The majority of the time most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about our engines. We hop into the car, turn the key and head out to wherever we're going. When we do notice the engine, however, it's usually when we hear it making sounds we're not accustomed to hearing or when the car feels a little different than it did before.
Engines need to be looked after. They need a check-up every now and then, and they also require some regular maintenance to keep them in good running condition. To help you take proper care of your engine and to keep it from creating serious problems, we've put together this list of 10 ways to proactively protect your engine.
Stay on top of these suggestions and your engine will run better, last longer and keep you from shelling out more cash later on down the road.
Changing the oil regularly is one of the most important things you can do for your engine. If don't read any of the other ways to protect your engine (but we really hope you do) make sure to do this one. Oil keeps vital engine parts well lubricated so that they won't overheat. Your engine can't function without it and if you go too long between oil changes it can cause permanent damage to your engine over time.
Suggestions for when you should change your oil will vary, but the most recent standard for modern cars is to change the oil every 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers) [source: Cars.com]. Some engines can go longer while some older engines may need it sooner than that. Since we're talking about proactively protecting your engine, make sure to look up what your car's manufacturer suggests for your specific vehicle's oil change interval. If you can't find your car's manual, do a quick search online to find out when it should be changed.
We can't mention changing the oil without also stressing that the oil filter needs to be replaced at the same time. The oil filter catches all the dirt and debris floating around inside of your engine and keeps the junk from circulating back through engine. With a new filter and new oil, your engine will run smoothly, and most importantly, it'll keep all the internal parts of the engine cool and well lubricated.
In addition to changing the oil, there's another part of keeping the engine cool that you can't overlook -- the cooling system itself. The cooling system includes the radiator, thermostat, water pump and coolant. The easiest way to protect your engine from overheating is by making sure you have the proper amount of coolant (radiator fluid) circulating throughout your engine.
The coolant circulates through your engine when the thermostat determines that the engine is getting hot and needs to be cooled down. The water pump then pulls coolant from the radiator, sends it into the engine block and then back out to the radiator to be cooled back down. To check the coolant level, lift the hood and look at your coolant tank. It's a clear tank with a green or orange colored liquid in it. Make sure the coolant is above the minimum mark but below the maximum mark.
If you notice that your car is overheating and you know that there's enough coolant, take your car to a mechanic and have them run a cooling system check. The cost to find and replace a problem with the cooling system ahead of time will far outweigh the damage done to your engine if it ever overheats.
Imagine training for marathon. You work out, run every day, eat right and give your body the proper amount of rest. But when the marathon day comes, you forget to do one thing: breath. You can guess how well you'd perform. Cars need a constant flow of air just like we do. Aside from fuel, air is the next essential ingredient in keeping your engine running. The air needs to be coming into the engine continually, without restriction and without debris.
Air filters keep all the outside junk like bugs, leaves and dirt from getting inside of your engine. Over time, these filters can get clogged with dirt and need to be replaced. Depending on your driving habits and road conditions, an air filter can usually last a long time. But if the filter is allowed to get too dirty and not doing its job efficiently, it can either starve your engine for oxygen, let in too much junk -- or both.
When you change your oil, take a look at your air filter and see if it looks clean. Replace it if necessary to keep that engine running smoothly and protect it against the all those bugs and other road debris that ends up on your front bumper.
You don't have to be a mechanic to spot a leak. In fact, sometimes you don't even need to see it -- you can just smell it. Oil and antifreeze are the two main fluids you want to make sure aren't leaking out of your engine.
Intense heat and pressure will eventually cause engine hoses to fail. Rubber engine hoses that are old and cracked can leak antifreeze or other fluids that your engine requires. Other areas that often leak are where two parts join together with a rubber seal and silicon. Over time, these seals can break down and allow oil or other fluids to leak out of the engine or cause them to leak fluid into the wrong areas of the engine.
It's a good idea to check under your hood to see if you see or smell anything leaking from the engine. When you park your car, occasionally check under the car to see if anything is leaking onto the pavement below. If you can stay ahead of a minor leak and have it taken care of before it turns into a major problem you could save yourself a big headache later on.
Gasoline has a certain amount of sediment in it that settles to the bottom of your gas tank. After years of driving around and many fill-ups, there can actually be a fair amount of junk at the bottom of your fuel tank. Your fuel filter will catch a lot of this sediment and keep it out of your car's fuel lines and your engine. However, if you consistently run your car all the way down to empty, you're pulling from the bottom-of-the-barrel and all the extra junk that's accumulated there.
If the sediment gets through the fuel filter (some of it can) it can get into the engine and cause internal damage. It puts debris in areas where it shouldn't be and causes your fuel system and other parts of your engine to work harder. Some people recommend keeping a half-tank of fuel at all times. You may not want to fill-up that often, but make sure that you're not running the gas all the way down to empty. Your engine will thank you for it.
