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Follow maintenance schedule to avoid trouble

April 16, 2013 Car Care

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Jay Swigart, a mechanic at Bacher Automotive Service, works on a Butler Ambulance Service vehicle. Following the manufacturer's recommended service schedule can save a lot of problems in the long run, experts say.

Saving dollars on engine repairs is as simple as spending some cents on vehicle maintenance.

“These days, motors are built very well. It's just the normal maintenance that needs to be kept up,” said Dave Kovalick, lead mechanic at Classic Automotive in Mars.

“The main thing (vehicle owners) need to do is open the glove box and read the owner's manual to find the manufacturer's recommended service schedule.”

Engine service is not a frequent thing, with oil changes required, generally, every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, spark plugs needed about every 100,000 miles, and timing belts lasting close to 400,000 miles.

“The people that hear something and they don't get it checked out, it definitely can cause a greater problem. A simple $50 part can turn into a $500 problem,” Kovalick said.

“You still find surprises, there's no doubt, but they're all still the basic engines. Each manufacturer does have their own problems, but they still are the same basic motors.”

In his more than 20 years experience, Kovalick has tinkered under the hoods of vehicles of everyday drivers, cherished classics and pristine sports cars. He said the luxury vehicles and new engines present a greater challenge “because of all the technology they have.”

“The computer monitors so many different things on the motor. You have so many different sensors and modules and wiring, there's a lot to keep track of. A car these days can have up to 30 different computers overseeing different systems,” he said, adding that some vehicles boast up to a mile of wiring.

“You have to be careful, working around all that wire. The fun part is if you have a short in a wire, finding it,” Kovalick said.

When driving goes beyond the regular commute to tougher conditions and hauling heavy loads, Charles Neil, service manager at Bacher Automotive Service in Butler, recommends a diesel engine.

“Diesels are more of a workhouse. You can run them longer and they have more torque than a gas engine. Also, they are more efficient than a gas engine if you run them more often,” he said.

“They are not an every day driver like in a car. Diesel is made to work.”

Neil has worked for Ford, General Motors and Bacher, which services the Butler Ambulance Service fleet, among others. He said that although a diesel engine is more of an initial expense, it costs less to maintain and likely will net a driver more miles than a gas engine.

“A diesel runs cooler at an idle than it does working because you are not running the turbo,” Neil said.

“The turbo is what actually heats the air up when you are driving. That's why it's good practice to let it idle before you shut it down: You're not shutting everything off at a high temp. That's where you run into issues with things warping and bearing damage.”

More stringent emission laws, though, are hurting diesel engines.

“The new diesels, they spray a fluid into the exhaust so it meets emissions. But, if it sits and idles long enough, it will have to shut down because it will no longer meet emissions. That's why you see 'no trucks idling' signs everywhere,” Neil explained, adding that the regulations affect diesel efficiency as well as wear and tear.

“(Diesel engines) now have more pollutant control devices on them. We never used to regulate the diesels like we do cars. That's changing. You're building heat and restricting air flow, and that's taking tolls on the engines.”

Heat and air flow also are the root of common maintenance issues with diesel engines.

“The biggest issue across the board would be the turbos. That's what sees the most heat since it's in the exhaust system. After that, you break it down into specific problems common to different manufacturers,” Neil said.

“But, the biggest downfall of a diesel is letting dirty air get in.”

Over his career, Neil has seen many engines and found one frustrating truth to taking care of all of them.

“When you finally get all the bugs out of some engine, they come out with something new. That seems to be the norm,” he said.

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