Skip to main content

Tips On Car Care--Save Money and Have a Safe Car

Corvette without skin

Corvette without skin

My Snap-On toolbox

My Snap-On toolbox

Started my automotive career with way back in 1969. Was an "A" technician in a Long Island, NY Cadillac dealership. I worked on all aspects of the vehicle from bumper to bumper, including engines, transmissions, suspension. electrical, disc and drum brakes, A/C, fuel injection, carburetors, exhaust, emissions, interiors, limos, front and rear wheel drive, and more. After 14 years of hands on repairs, and working the piece work method of incentive for my salary, I decided it was time to put on a shirt and tie , and become a Cadillac service advisor. This involved logging customers problems, and making sure they are corrected properly. I then called the customer with the repairs required, cost, and any additional work needed. After all customer approved repairs are completed, I would road test the vehicle to insure a correct repair. I can't tell you how many times, I' ve had to return the car to the tech for problem re-occurrence. Had I given the car back to the customer, and the problem returned, it would be considered a "COMEBACK". Techs do not like comebacks, nor did I, nor did the customer. Customer service was my main criteria, knowing my customer was satisfied, indicated to me, I had them for life. I've won Caribbean cruises 3X from Cadillac for outstanding customer service. Never would I cheat someone, or sell them something they did not need. Although quite easy to do, I have to sleep at night.

Another part of my automotive career included being a Cadillac Roadside Service technician. Cadillac Roadside Service was the predecessor to ONSTAR, the present day built in on car warning system. During daytime hours, I was at the Cadillac dealership performing my job as a service advisor. After 5 PM , and until midnight, I was on standby with a beeper, and cellphone. If a Cadillac broke down after hours, the owner would call an 800 number in Detroit Mich, who would take down all of the information, then transmit the request for assistance to me. All techs had as their personal vehicle, a GMC Suburban equipped with a complete set of Snap-On hand tools, and a minimum stock of common breakdown items, such as batteries, alternators, starters, and more. This service was offered to all purchasers of new Cadillacs for the warranty period free of charge. I've had pictures and stories written about me, and my Cadillac Roadside Service occurances , some quite unusual.

I've owned many cars in my life, the majority of which I purchased used, from a private seller, after a complete inspection, and road test, My current vehicle, a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Convertible is now 10 years old, purchased about 4 years ago with 52,000 miles ,just turned 100,000 miles on the speedo. Photo below was taken in May 2008.

