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Maintaining Your Car Can Help Maintain Our Planet

Yes, your car pollutes, obviously. But what you may not have realized, is that as your car gets older, it pollutes more and more. Along with old age, and added pollution, your gas mileage also suffers as your car ages.

Why is this? Without getting into the details of too many engine components and sensors, I’ll explain. As simple as cars can sometimes seem, they’re a complex network of sensors, computers, and mechanical parts that control their every move.

While the computers that run your car don’t wear out, the sensors and mechanical components do. A large majority of the parts under your hood and wear and tear parts. Below is a list of parts commonly worn on cars, and when to consider having a look at replacing them. When they wear out or need replacing, there’s a good chance that your cars efficiency and fuel mileage will be negatively affected.

Oil – This one is so simple I’m not even going to get into detail. Change your oil every 5,000 miles unless your owners manual says otherwise. Make sure you use the proper oil and filter, or have it changed by a professional. Proper engine lubrication is critical.

Air Filter – Every car is equipped with an air filter to clean the incoming air. Not the cabin air, but the engine air. Air is a critical part of the combustion triangle. The other two parts include a fuel source and an ignition source. When your air filter is clogged with dirt your car’s efficiency can suffer greatly. Luckily an air filter is an easy and inexpensive replacement for anyone who is even a little mechanically inclined. And it can be done with basic or even no tools. Some auto parts stores will even change the filter for you free of charge just for purchasing the filter from them.

Spark Plugs – Piece number two of the combustion triangle. Spark plugs nowadays are said to last upwards of 100,000 miles. Well, this is true and it’s not. Spark plugs can last that long on a car that is in perfect running order. But a lot of cars aren’t running as perfectly as they were when they were new, and that can significantly reduce the lifespan of a spark plug. If you’re mechanically inclined, consider checking or having your spark plugs checked every 25,000 miles. You may find that they don’t need to be replaced, but you may also find that they are significantly worn. Here is a great article courtesy of spark plug manufacturer NGK on how to read your spark plugs for normal and unusual wear. NGK – How To Read Your Spark Plugs

Fuel Filter – Your fuel filter is the third part of the combustion triangle. When it becomes clogged, fuel cannot be properly delivered to the engine. Replacing your fuel filter is a little more complicated than the air filter or the spark plugs. There isn’t really a way to check an inline fuel filter for a clog just by looking at it. In most cases just replacing it at the interval recommended in your owner’s manual is more than enough. It’s an inexpensive part, and labor for replacing a fuel filter should be under 1 hour.

Oxygen Sensors – All vehicles today are equipped with oxygen sensors mounted to the exhaust system. They are usually found before and after the catalytic converters. Oxygen sensors are used to measure the temperature of the exhaust gas that passes through the exhaust pipes. To make this simple for everyone, I won’t go into too much detail about how they work. Basically, they measure the exhaust gas temperature to help the engine’s computer determine if the engine needs more or less fuel. Too little fuel will result in very hot exhaust gas, too much fuel will result in cooler exhaust gas. So how often should I replace these sensors? Replace them at the intervals specified in your owner’s manual. If you can’t find a specification, plan on replacing them between 50,000 and 100,000 miles. Your fuel economy will thank you. You may also get a check engine light that can indicate that they need to be replaced sooner. They’re relatively inexpensive, and can be replaced by a mechanically inclined person. Do this with caution however, because these sensors are under the car. There is no room for safety errors here. If you’re not experienced and confident in your safety, leave this to the pros.

Catalytic Converters – These are the all important pieces of exhaust equipment that help remove a large amount of harmful chemicals from your exhaust gas. Without going into complicated detail about how they work, they basically reduce the amount of carbon monoxide and other harmful chemicals that your car creates. These converters however, can become clogged over time. Most vehicles will alert you to a problem with your catalytic converter by activating your check engine light, so there’s really no need to worry about the converter until that light comes on. If your car has over 100,000 miles, be prepared because it may soon be time to replace these converters. They can be expensive and can costs a few hours in labor to replace. Shop around and find the best deal you can find. Don’t put it off though. A clogged catalytic converter can cause severe engine damage if ignored. This is a job that only experienced people should attempt. If you’ve never done this before, and don’t know what you’re doing, leave it to the pros.

These are just the basics and most common mechanical and sensory systems to fail over time. There are others that are a little more in depth than this article covers. Keep an eye out for your check engine light and don’t ignore it. If it comes on, most auto parts stores will be happy to scan your car with a computer free of charge to let you know what might be wrong with it. Even if you plan on having a mechanic fix it, it might be a good idea to get it scanned free first, so that you have an idea of what the mechanic should be telling you when you bring it in to be fixed.

Maintaining your car is a critical way of helping it to perform at its peak efficiency. While we don’t yet all have the option of driving pollution free cars, we do have the option of keeping our current cars running as smoothly and as Earth friendly as possible. Regular maintenance will help save our planet, and will help save your fuel economy.

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