An “Apple” a Day…

You’ve heard about eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away. It’s good advice. Eating healthy can’t hurt, at any rate. Well, here are some things you might want to do to avoid hurting your car — in order to keep the mechanic away:

* Parking brake on first

By engaging the parking brake on before you put the gear shift lever into Park you avoid using the transmission to hold the car’s weight in place. You use the car’s brakes instead. Many people make the mistake of putting the transmission into Park first — then engaging the parking brake. This may assure the car stays put — but it also assures tremendous loading of the transmission — which isn’t good for it.

Which ultimately means, not good for you.

PS: Same advice goes for a manual transmission. If you “park” it by leaving it in gear — without first applying the parking brake — you are making the transmission hold the car in place. That’s several thousand pounds of force being exerted on components not designed to take that kind of load. The parking brake is designed for exactly that.

Use it.

* Idle it with the clutch out

Want to do your manual transmission — and yourself — a favor? When you first start the car in the morning, ease the clutch out right after you start the engine — with transmission in neutral, of course (keeping your foot on the brake pedal, obviously). Let it idle like that for 30 seconds or so.

Why do this?

With the engine running and the clutch out, the transmission is engaged (connected to the engine) and the gears inside are turning — which will coat them with fresh lube and also speed their warm-up. This will reduce wear and tear and will noticeably improve drivability on very cold days, when the lube has congealed due to the low temperature.

Also — whether it is cold or hot outside — doing this will take pressure of the clutch/pressure plate/pilot bearing. This will increase the life expectancy of those parts. Even when the car is fully warmed-up, try to avoid keeping the clutch pedal depressed. When you roll up to a red light, put the trans in neutral and let the clutch out until the light goes green — and it’s time to get going again.

Your car will thank you for your consideration — even if your mechanic doesn’t.

* Battery disconnect switch/battery tender –

If you have a vehicle — car or bike or riding mower — that sits for weeks at a time without being used, you might want to look into a disconnect switch for the battery. This is less hassle than physically disconnecting the cables.

Or, hook up a battery tender.

Why do this?

If you leave the battery hooked up in a vehicle that’s sits for weeks at a time and there’s even a slight current draw from the vehicle (this is fairly common) the battery will likely be either dead or low next time you use the car. Dead will be obvious, but low will not be … for a while. However, over time, your battery’s life will likely be cut short. Excessive discharge-recharge cycles are the reason why.

Maintaining a battery at or close to peak charge is one of the keys to long battery life.
Disconnecting the battery — either via a convenient switch (as opposed to manually removing the cables) or — better — hooking the battery up to a tender that keeps the battery “topped off” — will not only keep your vehicle ready-to-go, it will help you avoid having to spend $100-plus to replace a prematurely croaked battery.

* Vacuum caps on grease fittings –

You’re supposed to make sure a grease fitting is clean before pumping fresh grease in — otherwise you’ll also pump some fresh dirt in, too.

A simple — and cheap — way to keep grease nipples clean (and free of rust) is to slip a rubber vacuum cap onto the nipple after each servicing. You can buy a pack of generic vacuum caps for a couple of bucks at any auto parts store. Find the size you need — and buy a handful.

Next time you’re greasing the ball joints, slip a cap onto the nipple after you’ve finished. It’ll keep crud off the nipple — and make the next time you grease the fittings much easier.

This also works well on threaded shock absorber studs, too. By covering up the threads, you’ll have a much easier time turning out the bolt next time you need to replace the shocks — because the threads won’t have rusted up. That makes getting the nut/bolt off the threads — and getting the old shock off the vehicle — easy and quick rather than a vise-grips and PB Blaster PITAS.

* Use a syringe to suck out brake/clutch reservoir fluid –

Most cars built since the ’80s with manual transmissions have hydraulic-assist clutches, with a small reservoir of fluid (brake fluid) that should be periodically changed out. And of course, all cars have hydraulic-assist brakes, with another reservoir of fluid (also brake fluid) that should be periodically changed out.

If you don’t do this regularly — at least once a year — the fluid gets contaminated/degrades. And that will eventually lead to expensive problems.

You can change all the fluid at once, by bleeding the system — but this requires tools/skills you haven’t got — in particular, if the car has anti-lock brakes.

But if you have a syringe and a catch can, you can remove a third to half or more of the fluid without removing a single bolt or using a single tool.

Just open the top of the reservoir and draw out fluid — being careful not to expose the little holes at the very bottom of the reservoir (or you’ll let air into the system and then you will have to bleed the entire system). Then top off with fresh fluid to the proper level. If you do this a couple of times (takes about five minutes per time) you’ll have effectively replaced most of the fluid within the system.

It’s an almost no-cost, no-tool and no-skill way to keep brake/clutch fluid reasonably fresh without having to actually bleed the system — or pay someone else to do it.

Done regularly, you may never have to replace your car’s slave cylinder (manual transmission-equipped cars) or deal with expensive brake system work. Fluid contamination/degradation is probably the main reason for major problems with either system. People just forget to change the fluid.

They inevitably get a “reminder” from their car… and then a “thank-you” note from their mechanic.


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