I'd now like to take you through the steps of buying a used car whether it be private or from a dealer.Your first encounter with the car of your dreams will be either visably on the road or through an ad. Upon your first physical meeting with this vehicle, if it has been detailed, and prepared for sale, BEWARE !. The better it looks, the more forgiving you will be. The hook will be set. CHECK THE CAR OVER COMPLETELY. What I do first, is walk around the car. Notice the tires, paint, glass, . Is it dented ? Does the paint match? Are the tires worn? If so, what type of wear ? Normal type ? or is the R/F tire outer edge worn bald ( no tread ) Why ? Does it need an alignment ? Are there worn front suspension parts ? I have not started the cars engine yet. First open the hood, check the engine oil level by way of the dipstick. ENGINE OFF. Remove oil dipstick, wipe clean, reinstall, and remove again. Notice oil level. Is the oil clean ? Ok, start the engine. Exhaust should be smoke free, if weather is cold , some steam vapors will be emitted from exhaust upon starting, but should diminish as the vehicle warms up. Take note of the oil pressure gauge or light. Light goes off,or oil gauge goes to 30-40 lbs , Let engine run until reaching normal operating temperature. If the car has an automatic transmission, NOW WITH ENGINE RUNNING,check trans fluid level with dipstick. Fluid should be REDin color and not smell burnt. Some burning odor will occur in high mileage vehicles. Check shift patternson road test. Check other fluid levels such as power steering fluid, and brake fluid. Next items I check are HEAT and AIR CONDITIONING.After reaching operating temperature, I would carefully feel the radiator hoses for degree of heat. They should be very warm, almost hot. That's a good sign.From the drivers seat, place climate control system in heat mode, whether it be manual or automatic. Underhood heater hoses should be warm at this point, and hot air should be blowing into the interior cabin.EXCELLENT. Now turn the climate control to the A/C mode. The A/C compressor attached to the engine will now turn on. If operating properly sharp, cold air will enter the interior cabin through the upper dashboard A/C ducts. Check your dash indicators, make sure ALL dash warning lights operate. Best seen with the ignition key turned to the ON position, WITHOUT STARTING THE ENGINE. Test radio operation, all speaker operation. If equipped with power windows, test each power window from drivers multiple switch, also each windows operation, from its own switch. Check power door lock operation at all doors. LOCKING and UNLOCKING. Test power mirror operationif so equipped, both LEFT AND RIGHT SIDES,in all positions, up, down, left, and right. Check power seat operationif equipped, in all positions, back and forth, up and down. Be sure to check interior lights, ( like you need at night ) . Do they go on when any door is opened ? Any lights not operating ?. Now what is the condition of the interior? If leather, is it worn , cut , discolored ? Is all door trim in good condition ? Some accessories, such as dvd',s need extensive testing and should be done. Now lets turn on the engine, so when we turn on ALL of the outside lights, the battery does not discharge, including HEADLIGHTS, HI-BEAMS, 4 WAY FLASHERS. Inspect all side marker lights. Once these lights are inspected, turn them off. Test turn signal lightsleft and right, front and rear. Now with a helper, step on the brake pedal, have the other person signal whether thebrake lightsgo on. If equipped to raise car, and remove a wheel, do so. Inspect remaining thickness of brake pads, and or shoes.note condition of brake rotors, and or drums. While looking under vehicle, inspect for any oil, or coolant leakage. When these items have been checked, and noted, time for a road test. As you accelerate note any unevenness, sluggishness.Check transmission for shifts. Three definite shifts should be felt on a 3 speed automatic transmission, the same on 4 speed automatics, 4 definite shifts, and so on. Coming to a stop, smoothness should be noted. If there are any abnormal noises, or pulsation, out of round drums or rotors should be expected. Steering should be smooth and steady, without vibrations, or shake. After the road test is complete, an intelligent decision can now be made, assuming the price asked for the vehicle is fair, and should coincide with the condition of the vehicle. This next hint, I must thank a neighbor of mine. He recently purchased a used 2006 Hyandui for his 17 year old daughter. There is not an original factory owners manual with instructions on the use of all of this vehicles features, HUGE MISTAKE especially if one is unfamiliar .The locating of this manual was automatic to me. Altough if not available, I was savvy enough to have the necessary knowledge.

Here is a listing of some easy to use tips and hints, I've collected over 40 years.

1- Most important and a huge factor in automobile engine failure.--CHANGE THE ENGINE OIL AND FILTERat the Mfr's recommended mileages.

2- Rotate tires ( if applicable) every 6 - 10,000 miles. Some cars have different size tires on the front and rear,

3- When temps dip below freezing, and moisture, ( rain, snow, sleet ) occurs, BEFORE STARTNG VEHICLE, standing outside of the car, manually move windshield wipers, freeing of ice, using your hands,

4-When driving in rainy, humid weather. the insides of the windshield, and side windows might fog. The best way to counteract this condition is to put on the A/C.Even if it's cold, just move the temp dial to the warm position. Essentially the A/C compressor operation de-humidifies the interior air, thus eliminating the fogging.

5- Check the air pressure in your spare tire. It might be hidden in a well, in the back of the car, or even under the car. Don't be caught by surprise with a flat tire on the expressway, and lo and behold, the spare is also flat and out of air. It's a long walk.

6- If your battery is 4 years old or more, REPLACE IT, avoid trouble when the temperature drops.

7- Live in cold weather country ? In the event of a forecasted ice storm overnight, leave those door locks in the UNLOCKED position, When you get up at 6 am to go to work, it might save you some aggravation.

8- On a front wheel drive car, that clicking noise heard from the front wheels when making turns, indicate a worn CV ( constant velocity ) joint, which requires replacement.

