By Chaundra Wilson
In the early 20th century, pioneers in engineering began a shift in the American mentality; descriptions of man’s best friend was no longer “loyal, obedient and loving,” but “fuel-injected, high-performance and turbo-charged.”
As vital to performance as nutrition and grooming are to a golden retriever, so are consistent attention and maintenance to an automobile. But the seemingly constant burdens of alignments, fluids, filters and tune-ups are much more sophisticated than placing a full bowl in front of the refrigerator each morning.
“I think that for most students, their parents have always done the maintenance and this is the first time that they have owned their own car,” said Roger Brown, a mechanic at Ray Bradford Automotive.
Ray Bradford Automotive neighbors the BYU campus, and workers estimate that students constitute 45 percent of their business.
Brown said he remembers servicing a 2-year-old Mazda 626 belonging to a student. The owner had driven the car 30,000 to 40,000 miles and never changed the oil, running the vehicle completely dry.
“Off with his head! Had he changed his oil like he was suppose to, he would have saved around $2,000,” Brown said.
And this is not an isolated incident according to Ray Bradford, owner of the shop, who said he recalls treating the same problem last week.
Seth Dixon, a senior from San Diego, majoring in geography teaching, owns a 1990 Nissan Sentra.
“When something breaks, then we look at the maintenance, so it’s not preventative,” Dixon said.
Although devoted to regular tire alignments, Dixon’s air filter and oil received attention because of a recent oil leak, but he couldn’t remember the last time his brakes were checked and didn’t know there was a need to change his fuel filter.
“Every person who drives a car should take a class in basic automotive repair,” said Jess Millett, a 10-year mechanic at Bradford Automotive.
“We have some students – men — who don’t even know how to change a tire,” Millett said.
He also said some of the most common maintenance-related problems are related to overheating.
“If your car is steaming STOP!” Brown said. Continuing to drive can destroy an engine.
Common consequences of overheating in vehicles with aluminum heads are blown head gaskets, costing between $800 to $1,500, and cracked heads, an expense of $1,800 to $2,400.
Both Millett and Brown recall experiences with brakes worn so badly they no longer had brake pads and metal, and in some cases the piston had begun digging into the rotor.
When your brakes start squeaking, immediately check them, Millett said.
Brake vibration, which is relatively benign, has a lower, resonant tone, whereas wear-related brake noise, more acute, is high-pitched.
Mark Infanger, assistant manager at the Provo AutoZone location, attributes approximately 20 percent of their sales to students and 60 percent of sales to routine maintenance purchases.
Infanger said the majority of maintenance-related problems he has observed deal with suspension.
Suspension problems can be prevented by maintaining proper air pressure in tires, and by performing routine tire alignments and rotations, he said.
Infanger and Brown agreed that tires should be aligned at least once a year, people should never drive on under-inflated tires and people should grease their car if possible.
Worst-case suspension difficulties can result in having to rebuild the front end of the vehicle, a repair cost of $800 to $1500.
Other problems may be tire damage and improper tire wear.
Paul, assistant manager at the Provo location of David Early Tire, said a new set of tires could cost between $150 to $450, depending on the size.
Dan Gallardo, assistant manager at the Provo location Checker Auto Parts, estimates that 50 percent of their sales are to students and that 60 to 75 percent of sales are routine maintenance purchases.
“Their cars start fouling up and then students end up getting extra parts from us. People just don’t know about their cars,” Gallardo said.
The worst maintenance-related problem Gallardo said he remembers is a clogged fuel filter, a component that should be changed every 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
“If it happens once, you run the risk of ruining your fuel pump (a cost of $40 to $300) or your injector (a cost of $65 to $230),” Gallardo said.
Although there are general tentative recommendations for routine maintenance, Gallardo reminded students, “Each vehicle requires different types of services; follow the owner’s manual. It will tell you for sure.”