Sensible maintenance always has been and always will be the best investment a typical motorist can make in his or her vehicle. What's more, it's also the cheapest investment anyone can make in a car or truck. Experience shows that the cost of sensible maintenance always pales—absolutely pales—compared with the price of repairing a neglected car or truck. Years ago, Fram Group ran a memorable advertising campaign with a slogan that hit the nail right on the head: “Pay me now or pay me later.” That is, pay a reasonable amount for proper maintenance today or fork out big money for the cost of neglect later. To me, the cornerstone of sensible maintenance is changing the vital fluids, including engine oil and filter, coolant and transmission fluid. Regular readers of this column may recall that I first got into automotive service in the late 1960s. I wasn't in a full-service gas station very long before I realized that neglected maintenance had an enormous impact on the kinds of failures that occurred, the cost of repairs and the overall life of the vehicle. Back in the late 1960s, an overheated car would arrive with a radiator squirting muddy-looking, brownish coolant all over the floor. Or, that nasty, neglected coolant was dripping from the heater core onto the front carpet of the car. Maybe the heater wasn't producing heat anymore because it was clogged with that “mud.” It's funny how the owners of those vehicles never seemed to have maintenance records of any kind. Typically, there was no evidence that the coolant had been changed recently, if ever. Nor did I ever hear the owners of these cars gripe that they'd changed coolant too often. And when the boss wrote the job estimate, it was clear that changing coolant—every 12 to 18 months, for instance—would have been much cheaper and easier than the required cooling system repairs. Darn, even changing the coolant as often as annually still would have saved the motorist a pile of money, not to mention time and aggravation. Back then I also saw my share of cars with badly sludged engines that would roll in with a variety of symptoms, such as oil consumption, oil smoke in the exhaust, valve clatter, etc. When we removed the oil fill cap and shined a light inside the engine, sometimes all we saw was sludge. Other times, we had to remove a valve cover in order to get an adequate look inside the engine. Often, the sludge buildup was so severe that it had molded itself into the shape of the valve cover! Once again, it became no surprise that the owners of these “sludge rockets” had no records of any oil changes, let alone regular oil changes. No surprise, either, that they seemed ignorant of the consequences of neglected maintenance. I never recall the owner of a sludge rocket complaining that they'd changed oil too often. In several cases, the severe sludge due to neglected oil changes cost the motorist an engine. Occasionally they scrapped the entire car. Even if the car owner had invested in three oil changes per year, it would have been peanuts compared with the cost of repairs. Then and now, some people would argue that these conditions were characteristic of particular makes and models. Then and now, I disagree. Typically, the motorist who invested in frequent fluid changes didn't encounter these calamities. To the contrary, their cars ran longer and performed better. And later, these folks also realized higher resale values when they finally decided to sell their well-maintained vehicles. Then, as now, there are a percentage of motorists who perceive long-term value and savings in maintenance. Others simply don't get it. Therefore, pitching the value of maintenance remains an ongoing challenge for all service personnel. Be sure to tune into my next column when I'll discuss other aspects of automotive maintenance.
Maintenance still cheapest, best investment
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