9-A high pitched squealing sound heard when foot is off brake pedal.might possibly indicate WORN BRAKE PADS. It's an early warning notification.

10-When you first open your car door on a day reaching 93 degrees. and the inside temp is probably 120. After quickly turning on the A/C. DON'T put the system on MAX, thinking that's going to cool it down quicker. WRONG. In the MAX position on the A/C, the system is in the RECIRCULATING AIR mode. This means the cars A/C system is taking instead of taking in 93 degree air and cooling it for you, It's taking in 120 defree air from the interior of the car, and trying to cool it for you. This will certainly take a longer time to cool. Ideally you should place the system on in LOW or AUTO and thenwhen the car cools some, switch it into MAX for further cooling.

A helpful list of SOUNDS AND NOISES automobiles make, that are hard to describe :

BOOM - drum roll, distant thunder

CLICK - camera shutter, retracting a ball point pen

CLUNK- heavy door closing

GRIND- sharpening metal on a grinding wheel

GROWL- angry dog

HISS - air escaping from a tire

KNOCK- knocking on a door

RATTLE- baby's rattle, a stone in a can


MISS - pulsation, or bump, that changes with speed, uneven sound from exhaust at idle

ROUGH IDLE- running unevenly at idle, also shaking

STALL- stops running, dies out

SURGE- car speeds up andslows down, no change on gas pedal


In the event , you hear or feel the thump of a flat tire, well what are you going to do now ? First, slow down and pull over, off the road, when possible. Depending on which side of the car has the flat, be sure to place that side furthest away from traffic, with enough space left to change the tire. Now open the trunk or wherever your spare tire is kept, and remove it along with the necessary jack,and lug wrench. Now, make sure car isin PARK w/auto trans and emergency brake applied. BEFORE you jack up the car, LOOSEN ALL OF THE LUG NUTS, ( OFF - TO THE LEFT, COUNTER-CLOCKWISE ) Although it might surely be difficult, with that wheel off the ground, it will definitely be MORE difficult.Ready to jack it up. Place a block, stone, etc under the wheel diagonally opposite the wheel with the flat tire, along with another, under the wheel on the same axle ( both front or rear wheels ) this being done to prevent the car from ROLLING. Place jack in the correct position to raise that portion of the car with the tire to be changed.This invaluable information is usually contained in one of two places. Either in the owners manual, or possibly in the spare tire area of the trunk. Since you have already loosened the lug nuts while the car was on the ground, ( you should have, oops ) getting them completely removed should be easy. Being careful, because some of these tires could not only be large, but also weigh a lot. Now, after removing flat, install the spare tire, lining up the lug nut studs. Once installed, thread on lug nuts carefully. DO NOT CROSS-THREAD, tighten ( ON- TO THE RIGHT, CLOCKWISE ) as best possible, with lug wrench.Once all lugs are tightened, lower vehicle with jack. and remove jack . Getting near the finish now. With TIRE ON THE GROUND, take the lug wrench and really tighten that lug nut IN OPPOSITE order pattern ( example 1 o'clock-7-3-10-5 SEE PHOTO BELOW ). Remove your wheel blocks, and drive away. YOU DID IT !!

Now let me tell you about an interesting situation I had involving a flat tire. Was heading into NYC via the Mid Town Tunnel. If you have knowledge of this tunnel, you are aware it's 2 rather narrow lanes wide, with walls on either side. Some large truck must have dropped this piece of metal on the roadway. Only about a 1/3 way through , and I see this piece on the tunnel roadway in front of me. Can't go left, would hit the car in the other lane. Can't go right, would hit the wall, Prayed I'd avoid it, but then BOOM !. Down goes my L/F tire. THUMP, THUMP, can't stop and change the tire in the tunnel. What are you gonna' do ? Drove at about 10 MPH out the remaining 2/3 of the tunnel till the end. Now the good lord must have placed one of those Tunnel and Bridge Authority break- down trucks about 100 ft after the tunnel ended. The truck was empty and just parked alongside of the wall. Great, I'll pull up in front of it, then back up near the truck, so I can PROTECT myself while I changed the tire. Had the spare on, jack and flat in the trunk ready to leave. All of sudden GUESS WHO DRIVES UP ? A Bridge and Tunnel Authority officer, telling me get back in my car. ( By law you are not legally allowed to change your flat tire there Your car must be towed to a safe location ). He didn' want to hear that I had already changed the tire. The officer calls a tow truck, FOR WHAT ? I already replaced the flat. SIT IN YOUR CAR he snapped. . So now a tow truck pulls up, and I said it's already fixed. Oh ok , then drive it out of here THANKS , BYE , truly amazing. Another tale in the big city.


