48 | Pretty Is As Pretty Does

This post is part of our ongoing exploration into The 64 Arts; continuing our discussion of “decorating chariots.”

And that goes for cars, too!

Before getting fender-deep in automobile beautification, I think there’s something to be said for the inner workings of our favorite mode of transportation! After all, beauty is only skin deep.

No Bare-footin’ Here!

As much as I love shoes, you’d think I’d have no problem buying fancy footwear for my car, right? Wrong!

Tires–their fragility, their expense, and their maintenance needs–have always caused me a fair amount of anxiety. You’d think something that the entire car rested upon would be made tougher, right? Would be built to last longer and deal with more abuse? And wouldn’t need so many trips to rotate, balance, etc. Buying new tires was always a scary expense, especially back in the day when I was barely living paycheck to paycheck, and I was torn between my need to bargain hunt and my fear of being taken advantage of. When I bought my first brand-new, 16-miles on the odometer car and it came with a tire warranty, I thought I could finally relax a bit about this part of car maintenance.

Once again I was wrong. Within a few months one of the tires had a substantial leak so I dug the warranty info out of the glove compartment and went on the hunt for who to take it to. I’m sure no one is surprised that I was greatly disappointed to find that the warranty was only for manufacturer’s defects, so it didn’t matter who I took the car to as no one would do anything for such a simple issue as a leak under the warranty.

I ended up at Discount Tire and it ended up being the happiest accident of my entire car ownership experience!

First, because the car was so new and still had so few miles, they let me buy their in-house warranty for all four tires before looking at the problem tire. That meant that the replacement tire I ended up needing cost me only the $14.05 or whatever it was under warranty, saving me a bundle. Soon, another tire developed issues and it was the same, small fee to take care of it all.

Rotating the tires is something I was never good at doing with previous cars, though it’s supposed to be done every 6-8,000 miles or, in practice, every other oil change. Because the Discount Tires warranty included this service, it was a lot easier to make the time for it, so I forsee sticking with Discount Tires for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of Oil…

Oil changes are the other primary maintenance that I used to be really bad at–mostly procrastinating due to cost–but one I was determined to improve upon with the current car.

In high school I was made fun of for a bit when I admitted that I thought you had to change the oil through the small hole the dipstick fit into. My understanding of car maintenance has improved a bit, since then, thank goodness!

Now, if you’re inclined to change your own oil and have the time and expertise, more power to ya! I have never felt so moved, though my first husband insisted on doing it himself rather than paying someone else to do it for him. I understand the basics of changing the oil, but auto repairs are one of the few things I opt not to DIY, preferring to embrace the awesomeness that is specialization.

Still, because I owned my current car for over 6 years without putting more than 50,000 miles on it, I tended to stick with the 3,000-mile rule, even when it would extend to 5 months instead of 3. Of course, now that we’ve moved and my daily commute is closer to 70 instead of less than 20, I foresee my oil changes being far more regimented!

Air filters and fuel clean-outs are also things I try to keep up with to get the maximum fuel efficiency–especially now!

Proper Automobile Nutrition

Which, of course, brings us to the subject of fuel. Probably the largest single expense, I find it hard to believe that when I was still a teenager Mom could send me in with $2 to buy 2 gallons of gas to get us through until payday. $10 could fill our little hatchback for at least a week. Now? Well, everyone knows that gas has skyrocketed and that alternative fuel sources are becoming far more attractive.

Some people suggest that you only get your gas from the same gas station or company to prevent possibly screwing up your car with different levels of additives or a bad batch here or there. While I like to use the same gas station for reasons of convenience, I’m more concerned about my gas gauge going lower than 1/4 tank, so whatever is most convenient at that point is where I pull in.

That last quarter tank always seems to run out quicker than the first quarter, though it doesn’t make much sense why that should be true!

Of course, with the move and additional mileage, I’m working on getting discount codes set up for the stations I’m most likely to stop at to offset the additional cost. It helps that gas is usually a few cents a gallon cheaper here in Georgia than it is in Florida (most weeks) but those extra .05 off a gallon definitely add up!

The Unexpecteds

It can be easy to forget, especially if you have a fairly low-mileage car, that manufacturers recommend certain maintenance at certain mileage points. I’m not 100% convinced it’s not to pad the dealership’s pockets a bit, but I suppose preventative maintenance and regular check-ups serve the same purposes in a car as they do a human.

Another thing I’m horrible at is regularly washing and detailing the car. While my first car looked as if I lived in it (and sometimes, especially those years working full time and going to class until 11pm, 4 night a week, I almost did), I’ve gotten successively better at keeping the clutter down to a minimum. When that aforementioned first car was rearended and I had to clear out the trunk for them to repair the damage, it was a bit embarrassing to have to deal with it with the rental company there (the damage prevented the trunk opening and closing, hence the last-minute thing). Still, when it was totaled a few years later (it had really bad luck, I swear there was a target painted on it!) I had a couple of orange crates of stuff to get out of it when I said my final goodbye.

Now that we’re no longer parking under a pine tree, I might spend some time getting any remaining pine sap off the body and windshield and do some paint touch-ups. But as long as we were at the last house it was a loosing battle that I just opted not to fight.

Finally, recall notices: don’t ignore them. Not only do the issues they represent usually mean major safety issues are at hand, but also it’s a chance to get in there and get some “free” labor out of the dealership. As much as I hate them trying to sell me a new car each time I have to take it in, I do like getting even those small upgrades (so far it’s been a fuel line and, yes, that big GM ignition switch service, in addition to a not-a-recall-but-a-surprise-extended-warranty-so-we-don’t-have-to-admit-true-fault power steering fix) without having to pay out of pocket.

Okay, that does it for the under-the-hood bits, next time we’ll get back to the fun stuff!

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