Ninety percent of the vehicles inspected during National Car Care Month 2003 had maintenance problems that would have caused them to fail a state safety inspection.
And that, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association's (AAIA) Car Care Council and its supporters, is why the U.S. needs National Car Care Month, which takes place again in April.
Begun in Ohio in 1980 and nationwide the year after, National Car Care Month is the centerpiece of the Car Care Council's ``Be Car Care Aware'' program, according to Nancy Feig, the council's communications coordinator.
Although Ms. Feig didn't have an exact count, she said hundreds of organizations-ranging from mom-and-pop repair shops to national chains, national vehicle maintenance organizations and safety groups-are expected to participate.
``NASCAR is doing ads for National Car Care Month during its races,'' she said, adding that other organizations closely involved with the effort include the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The National Safety Council's Environmental Health Center has a page promoting National Car Care Month on its Web site. ``The goal of Car Care Month is to advance the benefits of cleaner air, energy conservation, safer roads and consumer safety through proper car maintenance,'' the center stated.
Tires were a major maintenance oversight in the vehicles inspected nationwide during National Car Care Month 2003, according to the Car Care Council's Web site. Fifty-four percent of the vehicles had improperly inflated tires, making that the most common maintenance problem found among them. Another 14 percent had worn tire treads, the council reported.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) is not a participant in National Car Care Month, according to Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government relations. But the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), whose National Tire Safety Week falls during the last week of April, is a longtime supporter.
``National Car Care Month adds value to our `Be Tire Smart-Play Your PART campaign,' '' an RMA spokesman said.
Most of the maintenance problems with the vehicles inspected during last year's National Car Care Month were just as elementary and easily fixed as tire inflation, and very nearly as prevalent, according to the council. Forty-six percent lacked adequate windshield washer fluid; 38 percent had low, overfull or dirty engine oil; 25 percent had low or dirty power steering fluid; and 22 percent had low, overfull or dirty transmission fluid.
Also, 21 percent of the vehicles needed new windshield wipers; 19 percent had worn belts; 16 percent needed their air filters changed; and 12 percent had worn or weak hoses.
The positive effects of National Car Care Month were demonstrated in surveys the Car Care Council took in March and May 2003, of 5,000 random car care customers each month.
Between March and May, the council reported, consumer awareness of the ``Be Car Care Aware'' campaign increased 1.4 percent, and there were similar increases in the number of crucial auto maintenance procedures performed recently, including air filter replacement, tire rotation, brake work and transmission fluid replacement.
To promote National Car Care Month 2004, the Car Care Council has a raft of special activities planned, including press releases, newspaper supplements, TV and radio appearances by Car Care Council spokespersons, and an entire program of the ``Ask Heloise'' syndicated radio show devoted to National Car Care Month.
National car care companies such as AutoZone, Meineke Car Care Centers and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also plan national consumer campaigns during the month. Wal-Mart, for example, plans special events and contests connected with the campaign, while Meineke stores will offer free inspections for customers and car care clinics for women.
The Car Care Council Web site features a media kit providing information about National Car Care Month to the press, as well as an Events Planner for auto repair shops and parts retailers that want to join in the National Car Care Month promotion. The Events Planner gives advice on such issues as sponsorships, signage, brochures, committees, volunteers and a Car Care Fair.
After 30 years as an autonomous organization, the Car Care Council became a joint organization of the AAIA in July 2002 as a way of raising its profile and increasing its outreach. Six months later, the council moved National Car Care Month from October to April, with 2003 the first year the event was held in April.
``We decided that April was a more positive time for National Car Care Month,'' Ms. Feig said. ``It resonates better with consumers, with the summer driving season coming up.''
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Vehicle maintenance problems
Based on vehicle inspections conducted during National Car Care Month 2003, the following problems were discovered:
* Improperly inflated tires-54%
* Inadequate wiper washer fluid-46%
* Low, overfull or dirty engine oil-38%
* Low or dirty power steering fluid-25%
* Low, overfull or dirty transmission fluid-22%
* Old windshield wipers-21%
* Worn belts-19%
* Air filters in need of change-16%
* Worn tire treads-14%
* Worn or weak hoses-12%
Source: Car Care Council