Check your oil? You may have to do it yourself

Are you short-changing yourself at the do-it-yourself fuel pump? A lot of motorists are these days. A survey by the AAA-Ohio Motorists Association shows that drivers, while cutting their fuel costs, are letting car maintenance slip in other areas.

Out of 200 cars in the survey, 45 percent were low on radiator coolant. That could mean an unscheduled stop on the highway if the engine overheats; and potentially, a costly repair job. In addition, just over half of the cars were low on oil. Again, the engine could run into problems if there is insufficent oil to do its job.

Thirty-nine percent had low or corroded batteries. That could translate into a hard, or even impossible, starting problem on a cold winter day. Twelve percent had unsound hoses. If a hose splits and the engine coolant disappears, the effect on the engine could once again be serious.

Why do so many motorists neglect their cars in these ways? The Car Care Council (CCC) reports an improperly maintained car can cost a driver a lot of money. Backing up its charge, the CCC says:

If a car needs a tuneup, it could be using as much as 11 percent more fuel than it needs.

If the front wheels are even one-quarter of an inch out of alignment, the car could be wasting another 2 percent of fuel, not to mention the extra wear on the tires.

If the cooling system thermostat is stuck open, which causes the engine to run too cool, engine efficiency could be hurt by as much as 7 percent. That's money that won't go into the bank.

The point: Take time to look after your car. Ignore it and it'll cost you money in the long run. A poorly maintained car is worth a lot fewer dollars at trade-in time.

Finally, give your car a frequent wash during the winter. Don't let the snow, ice, and salt do their dirty work.

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