(ARA) - With economic factors challenging, many consumers are making tough financial decisions, including postponing or canceling plans to buy a new vehicle. The typical vehicle on American roads is now a record nine years old, according to a recent report by R. L. Polk & Co. As any vehicle ages, routine maintenance and upkeep become increasingly important not only for a vehicle's longevity, but also for its efficiency and safety.
After their homes, most Americans' second-largest financial investment is their vehicle, so helping it stay in good working order for as long as possible should be a top priority. But, because money is tight, many motorists today may be reluctant to spend on services or maintenance that they think can be put off at least for the short term. Such decisions, however, could potentially shorten the life of a vehicle, decrease its fuel efficiency or even put drivers and their families at risk.
To be prepared for the changing weather and road conditions of spring, here's a simple checklist of tips motorists should perform to help keep their vehicles running longer, safer and more cost-effectively:
Check that Tread: The economy has forced many to postpone tire purchases, but with unpredictable wet spring weather ahead, now is not the time to have low tread on your tires. The lower the tread depth the less traction you will have on wet roads and the greater the distance you will need to stop. Advances in tire technology are helping deliver a new generation of moderately priced tires that offer the all season traction and long treadwear consumers have come to expect, but with enhanced rolling resistance to help save money on gas. For example, the proprietary tread compound used in Goodyear's new Assurance Fuel Max tires helps save 2,600 miles worth of gas over the life of a set of tires.
Watch for Inflation: As temperatures change, so can tire pressure. Proper tire inflation is essential for increased automotive safety, optimum driving performance and significant cost savings, including better fuel mileage. Tires should be inflated to the vehicle manufacturer recommendations printed on the vehicle door placard or in the glove box and should be checked monthly. Over-inflation can lead to premature or irregular tire wear and under-inflation reduces a vehicle's fuel efficiency by an average of 3.3 percent.
Breathe Free: Replacing a dirty air filter can increase a vehicle's life expectancy and fuel efficiency by reducing the strain on the engine, especially during warmer months. Over the winter months, salt, sand and other impurities may build up in a vehicle's air filtration system and could be robbing it of as much as 10 percent in fuel efficiency.
Keep it Clean: Your car, truck or SUV has likely just weathered the harsh conditions and corrosive elements associated with winter, including freezing rain, snow, ice, sand and salt. Keeping it clean will help protect your investment from the chemicals and dirt that may attack your car's finish and undercarriage. Be sure to use quality cleaners and waxes specifically designed for handling a car's finish as regular dish soap will actually break down your wax and could harm the underlying paint.
Keep it Flowing: Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, helping to keep it running efficiently and effectively. Over the winter, you or your mechanic may have changed the viscosity of the oil in your car (especially in colder climates), but in the warmer weather, you'll get less protection as things heat up. Not sure what oil to use? Defer to a professional or use the grade of motor oil recommended by the vehicle manufacturer to achieve optimum engine protection an