entering the cabin. Over time, these contaminants build up and clog the filter. While a clog typically causes no mechanical failures, it can redistrict the flow of warm or cold air into the cabin, making it uncomfortable.


Why do wiper blades go bad?

Your car's windshield wipers catch the brunt of all the heat and cold the environment throws at your car. While these rubber blades can handle a lot of abuse, they eventually dry out and crack, which causes them to streak water across the windshield instead of wipe it away.


What happens if you wait too long to replace brake pads?

If you wait too long to replace the brake pads and the metal backing plate of the pad contacts the rotor, this can dig large grooves into the rotor and force you to replace the rotor too. A low pad level also forces the caliper piston to overextend, which can cause the piston to become jammed, forcing you to replace the entire caliper, too.


What happens if you do not resurface rotors when replacing brake pads?

The brake pads need a rough surface to grab for maximum effectiveness, which is why we resurface rotors. Failure to resurface rotors forces the pads to grip smooth rotors or those with uneven surfaces, resulting in longer stopping distances or uneven pad wear.


Why should you inspect your car’s hoses regularly?

The constant heating and cooling your car's hoses go through can lead to them softening over time. As they soften, the risk of bursting increases. Catching a soft hose early can prevent them from bursting and potentially causing overheating.


Why do you need to lubricate the slides when doing a brake job?

The caliper slides are what allow the caliper to slide back and forth during braking. With each brake job, you need to lubricate these slides to allow the calipers to move freely. With dry slides, the calipers can stick and cause excessive brake pad wear or vibration.


Why does transmission fluid require changing?

Transmission fluid has many responsibilities: cleaning, lubrication, cooling and hydraulics. As it ages, the fluid becomes dirty and loses its ability to lubricate under high heat. Changing the fluid restores these properties and prevents damage to the transmission.


What can happen if you do not change transmission fluid regularly?

The transmission fluid has many responsibilities, so it can fail in many ways. This is why it is key to change it right on schedule with what the manufacturer recommends. Generally, when the transmission fluid becomes contaminated it initially loses its lubricating and cooling properties, which starts the downward spiral of transmission failure.


Why do we need to replace spark plugs regularly?

Through normal wear and tear,spark plugs lose small amounts of material from their electrodes and these electrodes collect dirt and debris. Over time, this causes the spark jumping between these electrodes to weaken, making the engine less efficient. Replacing the spark plugs at the manufacturer's recommended interval restores the hot spark.


Why is it important to change ignition wires along with the spark plugs?

As spark plug wires age, the constant exposure to the engine's heat can cause their rubber covers to become brittle and crack easily. When removing the wires from the plugs, you can break the cover without realizing it, causing a short you won't notice until after you've already installed everything.


Why does the oil weight matter?

Manufactures choose an oil weight for their engines that delivers the best combination of lubricating properties and efficiency. Straying from this weight of oil can cause decreased performance and efficiency.


Why does the right type of coolant matter?

Manufacturers design cooling systems with specific fluid types in mind. While many share the same fluids, there are some with specific types. These generally have different additives to extend their useful lives and lubricate the cooling system's moving parts more effectively.


Why is it important to inspect your tires regularly?

Tire wear and tear sometimes goes unnoticed until you hit bad weather and start sliding all over the place. You can catch excessive tire wear or damage before these issues arise by just taking a look at your tires and checking their tread depth once every few weeks.


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