And since the Car Care Council reports that neglected maintenance results in 5 percent of all vehicle accidents and leads to more than 2,600 deaths, 100,000 injuries and more than $2 billion in lost wages, medical expenses and property damage each year, it is clear a little maintenance can go a long way.
So what can you do to ensure a healthy vehicle?
* Get Your Car on a "Daily Vitamin" Routine
Like taking vitamins, there are basic checks that everyone should perform regularly on their car.
Make sure to check the tire pressure on all four tires - and the spare - at least once a month. To obtain an accurate pressure reading, your vehicle must be idle for three hours or have been driven for less than a mile at the time of testing.
When tires lose air pressure, drivers lose miles per gallon and unnecessarily waste fuel, but avoid over-inflating tires because it is dangerous and will cause tires to wear prematurely.
Did you know, for example, that a drop of eight pounds per square inch in your tires could result in 2 miles per gallon of fuel economy loss, an 18 percent loss in your vehicle's load carrying capacity and a 25 percent loss in tire tread wear?
* Keep Your Car Hydrated
In addition to tire pressure, it is important to check your vehicle's fluids. When your body becomes dehydrated, it fails to perform to its full potential, and the same goes with your vehicle. Be sure to check the fluid levels of engine oil and coolant, brake, transmission, washer and power steering fluids, and fill if necessary.
* Check Your Vehicle's Vitals
When taking your vehicle in for its check-up, the following items should be inspected by an auto technician to ensure optimal performance throughout the year: brakes, battery cables and terminals, the air filter, windshield wipers, lights and turn signals. Also, have your technician inspect your belts, valves and hoses carefully, as old or worn rubber can become brittle and may have cracked or broken during the cold, dry winter weather.
* Check For Symptoms
When you feel sick, you visit the doctor. Remember to take the same kind of preventative care of your car. Be aware of your own vehicle's warning signs, and be sure to visit a technician if your vehicle seems to be running weak.
For more information, visit www.carcare.org.
Trisha Hessinger is a former racecar driver and nationally recognized automotive education specialist for Firestone Complete Auto Care.