According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about 13,000 Americans are killed on the road between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. Too many are a result of simply neglecting to keep a car properly maintained. Neglected maintenance leads to more than 2,600 deaths, nearly 100,000 disabling injuries and more than $2 billion in lost wages, medical expenses and property damage yearly.

Most of all mechanical failures are traced back to neglected maintenance. For example, overheating is the number one cause of mechanical breakdown on our nation’s highways and interstates, according to the U. S. Department of Transportation, a condition that is easily avoidable. Some other easy to detect issues include low worn or loose drive belts, antifreeze/coolant, and defective cooling system hoses.

On average 21% of all cars inspected in check lanes during National Car Care Month (October) have under inflated tires. Checking your tire pressure and inflating tires as needed costs nothing. Under inflated tires can lead to a blowout and a serious accident. At the very least you will be costing yourself in fuel efficiency.

Take 10 Minutes for a Pre-Trip Checkup.

Car Care Council offers three suggestions for a traveler’s 10-minute pre-trip checklist:

  • Check all fluids. There are several fluids, in addition to antifreeze, that require attention, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission fluids and windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.
  • Check hoses and belts. A belt that fails can affect the electrical system, air conditioning and power steering, as well as the cooling system. Cooling system hoses may be deteriorating from within, so old hoses and clamps in marginal condition might need to be replaced.
  • Check the tires. Check tire inflation and inspect the tread for uneven wear, indicating the need for wheel alignment. Also look for bulges and bald spots.

The Car Care Council’s Executive Director, Rich White stated “While a last minute checkup is better than no checkup, motorists should plan ahead to allow time to perform necessary maintenance themselves or at the local service facility. A properly maintained vehicle is safer and more dependable and will even save a few dollars at the gas pumps,”

A pre-trip inspection can help reduce chances of costly and dangerous road problems. Another unrealized advantage is to be able to have repairs made at home, with your own mechanic who knows your vehicle. Especially important is that a pre-trip inspection provides peace of mind. No inspection can guarantee a car’s performance, However, it is comforting to know proper precautions were taken.

Don’t forget to check these other two overlooked but potentially dangerous vehicle components.

WIPERS – In the 2001 National Car Care Month vehicle check lanes, 21% of participants had wipers that smeared, streaked or “chattered” across their windshields. In Colorado’s extreme climates, wipers typically need replacing  about every six months. An easy way to remember when to change or at least inspect your wipers is to do it every spring and fall, at the same time you change your clock. Remember to check the washers and keep the fluid filled.

LIGHTING – Vehicle check lanes also revealed a failure rate of over 25% of vehicles’ lighting. The Car Care Council reminds motorists to check their lights monthly. Other suggestions from the Council include turning on headlights both day and night in order to make your car more visible and make clear its distance from other drivers. When lighting is defective, other motorists may not get the message that you intend to stop or turn. Obviously this often results in crashes that can be disastrous.

On a lighter note, here are some nice ways to save on fuel.

The Car Care Council offers these easy fuel-saving tips:

  1. Vehicle gas caps — About 17 percent of the vehicles on the roads have gas caps that are either damaged, loose or are missing altogether, causing 147 million gallons of gas to vaporize every year.
  2. Under inflated tires — When tires aren’t inflated properly it’s like driving with the parking brake on and can cost a mile or two per gallon.
  3. Worn spark plugs — A vehicle can have either four, six or eight spark plugs, which fire as many as 3 million times every 1,000 miles, resulting in a lot of heat and electrical and chemical erosion. A dirty spark plug causes misfiring, which wastes fuel. Spark plugs need to be replaced as recommended by the manufacturer.
  4. Dirty air filters — An air filter that is clogged with dirt, dust and bugs chokes off the air and creates a “rich” mixture — too much gas being burned for the amount of air, which wastes gas and causes the engine to lose power. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent, saving about 20 cents a gallon.

Fuel-saving driving tips include:

  • Don’t be an aggressive driver — Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent on city streets, which results in 10 to 66 cents per gallon.
  • Avoid excessive idling — Sitting idle gets zero miles per gallon. Letting the vehicle warm up for one to two minutes is sufficient.
  • Observe the speed limit — Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. Each mpg driven over 60 will result in an additional 10 cents per gallon. To maintain a constant speed on the highway, cruise control is recommended.
ConditionEffectMPG Penalty up to
Under inflated tiresIncreased rolling resistance1-2mpg
Dirty air filterCauses excessively rich fuel/air mixture2.0mpg
Worn spark plugsCause inefficient combustion2.0mpg
Worn O2 sensorUnable to detect and adjust air/fuel3mpg
Dirty or substandard engine oilIncreases internal engine friction0.4mpg
Loose gas capFuel to evaporation2.0mpg
Total neglect of all the above poor performance11.4mpg