Just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz remarking on the possible dangers of the forest (“Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My!”) I’ve often heard casual drivers, commuters, and sales car operators remarking that vehicle inspection and maintenance are things best left undiscussed. They roll their eyes as if to say; “c’mon, leave me alone — don’t bug me about this.”
They make statements like “After all, everyone knows that they need to check tire pressure and change their oil”, but they squirm if you ask them to tell you (precisely) when they last did it for their vehicle.
I was at a road safety conference (with a ballroom full of traffic safety, driver safety and EHS professionals) where the presenter asked us (to our collective horror) to put our hands up if we had checked our tire pressure in the last 14 days. A lot of people put their hands up slowly as they looked around the room and then an unidentified voice within the audience called out “LIARS!” which got every one of us laughing.
The only problem is that it’s not a laughing matter.
In roughly one out of every ten crashes, there’s an underlying mechanical problem that is a direct causal factor in the crash.
Besides increasing your potential crash risk, you’re very likely wasting your money:
- Underinflated tires cause you to burn more fuel
- Underinflated tires often wear out faster
- Dirty oil increases engine wear
- Oil changes based on time instead of miles are often either too frequent or too late
- Waiting for your brakes to chirp, squeak, or squeal often leads to more extensive repairs than if you have them regularly inspected and cleaned
- Running out of windshield washer fluid in the middle of a trip leads to overpaying for a simple solution
- Wiper blades (or inserts) are cheaper to replace once a year (when they’re on sale) than on demand when they fail (at local, market prices)
- Excessive corrosion on battery leads can lead to difficulties in a number of ways, including getting the battery replaced when it fails (and when was the last time you changed your battery? Was it more than five years ago? Are you really waiting for your car to not start one morning?)
- Undetected, but broken tail lamps, brake lamps, turn signals, etc. can lead to a fine if a police officer spots the defect for you!
Why do drivers put off what they know they need to do? I think part of the answer is that cars have become more reliable and somewhat less user-serviceable over the past thirty years. It used to be that we could do most of the service on our own cars and we only went to the “garage” when it was something extensive. Plus, we’re all trying to save a few bucks these days, but are we really saving money or merely trading one expense (preventative upkeep) for other (repair) expenses?
It seems that many dealers now offer packages to keep you coming back to them, and that’s not a problem — so long as you pay attention to your car’s warning signs before they become a real issue.
Do you know what to look for? Have you read your owner’s manual? Do you remember when to change the oil for your make/model vehicle?
This month’s Training Topic is on performing basic vehicle checks prior to setting out on trips. If you’re not a SafetyFirst client, you may want to check out some of the links below to help decide if you’re on the right road to cost-effective and efficient maintenance:
http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/2012/Consumer+Advisory:+NHTSA+Reminds+Consumers+to+Check+Their+Vehicles+Prior+to+Winter+Road+Trips – a press release on checking your car as you head into the winter months
http://www.checkyournumber.org/ – a site to let you look up a recommended oil change interval for your particular car or light truck.
http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/subscriptions/index.cfm – a site where you can sign up to be notified if a recall is issued for your vehicle
http://www.nhtsa.gov/Vehicle+Safety/Tires – to learn more about tires
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ to learn more about increasing your fuel economy
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