Engineering advances have made many of today’s cars less maintenance-intensive than ever—but vehicles still contain certain parts and components that require regular attention to ensure smooth performance, optimal efficiency, and long life. Even if your car isn’t due for a tune-up, checking on and replacing the parts listed below can go a long way to keeping it running in tip-top shape.
Engine Air Filter
Your vehicle manufacturer specifies an air filter change at a regular interval that’s a sort of one-size-fits-all solution for drivers around the globe. Thing is, in many cases, there’s reason to change your air filter early—particularly if you travel on dirt roads, in arid climates, or in winter. So, consider changing your air filter early and often for best results. An air filter change is typically a quick job, costs only a few dollars, and helps ensure your engine achieves the performance and mileage figures it was designed to deliver. Remember: a clogged air filter can cause your engine to use 25 percent more fuel!
The lowly spark-plug is rarely given much thought—though arguably, it has the most important job of any component within your car’s engine. The spark plug ignites the fuel in your combustion chambers, and needs to create a very precise spark to do its job properly, especially on new, modern, high-efficiency engines. Certain factors can cause your plugs to wear out ahead of their factory prescribed change interval, and if left unchecked, worn plugs can nuke your fuel mileage, kill your performance, and even damage other components within your engine.
Spark Plug Wires
Worn out spark plug wires can be just as bad as worn out spark plugs. These rubber-insulated conductors live in terrible conditions, with heat constantly wearing at their materials. Over time, plug wires can crack, become brittle, suffer from loose connectors, and be unable to deliver adequate power. A new set of spark plug wires is sold specifically for your particular car, can be installed without tools, and can help breathe new life into your ride’s ignition system.
Distributor Cap and Rotor
The cap and rotor are yet another part of your engine’s ignition system that can be beneficial to replace regularly. See a trend here? Your car’s ignition system is massively important, and if it has a cap and rotor, early replacement is often a great idea. The cap and rotor comprise parts of a system that rotate at high speed to facilitate a sequential electrical connection that sends power down the plug wires, and to the plugs themselves. As a moving part that lives in a hot environment, the cap and rotor are susceptible to wear—so consider replacement when you change your plugs and wires. Note that a cap and rotor system is more likely to be found under the hood of an older car.
The Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) valve allows toxic, oily vapors created deep within your engine to be routed back into the air intake system—where they’re ingested and burned off, rather than pumped out into the atmosphere at large. This emissions system component reduces pollution, but when it gets clogged with filthy engine gunk, it can affect your engine’s ability to run smoothly. A quick check involves finding your PCV valve, removing it (this is usually easy), and giving it a shake. A check valve within most PCV valves will emit a rattle when shaken. If there’s no rattle, that check valve is stuck, and the PCV valve needs to be replaced.
Cabin Air Filter
The cabin air filter doesn’t affect how your engine runs, directly—but a clean one will help improve the quality of the air within the vehicle, and keeps your climate control system running optimally. When a cabin air filter clogs up, it affects the ability of your blower fan to properly move air through the cabin of your car, degrading system performance. When this happens, you’ll have to run your AC or heat more often, and on a higher setting. As such, a clean cabin air filter can save you fuel indirectly, and prolong the life of climate control system components, since the climate control system won’t have to work as hard.