We’ve all heard about the dangers of driving under the influence, driving distracted, or driving while tired, but did you know that it’s also dangerous to drive a car that hasn’t been well-maintained?
Over the years, vehicle safety standards have become more stringent and today’s cars are safer than ever before, but even the safest design requires maintenance to keep it running safely and reliably over time.
Most car owners believe that they are diligent maintainers and aren’t overly concerned about the mechanical integrity of their car or that of other cars on the road, but the DesRosiers 2013 Canadian Automotive Aftermarket Demand Study commissioned by the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) found the average Canadian underspends on his/her car by $623 per year.
Failing to maintain your vehicle to the level recommended in your owner’s manual by the engineers that designed your car can put you and your family at risk.
Every time you use your brakes, the friction that causes your car to stop wears your brake pads or shoes. Over time this causes your brakes to lose their effectiveness and increases your stopping distance, though you may not notice the gradual change. If your car pulls to one side while braking, if your brake pedal pulsates or feels “mushy,” or if you hear a noise when you apply your brakes, get them checked out immediately.
Shocks & Struts
When it comes to maintenance, one of the most ignored vehicle systems is the suspension. Its gradual wear can go unnoticed because you don’t feel a major difference from one day to the next, but a healthy suspension system is critical to your safety and that of your passengers. Your shocks and struts help your car maintain stability and traction on the road whether you are stopping, turning, swerving, or driving over bumps and potholes. When these parts wear, they decrease your control of your vehicle during critical driving maneuvers, increase your stopping distance, prematurely wear or damage your tires, and create a rougher ride.
Your fuel pump provides a constant supply of pressurized fuel from your gas tank to your engine. In many cases, your fuel pump can last the entire lifetime of your car, but it can wear out and can fail without warning. If this pump does fail, it will either pump too little gas into the engine, which will prevent your car from starting and can leave you stranded or it will pump too much gas into the engine and in some cases start a fire.
Your vehicle’s exterior lighting system provides nighttime visibility, enhanced clarity in poor weather conditions, and signals and alerts to other drivers, all of which makes it extremely important to your safety. Over time, your lights may dim or burn out completely and the plastic in your light covers will degrade and cloud, leading to distorted and dimmed illumination. Be sure to replace both your bulbs and light covers to maintain high quality lighting so that you can react to whatever you may encounter on the road.
Your vehicle’s interior lighting system is also important to your safety because it supplies light for viewing instruments in your vehicle’s interior at night. When driving, any use of controls must be done quickly and efficiently so as not to distract you from the road. By ensuring that your interior lighting system is in good shape and is illuminating all the instruments that it should, you will be able to use your vehicle’s interior controls without fumbling around and risking significant distraction.
Though a functioning air conditioning system may seem like more of a “nice-to-have” then a “need-to-have” item, in reality, it is important to both your comfort and your health. In addition to blowing cold air into the cabin, your air conditioner also removes hot air from your car and dispels it to the outside, making it a much more effective way to cool your car when traveling at higher speeds. During our hot Canadian summers, our cars can trap and hold heat. Regularly servicing your air conditioning will allow you to maintain a cool temperature inside your vehicle to help prevent heat stroke, especially if you are traveling with small children or pets that cannot easily regulate their own body temperatures.
Though a crack in your windshield may seem like a cosmetic issue, it can affect your safety on the road. Your windshield is part of your car’s safety restraint system, meaning that cracks or chips can decrease the overall effectiveness of airbags, seat-belts, and roof stability in the event of an accident. Chips and small cracks spread quickly so have them fixed as soon as possible.
Cabin Air Filter
Replacing your cabin air filter is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure the health of your passengers. This often ignored filter is responsible for filtering all the air that enters your car to prevent you from breathing in pollen, mold spores, dust, dirt, smog, and other pollutants. It also helps to keep debris (e.g. leaves and insects) out of your air conditioning and heating system. Your air filter should be replaced at least once per year and more often if you live in a dusty area. Anyone suffering from asthma or allergies should pay particular attention to this maintenance item.