Basic maintenance for your car: Tires, wheels and brakes (Pt. 3)

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Car hub cotter pin with lug nuts.

Hey! Clean those lug nuts and threads! It's basic maintenance. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Polyparadigm/Wikipedia)

Basic maintenance of your vehicle requires not only that tires, wheels and brakes be clean, but functional. It takes more than a simple brush-0ver, as you’ll see here. But don’t assume it’s too difficult – it’s still the basics that any car owner should know. Click if you missed PART ONE or PART TWO of this article.

Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 9: Cleaning the wheels

Aside from soap and water, it may actually be worth your while to clean wheels with a wheel cleaner that’s formulated to remove road stains. Read the labels, and you’ll notice that some wheel cleaners are designed for metal wheels, while others are for painted or clear-coated wheels. The former type of cleaner is even divided into various formulations, depending upon the type of finish, from stain to chrome. Top off this part of your car care routine with wheel polish for metal wheels, or wax for painted wheels.

Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 10: Lube the lug nuts

When you have to remove a wheel from your car, lubricated lug nuts help a great deal. But did you know that lubed lugs contribute more toward proper car care than that? Seized or frozen studs promote corrosion that can spread to the wheels. Cold weather makes this even more likely to happen. So the next time you change or rotate your tires, spray anti-seize lubricant on the lug nuts, and clean the stud threads with a wire brush. If the lug nut still freezes on, use WD-40 or even a heat gun to free the nuts enough to make the ratchet’s job easier.

Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 11: Hubcap hijinks

Hubcaps, wheel covers and center caps come loose over time, or can snap off when jammed against the curb during a hasty attempt at parallel parking. What can you do to hold on to these important parts? First, if a cap is slightly loose, take it off and use pliers to pry any bent clips back into the appropriate position. This can fix the most basic problem encountered with loose hubcaps.

Plastic hubcaps tend to use a retaining wire ring, so try not to bend or break those tabs. If you have very expensive hubcaps and you know your car is headed for the repair shop, it is advisable to remove them before letting the shop have its way. To reinstall, place the cap in place, and tap gently with a rubber mallet to avoid denting. Properly installed caps should appear even and flush with the wheel.

Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 12: Proper alignment

Every 30,000 miles, you should have your vehicle’s wheel alignment tested for straightness. That number varies somewhat by vehicle make and model; check your owners manual. You should also have the alignment checked whenever you get new tires or when you replace your car’s steering unit or related parts. If you neglect this car care must, your tires will wear down prematurely and the vehicle will not steer optimally.

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Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 13: Top off the brake fluid

Not everyone makes brake fluid a part of their regular automotive maintenance. However, it should be, at least once per month. Wipe the master cylinder lid clean before opening, then take a look. If the fluid level is low, add the appropriate amount of the fluid recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Don’t mix and match with other kinds of vehicle fluids, and don’t use old open stuff that’s been sitting around for a while.

Tires, wheels and brakes basic maintenance tip No. 14: Care for your anti-lock brakes

Want to ruin the expensive ABS pump and brake lines in your car? Then let moisture settle into your anti-lock braking system, by all means. Brake fluid draws moisture, so it must occasionally be flushed and replaced every three years (check your owners manual for variances).

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