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Heartland Community College Student Magazine

Shade Tree Mechanics

Shade Tree Mechanics

When was the last time you were driving down I-55 and your lovely Tritan engine decided to throw a spark plug just for giggles and skittles? It has probably not occurred in your world, and if it has, you completely understand the pain and agony of repairing this minor issue that causes such big problems. Regular vehicle maintenance can solve a lot of heartache in the long run, but there isn’t really a guide as to when to do most upkeep.

Most of the scheduled maintenance your vehicle needs, you can do yourself, and for less than half the cost that a garage would charge. Cutting out the middleman and doing the repairs yourself makes you a shade tree mechanic. If you aren’t sure what to do, there are tons of tutorials on the internet that can lead you in the right direction.

Regular vehicle maintenance is exceedingly important. There are quite a few things you should keep an eye on, especially if you are putting a ton of miles on your vehicles, like brakes, oil changes, and tire pressure. But when should you do it? According to, it’s really simple to keep track of.

Oil changes should be done every 5,000 miles. If you run out of oil, your engine will seize almost immediately.

Air filters should be replaced every other oil change to help with fuel consumption.

Spark plugs need to be swapped out every 100,000 miles. If you own an older vehicle with over 100,000 miles on it and you haven’t exchanged your plugs since you bought it, you should definitely consider it. Your spark plug wires also need to be changed at 60,000 miles.

Your brake pads and rotors should be replaced between 25,000 and 70,000 miles. This will depend on your driving habits, the environment you drive in, the hardness of your pads, and the composition of the pads and rotors. Every oil change, have your mechanic take a look at the brakes and let you know the approximate life left.

Tires, tires, tires. You have to make sure you have a thick enough tread and the tire pressure is where it is recommended to be. This is really important to ensure you don’t lose traction or end up with a blowout and become stranded. Trust me, there is nothing to do in Towanda, IL. You also need to get your tires balanced and rotated every 7,500 miles on top of replacing the tires completely around 50-60,000 miles.

Fluids.  There is nothing worse than ignoring that small oil leak and ruining your whole engine because of it, but there a few other fluids to pay attention to as well. Make sure you watch your power steering fluid which plays a role in how easy or not it is to control your vehicle. You should also do a power steering flush at 100,000 miles. Antifreeze and coolant will keep your vehicle properly cooled and running well, so it’s important to ensure its always clean and full. The transmission fluid allows you to shift smoothly (manual or automatic) and in control of the vehicle at all times.

If you turn on your air conditioner and your vehicle is suddenly filled will the heinous smell of dust, it’s about time to change the cabin air filter. This happens around 10,000 miles.

An alignment is a good idea around 10,000 miles due to the wear and tear of the vehicle. We all know about the pot-hole condition on I-55. Thank you, Illinois state budget cuts.

Not all cars have one, but the distributor cap should be replaced around 50,000 miles. The distributor cap was before the time of individual spark plug coil packs.

Typically the fuel filter needs to be replaced between 30,000 and 50,000 miles or no more than two years. You also will need to do a transmission flush around 50,000 miles or annually and the PCV valve gets swapped out at 30,000 miles or annually as well.

At the 100,000 mile mark, you will need to replace your oxygen and air sensors, the timing belt (serpentine belt), and the mass air flow sensor.

ALWAYS make sure that all of the lights on the outside of your vehicle are working. Not only is it dangerous because someone might hit you if they can not see you, but you also don’t want to leave yourself in the dark or get a ticket.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you need a tune-up your vehicle will let you know. Maybe your check engine light will come on or the vehicle will experience a decrease in performance or fuel efficiency. Your vehicle may start running rough while idling or begin stalling. If there is a squeaking coming from under the hood or you are experiencing unresponsive braking or turning, it’s definitely time to consider that tune-up. Turn off the music and listen to your vehicle. It will tell you if it’s okay or not.

Don’t be afraid to take a leap and learn how to work on your own vehicle. It will save you a lot of money in the long run and it is a skill that you can take with you for the rest of your life. Let’s not let the shade tree mechanics die out.

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