Canadian motorsport legend Kelly Williams
Canadian motorsport legend Kelly Williams. Click image to enlarge

By Michael Clark

The next time you’re thinking about stretching out that oil change interval another month, think about a race car. Hundreds of laps, with every component stretched to the ultimate limits of extreme heat, friction and pressure. Now imagine skipping out on the pit crew for the next race. “With a race car, it’s a pretty rigorous schedule,” said Canadian motorsport legend Kelly Williams. “You never want to pull out of a race due to poor maintenance.” Williams was recently in Winnipeg, as spokesperson for Car Care Canada’s Be Car Care Aware national tour. The campaign educates consumers on the benefits of regular vehicle upkeep.

The idea of regular maintenance on today’s vehicles seems to be anything but a necessity, as it was in the days of carburetors and ignition points. “People think that their cars are infallible, because they run so well nowadays,” said Williams. “They won’t run that well forever if you don’t give back to them.” The advent of computer engine management systems has done much to improve reliability, as well as reduce emissions. A car’s computer can also compensate for instances of poor maintenance, such as a clogged air filter. It can’t do it forever.

We’ve all heard the various percentages associated with missed filter changes and low tire pressures. Consider the drop in mileage associated with a dirty air filter, which can rob as much as 10 percent of your fuel mileage. Williams puts the air filter issue into its proper perspective. “My car costs $50 to fill,” said Williams. “With a clogged air filter, that’s like throwing $5 right out the window.” Underinflated tires can cause a gas mileage dip as high as 15 percent. Add in a misfiring spark plug; a potential for a 30 percent drop in mileage. Imagine all of these things occurring at the same time. That’s a lot of fins flapping in the breeze.

Even with proper vehicle care, fuel bandits can still be lurking in the shadows. Consider the trunk. If you tend to use your cargo cavern as a storage area, the additional weight could be cutting into your pocketbook. A 50-kilogram lump of what-have-you can reduce fuel economy by two percent. Like to make time on the highway? You’ll get there quicker, with less cash. A heavy right foot can slice as much as a third from your overall gas mileage. Frequent use of air conditioning can result in an economy drop of 10 to 20 percent.

With the cost of ownership continuing to rise, many Canadians are keeping their vehicles longer. In a 2003 study compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants and Polk Canada, the average age of the Canadian car sits at 8.5 years. “If you’re going to be keeping a car for ten years, you had better be taking care of it,” said Williams. A vehicle that is properly maintained and driven with respect can last up to 50 percent longer than one that is abused.

Few motorists consider a vehicle maintenance budget, in addition to their monthly purchase or lease payments. Once the warranty has expired, repair costs increase steadily as the vehicle increases in age. A study by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants found that a 1997 model year vehicle would require an average annual maintenance outlay of $1,233. Williams advises the creation of a separate fund for these repairs. You might have an incident-free year for major repairs, but don’t head to the mall for a shopping spree with the loot. Keeping that cushion aside can provide major relief, especially in the case of a burnt-out transmission or a blown engine.

One of the easiest places to start improving your vehicle relationship is the owner’s manual. Detailed information is provided in regards to proper service intervals, such as transmission fluid changes and timing belt replacement. In many instances, key part numbers and recommended fluids are listed. Even the most basic of procedures, such as checking the oil level, are presented with step-by-step instructions for the novice.

Finding the right technician for your vehicle can be as tricky as finding a family doctor. In each case, you’re looking for a long-term, professional relationship. Whether you’re a backyard mechanic, or you have no idea where the hood release is, the technician and service centre you choose should involve you in the repair process. If a part is in need of repair or replacement, don’t be afraid to ask why. A reputable operation will advise you on which repairs require your immediate attention, and prepare you for future concerns, such as brake linings with six months left of service life.

While the motivating factors can vary, a well-maintained vehicle has many rewards. “You can make a difference today, financially and environmentally, by taking better care of your vehicle,” said Williams.

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