First we must determine is this liquid clear water, or has it a color or oily feel ? Clear water is the remains of air conditioning. When the air coming into the cabin interior of you car is sharp and cold, this is caused by, along with other factors, DE-HUMIDIFICATION of the incoming air, removal of water. The CLEAR waterdripping on the ground, is the result. Now, let's say what happens if the drain clogs ? Well, that water has to go somewhere. First it might fill up the a/c heater box, and back up into the blower cage. If this occurs, you might hear sloshing water on turns, Along with that, you must assume that water having to go somewhere, where ? but INSIDE YOUR CAR. Will probably make either right or left side of carpeting a bit squishy. Not a nice feeling. The longer the carpeting remains wet, the better the chance of incurring a MUSTY ODORin your car. The only proper way to eliminate wet and musty carpets is to completely remove them, and dry out. No small task. Be sure to replace with new, any fiber / material under matting positioned under carpeting.. This stuff WILL NEVER DRY OUT.

Scroll to Continue


First let's begin with lights. To me, the ENGINE OIL PRESSURE LIGHT, is the most critical light of all, not so much for your safety, but for the safe and well being of your ENGINE. When starting the vehicle, you should get a sampling of all dash warning lights, which should go out in seconds. NORMAL If and when you have the misfortune to see that light come on while the engine is running, WHEN SAFE TO,immediately pull over to a safe position, and SHUT OFF THE ENGINE. What has occurred, aside from a signaling failure, is a LOSS OF ENGINE OIL PRESSURE. When this happens, it's as if your heart stopped pumping blood. No blood pressure, bye, bye. No oil pressure to the engine, will cause it to SEIZE ( never to turn again ). Let's now move to the COOLANT / or COOLANT TEM{ERATURE LIGHT. Many different types of vehicles, have different normal operating temperatures. There is a sensor in the engines cooling system, to alert the driver in the event this engine coolant temp rises over and above the NORMALtemperature. If you have not noticed leaking coolant, or hot steam at this point, you are lucky. Now are you stuck in REALLY HEAVY TRAFFIC on a hot day ? If the A/C is on. TURN IT OFF. That's only making the radiator and fans work harder, and will accelerate overheating.Without a gauge its very difficult to note if it is helping.. Essentially, the best thing to do is pull over, and let the car cool down, DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT attempt to open the radiator cap, due the danger of escaping boiling water and scalding steam. LET THE ENGINE COOL DOWN, It will take a 1/2 hr or more to safely investigate the cause of the light coming on. The reasons could be many, such as a leak ( i.e. radiator, or hose ), lack of cooling operation, ( i.e. electric fan inop, broken fan belt ). If a loss of coolant is noted, after the car has cooled down, you may add coolant WITH THE ENGINE RUNNING, DO NOT ADD COOLANT an engine not running, will possibly cause engine damage. The temp gauge should read somewhere between 180 degrees and approx 210 degrees. The newer cars produced today are designed to run at high operating temps in order to keep emissions under control. The coolant used in the cooling system is designed to allow the fluid to reach higher than 212 degrees before boiling over, The alternator /generator / voltage lightcomes on when the alternator, which replenishes or recharges the battery, is UNDER OR OVER CHARGING.Normal charging rate on 12 volt electrical systems is approx 13.5 - 14.5 volts.When this light appears, the 2 most probable causes are a faulty alternator / generator. which will need to be overhauled or replaced, or if you're " lucky ", maybe just replacement of a broken belt. Either way, not pleasant. The normal reading on a gauge would vary between 20-40 usually. Any abnormality will be in an incorrect reading.

