Every single vehicle on the road today requires regular maintenance whether they get it or not is up to the owner. Cars can do many things, but they can’t drive themselves to the shop for a checkup or repair. All a car can do to let the owner know there is a problem is turn on a light, start spewing fluid or smoke everywhere, and simply stop running. All of these tend to get the driver’s attention rather quickly, however, it may not be soon enough to save the engine. Keeping up on regular scheduled maintenance can keep these scenarios to the absolute minimum; in fact it may keep them from ever happening to begin with.
Every driver knows where to put the gas in that keeps the car running, some know where to add oil and even check the oil level, and some just know that the car needs to go to the shop for a checkup every so often. Perhaps the most important knowledge of all is how to examine what is under the hood every once in a while for any visual problems. We wouldn’t put on shoes that have cracked and leaking soles to go walking in the rain, it makes just as much sense that our car not be expected to function with cracked or leaking hoses or cracked belts.
The belts and hoses, while small components, are so very important to the entire function of the engine; they keep things moving. Most newer cars use the serpentine belt exclusively because it can drive all the accessories in the engine with just the one belt. However, this belt requires a tensioner that can also require adjustment. A good indication that a serpentine belt needs replaced are small cracks in the belt. Any belt with cracks in it is no longer trustworthy, because at any time one of those cracks can become a full blown split, causing the belt to actually come apart at which time the engine no longer has a belt driving many of its necessary components.
Another belt that is found commonly in vehicle engines is the V belt. It has been around for ages and until just recently was the primary belt used in automobiles. One of the reasons it was replaced by the serpentine is because a separate V belt is necessary to drive each accessory on the car and each belt has to be tensioned individually. Also if the very back belt needs to be replaced then all the other belts have to be taken off in order to get to the back belt and road meaning. However, the upside to the V belt is if one belt breaks there are other belts to help the engine limp along and not leave you stranded on the road somewhere between nowhere and the next site of civilization. The V belt is a little more difficult to tell if it is worn as it simply begins to ride the pulley differently as it wears. Any cracking however, is always a bad sign.
The fact of the matter is that the belts are responsible for many key operations in the engine. They run the alternator which recharges the battery, the water pump which keeps the engine cool, the air conditioner which keeps you cool, and the power steering pump which makes the car easier to steer. If a belt breaks, the effects can range from simple inconvenience of not having air conditioning to leaving you stranded in traffic to overheating and ruining the engine. Belts have a lifespan and it is important to not take it for granted. V-belts will typically last 3 years or 30,000 miles, serpentine belts last 5 years or 50,000 miles.
There is one last belt that can be overlooked in the grand scheme of automobile function however it is so important. The timing belt keeps the valves and pistons in the car in perfect synch. These belts take the place of the old timing chain because they are lighter, making them more fuel efficient. However they don’t have the lifespan the chain had. The timing belt needs to be replaced every 50,000 to 60,000 miles. This particular belt is found inside the engine and may not be on every vehicle. Losing track of the lifespan of this belt may cause it to break while you are driving. If that happens your engine loses its coordination, pistons can hit valves and cause major damage to the interior of the engine. Common repair bills for this mistake can run in the thousands of dollars. It is never a good idea to skip this particular piece of regular maintenance.
Hoses are another key component of the vehicle engine. Cracks or holes in a hose can cause a variety of problems depending on which hose it is and what component it serves. The brake hose provides brake fluid to the vehicle; obviously a leak in this hose would cause the brake pedal to be spongy at the very least. Worst case scenario you could lose all ability to stop.
Coolant hoses are necessary for the cooling system and they are the weakest structural component. They are made of flexible rubber compounds to absorb vibrations between the engine and the radiator. They are designed to hold coolant under high pressure and move heated liquid through the radiator so that it can be cooled and then it is moved back to the engine. If a coolant hose has a crack that becomes a leak the vehicle will overheat, depending on the length of time it is too hot, the engine can be damaged or completely ruined. It is a good idea to at least look at the radiator and heater hoses every once in a while looking for visible cracking. When the engine is cool you can actually pinch the hose and see if there are visible cracks. A good hose will have a firm yet pliant feel. Hose manufacturers recommend replacing coolant hoses every four to five years to minimize the risk of failure.
Also among the important hoses of the engine are the fuel hose and the vacuum hose. The fuel hose obviously moves fuel from the tank to the engine and a crack or leak in this hose will cost you valuable fuel. At the current fuel prices no one wants a leak in this particular hose. While it will leave you stranded, it won’t do a lot of damage to the engine. These vacuum hoses provide the necessary air to the engine. While they don’t have a high failure rate, they do need to be checked.
It is important to avoid the costly mistake of letting regular scheduled maintenance checks lapse. These maintenance visits are when the technician takes a look at the belts and hoses and determines if they are still in good condition or on the verge of leaving you beside the road wishing you had a repair shop nearby. Calling a tow truck isn’t exactly a cheap alternative. About every 30,000 miles each vehicle should drive itself to the local repair shop and get checked out. Oh wait, that is your job. Regular maintenance helps keep your car performing at its best by making sure your engine and ignition components are in great shape and it helps you to catch the small details before they become full blown migraine inducing, automotive problems. When little things become big things, the price of repair goes up too. When the seasons begin to change it’s a good idea to make sure all the little details are taken care of. Take the time today to schedule that regular maintenance appointment with your local repair center. The little things cost the least and in this economy we don’t want to be pulling in and spending big money when we have the option of spending a little.