Basic maintenance for your new car: From breaking in to winter storage (Pt. 1)

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A smiling woman wearing sunglasses sits in the driver's seat of a convertible car.

Gentle driving makes your new car happy. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Alex/Flickr)

You want to keep your car running and in tip-top shape because you depend upon it as your primary source of transportation, provided you live in one of the many areas of the U.S. where public transportation is underdeveloped. That’s why basic maintenance is important, maintenance that should begin the moment you get your hands on even a brand new car. Here are some car care tips that will take your car from its breaking-in period to winter storage.

Basic maintenance from inception tip No. 1 – A slow and steady breaking-in

The first 1,000 miles driven in your new car is typically what is referred to as the “breaking-in” period. During this time, you should endeavor to keep your speed under 55 mph (this may vary by manufacturer), which means no highway speeds. You’ll get to know those surface streets well, traversing them at light to medium acceleration (below 3,000 rpm) for the first few hours. While you’re at it, you’ll also want to avoid hauling heavy loads or trailers.

In addition to taking it gently, try not to let the car idle for too long during the breaking-in period. This is never a good idea, but it is particularly bad for a new car. The build in oil pressure that occurs may cause insufficient amounts of oil to reach key parts of your car’s engine.

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Basic maintenance from inception tip No. 2 – Gentle driving is preferred

Don’t be a harsh taskmaster with a lead foot when it comes to putting your new car through its paces. In truth, it is better to treat it gently. Don’t gun the engine during start-up, as this can add years or wear to the engine, particularly if you live in a cold climate. Then don’t allow it to idle for too long, as this can cause the engine to operate outside of its peak temperature zone. This in turn leads to less efficient fuel combustion, soot deposits, oil contamination and damaged parts over the long haul. When you accelerate, do it slowly, as most engine and drive train wear tends to occur within the first 10 to 20 minutes of operations after starting a car.

What does gentle driving mean once you’re under way? At red lights, shift into neutral so that the engine isn’t trying to push the car forward against the power of the brakes. Don’t stomp on the gas pedal, particularly in very hot or cold climates, as the mechanical stress this causes is significant. By observing this policy and sticking to posted speed limits, you’re also prolonging the life of your car’s tires. When there are obstacles in the road like potholes or you’re parallel parking, try not to hit either. And speaking of steering, don’t hold an oversteer, as it can damage your car’s power steering pump.

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Keep in mind that part of treating your new car gently is how often you use it. By this, I mean that you should always try to consolidate trips. Beyond the obvious gasoline or electricity savings, fewer engine starts saves wear and tear on the starter and cuts down on environmental pollution. If you can time your trips for low traffic hours, you’ll be in a better mood by errand’s end.

Basic maintenance from inception tip No. 3 – Avoid bad gas

This one may be easier said than done at times, but do your best to make clean gasoline a part of your car care routine. Actually ask the proprietor at a gas station whether the fuel is filtered at the pump before you buy. You’ll also want to know whether the station changes pump filters regularly. If the answers you receive are less than direct, chances are the station doesn’t go the extra mile for the customer. No pump filters mean dirty gasoline. Stations without them may very well water down their product, or mix the fuel and alcohol haphazardly. Your new car doesn’t want any part of that. Go with a service station you trust.

Basic maintenance from inception tip No. 4 – Say goodbye to the tanker

Periodically, gas stations need to replenish their underground tanks. You’ll know that time has come if you see a tanker truck on the premises, ready for pumping action. Times like these are bad for replenishing your own fuel supply, however. Opinions differ on this slightly, but a good rule of thumb is that when a gas station’s tanks are being refilled, the turbulence of pumping can stir sediment at the bottom of the station’s tank. If that gets into your own vehicle’s tank – something the station’s filters may prevent, but why chance it – it can clog your car’s fuel filters and injectors. The result of this will be poor engine performance and increased need for repairs.

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