No we're not talking about dressing etiquette. We're talking about the rubber belts on your engine that run all sorts of vital components. The function of a belt can vary from car to car, but some of their main responsibilities are running the fan, water pump, alternator and air conditioner. You don't need to know what all those things are, but you do need to know that the belts on your engine run at least some of them.
If your engine is on then your belts are running. In other words, they get a lot of use. They typically last a very long time, but eventually they will start to show signs of wear and begin to crack. If your belt breaks while you're driving it can cause major damage to the engine. Check your belts by turning them over slightly to see if they have any visible cracks in them. A squealing or spinning belt may also indicate that it needs to be adjusted or replaced. Stay on top of your belts and you'll ensure your car is runs a whole lot smoother -- and longer.
This may seem like an obvious one, but if you neglect to get your car checked when any of the automotive warning lights come on you could be neglecting a serious problem. The check engine light, and other warning lights, can come on for a number of reasons. The good news is that all of them aren't necessarily going to be a major issue. But you won't know until you get it checked out.
In addition to the typical check engine light, many cars have several other lights that come on to indicate a problem. They can warn about problems with the alternator, battery, engine temperature or other areas surrounding the engine that are monitored. To protect your engine, either run a diagnostics check when the light comes on and then fix the problem yourself, or take it to a mechanic so they can run the test and perform the work. If you wait too long after the light comes on you could allow a small problem to develop into a big one.
We mentioned earlier about how the fuel filter protects your engine from harmful sediment and particles in the gas. The fuel filter catches any particles or debris that would be harmful to the engine and keeps it trapped in a canister, much like your oil filter does.
If the filter hasn't been replaced in a while, then it's a good idea to change it to keep the engine running smoothly. If your filter is easily accessible, this repair won't be too difficult, but some filters may be hard to reach. If you can't access your car's fuel filter, take it to a mechanic to be replaced.
A new fuel filter will keep the gas flowing into your engine clean. Your engine will have less build-up inside of it and will last longer if it's not working as hard to burn the fuel it's getting.
Your engine is built to run, but it runs much better and tends to last longer when it's run at a continuous speed. Imagine running in a race where you constantly went from a full sprint to a dead stop every few minutes. You'd wear yourself out by picking up speed only to force yourself to slow down to a standstill every few minutes. Your engine gets worn down in the same way. Constant stops and starts, like those that you can experience in city driving, are really hard on your car's engine.
If it all possible, stick to the highway and keep your speed and RPMs at a consistent level. You'll notice better gas mileage and your engine will likely last longer if your driving habits allow it to run at a fairly consistent rate. The more stops and starts you throw into the mix the more your engine has to work.
One simple way to proactively protect your engine is by changing the spark plugs and wires. The wires running from your distributor send an electrical current to the spark plugs which then generate a spark to ignite the fuel and air mixture in your cylinders. They get a lot of use and they can cause your engine to run really rough if they get too old.
Changing the plugs and wires is typically not a difficult procedure and can be done with little investment in both time and money. Most manufacturers recommend changing them every 30,000 miles (48,280 kilometers), but some can go a little longer. When you change your engine's spark plugs make sure to change the wires at the same time to ensure you're getting the best electrical current to the plugs. If you change the plugs and wires regularly, your engine will love you for it. It's a move that'll keep your engine firing consistently and your gas mileage up at the same time.
For more information about proactively protecting your engine and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
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- 2Carpros.com. "How and Engine Cooling System Works." (May 27, 2011) http://www.2carpros.com/articles/how-an-engine-cooling-system-works
- Automedia.com. "Spark Plug Basics." (May 27, 2011) http://www.automedia.com/Spark_Plugs/ccr20041201sp/1
- CarCare.org. "Vehicle Symptoms." (May 27, 2011) http://www.carcare.org/media/vehicle-systems
- Cars.com. "Car Talk Service: Oil Changes." March 31, 2005. (May 26, 2011) http://cars.cartalk.com/content/advice/oilchanges.html
- Consumer Reports. "What to do if the 'check engine' light goes on." March 2009. (May 27, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/new-cars/news/2005/what-to-do-if-the-check-engine-light-goes-on/overview/index.htm
- Lazarony, Lucy. "Bad Driving Habits Can Wreck Your Wallet." Bankrate.com. Nov. 14, 2003. (May 27, 2011) http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/bad-driving-habits-can-wreck-your-wallet-1.aspx
- Memmer, Scott. "How to Change Your Car's Filters." Edmunds.com. Jan. 25, 2003. (May 27, 2011) http://www.edmunds.com/how-to/how-to-change-your-cars-filters.html
- Samarins. "Why Cars Break Down." (May 26, 2011) http://www.samarins.com/maintenance/engmain.html