Car maintenance

Q: I live on a very tight budget, and I want to make the most of the money I have for car maintenance needs. What should I do now that the weather is getting warmer?

A: The timing belt is probably the single most overlooked maintenance item in cars. There are no sure telltale signs that the timing belt is worn until it breaks, which could be bad news in some models. Timing belts need to be replaced at intervals ranging from 30,000 to 105,000 miles, depending on the model. Not all cars have timing belts, so check your owner's manual for specific information.

The fuel filter is sometimes an overlooked maintenance item. Its purpose is to clean out impurities from the fuel before it gets into the fuel-injection system and engine. A neglected, clogged filter can cause poor fuel mileage or lead to expensive repairs in the long run.

Replacing the automatic transmission fluid is relatively inexpensive and can save on costly future repairs. As transmission fluid is subjected to extreme heat and stress, it loses some of its original qualities and becomes contaminated with small metal fragments as the gears wear. With today’s newer methods, this procedure typically does not involve removing the cover from the transmission, which is a benefit for the vehicle.

Lastly, tires are an item that we rarely consider until we are on the side of the road. Because they are a rubber-based product, they take the brunt of the extreme temperature changes. When they have been driven on cold roads all winter, sometimes the change to warm spring days can cause unknown tire problems to become apparent. It is a good idea to have all your tires, including your spare tire, inspected every spring and fall.