Understand the conditions of your warranty
All new and many used vehicles arrive with a warranty covering unexpected repairs. Be sure to understand the duration and covered components of the warranty. A typical warranty might be written "48/50,000" meaning that coverage lasts either 48 months from the initial purchase or until the vehicle has 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Depending on what is being repaired, the length of a factory warranty varies. Often a comprehensive "bumper-to-bumper" warranty covers everything outside of schedule maintenance. This is generally the shortest warranty period. A usually longer powertrain warranty covers engine and transmission defects. Anti-corrosion protection often lasts even longer. Finally, some manufacturers offer roadside assistance for a limited time.
Are used vehicles still covered under factory warranty?
Warranties are often transferable, meaning that a vehicle inside its mileage and duration caps will maintain its factory warranty.
How does one maintain the warranty?
By performing required service at the proper intervals and responding if something clearly goes wrong. Your owner's manual explicitly lists service intervals, although cars are often equipped with "check engine" dashboard lights that signal needed maintenance.
What is the driver's job?
You just need to take the vehicle in for service when the time arrives. Factory-authorized technicians must perform service and any other outside maintenance can potentially void a warranty.
Will a warranty pay for all expenses?
Many warranties cover the parts and labor costs involved in fixing unexpected repairs but place the burden of expected maintenance on the customer. Certain repairs may be covered by some manufacturers and not by others.
Changing your engine's oil and filter is one of the most vital maintenance procedures possible. Oil keeps friction down in the engine and prevents the motor from seizing up. Typical intervals for new cars are between 5,000 to 15,000 miles.
Water and antifreeze keep your engine from overheating and freezing during extreme temperatures. Intervals for flushing the system and replacing coolant vary, as some manufacturers promise long lasting antifreeze good past 100,000 miles. A general timeframe would be every few years or 30,000 to 40,000 miles.
Older vehicles required the replacement or adjustment of spark plugs much more often than new vehicles do. Manufacturers today promise over 100,000 miles before a tune-up that includes changing the plugs. Still, checking the plugs at 50,000 to 60,000 miles is not a bad idea.
The interval for changing the filter depends on the quality of filter, type of vehicle and environment in which most driving occurs. Traveling on dirt roads will surely clog a filter faster than paved highways. Also, local pollution can determine filter life.
Again, the interval of changing a battery depends on the type of battery, type of vehicle and local climate. Super cold regions may require a more powerful battery for cold starting. Also, rechargeable batteries that have completely lost their charge at some point often never reach full potential again.
During scheduled maintenance it's a good idea to inspect all hoses, belts and other connections under the hood to be sure everything is in good shape and properly attached.
Wipers need to be replaced, especially in climates with ice and snow. Sometimes just the blade needs replacing, while other times the entire wiper unit should go. Some customers may choose different types of wipers for better performance.
The type of vehicle, specific tire and driving style determine the life of a tire. Many are rated to last 30,000 to 70,000 miles, but an aggressive style can wear out tires in 15,000 miles. Customers may deviate from OEM specification in the interest of better looks or performance.
Like tires, brake life depends heavily on driving style. Lots of stressful braking will significantly shorten the life. Replacement requires new pads and sometimes, new rotors.
Anything required for an annual inspection can also need replacing. Light bulbs, exhaust components and emission controls may require fixing.
Different seasons require different types of tires. Many manufacturers sell vehicles with all-season tires that are suitable for most conditions. However, if your vehicle arrived with performance summer tires you should invest in a set of snow tires for safety in the bad weather. Some drivers with all-season rubber may also fit snows for added security.
How does one find correct snow tires?
No tire is perfect, as extra competence in one category often means compromise in another. For example, a tire that is great in snow may be so-so on dry pavement and average in the rain. Try to find reviews on a tire to determine if it meets your criteria.
Always be sure to maintain the proper inflation for safety, performance and longevity.
Buy four matching tires, for the most part. Some rear-wheel-drive cars can get by with just rear snows, but front-wheel-drive cars should never have snows up front and non-snows out back. The inconsistency in grip during braking can cause the tail end to slide out of the driver's control. All-wheel-drive vehicles require four tires as well.
When purchasing a set of snow tires try to pick up an extra set of wheels on which the rubber can be mounted. Not having to mount/dismount tires each season saves time and maximizes tire life. Often your dealer will sell a reasonably priced set of steel wheel to match the snow tires.
More seasonal precautions
Be sure your engine oil is the correct viscosity. Colder climates can cause oil to thicken, demanding a thinner oil to start.
Check your antifreeze and be certain the proper water-to-antifreeze mixture is maintained. Antifreeze testers are available at many auto parts stores.
Verify that your windshield wipers are operable and keep the washer fluid reservoir full.
Double-check hoses and belts. Cold temperatures can cause rubber to shrink and crack, so be sure your hoses and belts have some flexibility left.