All dashboard warning lights DO NOT mean immediate damage or danger. Routinely, manufacturers have colored the lens' of dash warning lights as yellow or amber for semi-important problems, to a red lens for very important problems. Certains situations require an immediate response, such as the red oil light appearing. SHUT THAT ENGINE OFF AS SOON AS POSSIBLE !. Yes, there is a possibility of an unrelated electrical fault, but turn thst engine off first, because if it's truly indicating a lack of oil pressure, that engine will seize. Now you might see a warning light possibly yellow saying " AIRBAG " or " ABS ( anti-lock brake system ) . In this case you must be aware that particular system will not operate properly.


I believe a flashlight with a fresh battery is the most important thing, especially around 10:30 PM on a dark road with a flat tire. Would also have some towels, rags, or wet naps, to wipe your hands clean when finished. . Another item I find important is a tire air pressure gauge. especially since many gas station air pumps have inaccurate gauges. Keeping tires properly inflated, will not only prolong tire life, but also substantially increase your safety. A pen and pad, to write anything important such as any accident related information. Another "glad you had it item" is a disposable camera. If you are involved in an automobile accident, assuming you are able, take as many photos as you can ,to record and save important facts. Just a hint in the event of future legal issues. In today's world , you never know. If you carry a cellphone equipped with camera, the a disposible camera is not needed.


First, let's start with the state registration sticker on the left side ( as seen in photo below ) looking from the front of the car.. On the left side of the sticker, the 2 is circled in greenmeaning the2nd month or February. To the right side the number 07 is circled in green, meaning this registration sticker expired February 2, 2007. The actual date is in small print above the 07. So, any day after this date requires you to get a renewal from the DMV ( Dept of Motor Vehicles ). Other choice is to avoid the police. A summons will surely remind you of your negligence Now we move to the sticker on the R/S which in the state inspection sticker. Some stickers will be different shapes and colors, Basically, they will al say in some way, when this sticker expires, This sticker expired in June of 2006. To renew this sticker, the vehicle must be brought into a CERTIFIED STATE INSPECTION STATION, Some state inspections stations are run by the state, while others are privately owned. . Take it from me, now retired, but while working as a dealership technician, I was a licensed state inspector. Last May of 2008, while driving in the village of Southampton, NY, I'm embarrassed to say, I was pulled over by a village police officer. He said " Do you know why I stopped you ? " Your inspection sticker is 3 months overdue. My jaw dropped, I could not believe it. Usually I can spot over due stickers on other cars. He got me. Don't know how I missed it, but $75 later plus $35 to go and get my car inspected, I'll surely remember next time. CHECK YOUR STICKERS DUE DATES.


Did you purchase an extended warranty with your vehicle when it was new, if not, is your car now 18 months old, with you deciding '' shall I buy an extended warranty " ?, or might I be selling this car once its original factory warranty is over ? Many items that must be considered upon purchase of quite an expensive option. Below is a link that will explain the art of " extended warranties " . Hopefuly this will educate you on the many nuances of this useful and helpful product.

Registration and State Inspection Stickers


How to change that flat tire

How a Twin Cam 4 Cylinder Engine Works



My 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Convertible



Steve Spitzberg on January 28, 2018:

Well done Eric. Your suggestions are accurate and important information to any driver.

Keep up the good work.

chiropractor sacramento, on July 01, 2011:

Your blog is very impressive and I really appreciate you for your nicely written. This would be helpful for me and give me more knowledge. I want to thank you for your nice cooperation and work and appreciate you for this.


neck pain sacramento

Sacramento Chiropractor on August 25, 2010:

Here are some great tips for choosing a safe car:

cadman000 (author) on March 16, 2009:

Hi , My name is Eric. I've thought about the many helpful tips I have learned after 35+ years in the automotive business. If you have comments or questions related to this hub, feel free to send it in this column,and I'll help you where I can. Thanks

Related Articles