Yes, every driver knows of major surprises that can turn your ride into a money-pit with very little warning; think things like transmission failures, engine bearing destruction and the like. But like most things in life, the majority of problems we face on keeping our autos humming start off small and gradually grow into a major repair. Keeping on top of most of these isn’t a time consuming affair, but can save you thousands in avoidable bills.
If you do any regular driving on unpaved roads, through construction zones, or even wildfire areas, grit and airborne particles can play havoc with more than just your engine’s air filter. When vehicles required regular oil changes every few months or so, these filters would be inspected and replaced long before any troubles arose. But with extended service intervals of up to a year or more with many modern rides, having these items checked every two to three months isn’t going overboard. Those small particles can build up to rob engine efficiency and performance as well as drastically reduce the air flow into the passenger cabin (by clogging the cabin filter). Learning how to check these yourself (and for most autos it’s a relatively easy task) can avoid the inconvenience of having to travel to your shop.
When you’re checking those filters, take a look at the front of your vehicle’s air conditioning condenser or radiator (if it’s not equipped with A/C). It’s located right behind the grille and has lots of thin metal fins and tubes. Check for small stones and debris that can get trapped in the fins. A few pebbles or bits of leaves won’t cause any trouble. But if it’s covered with leaves or has dozens of stones trapped, this can substantially affect the performance of both the A/C and engine cooling system. A gentle stream of water directed forward from the back of the radiator can dislodge most of this, but if not, you may want to have it checked out by your regular service provider.
Radiators and A/C condensers are not the only things in vehicles that can get clogged leading to troubles. On most vehicles there’s a ready-made resting place for leaves and other organic debris; the wiper cowl area. When you pop the hood, the wiper cowl is found at the base of the windshield and if you park anywhere near trees you can expect it to get covered deep. Problem is, most vehicles have their HVAC intake located near or under this mess and as you might expect, if that system can’t breathe, its air flow will be weak.
A few drops of water won’t hurt much in a vehicle, but let it accumulate and soak carpeting and other interior fabrics and it can drown you in repair bills. More than a few of us have been caught leaving a car window down in a rainstorm and get out the paper towels to dry things out afterwards. But it’s the moisture you can’t see that will get you. Under the carpeting of most modern vehicles lives a myriad of electronics and wiring. You can argue about the intelligence of designer that built them that way, but it won’t change the damage that can be done. An easy hack for drying out soaked floor carpeting and under-padding without the expense of removing them is to lift up the carpeting from a door edge area and place a brick or block of wood under it for an overnight airing. Depending on the size of the water intrusion you may have to do this more than once tackling different areas each night.