4WD: Regular checks
Motoring - West Wheels Offroading Saturday Sep 22 2012 - Complex system repair, testing and diagnostics is best left to a trained technician to ensure correct and reliable operation. Picture: Get Behind The Wheel

Mentioning vehicle maintenance is enough to turn most people off.

I've heard owners say: "Good luck trying to work on one of those new high-tech 4WDs, they're just too complex to do anything with."

Running rail pressure tests, monitoring electronic injector sine waves or analysing exhaust emissions are not things to do in your driveway.

These are better left to trained technicians with specialised tools and diagnostic equipment.

But when did you last check under your bonnet? Yesterday, a week ago, a month . . . maybe longer?

Remember, prevention being nine-tenths of the cure couldn't be more accurate when considering vehicle reliability and safety.

Preventive maintenance is easy - there's no technical training or specialised tools involved, simply observation and an awareness of how your 4WD feels or sounds under normal conditions.

It's good practice when inspecting or checking under the hood to switch the engine off and allow it to cool down to avoid potential burns from hot surfaces or injury from rotating components.

Some items may require the engine to be running at idle and normal operating temperature - always refer to the owner's manual or ask your mechanic for tips on what to look for and how to do it safely.

Pulling the dipstick or reading the electronic gauge to check engine oil; then casting an eye over other fluid levels is an easy place to start. Most reservoirs for brake fluid, power steering and radiator coolant are translucent, allowing you to see the level and clarity of the liquid inside, with marks showing maximum and minimum levels.

The brake-fluid level drops slightly as braking-friction material wears because extra fluid is dispersed as slave units move outward to compensate.

The coolant level varies marginally depending on engine temperatures. If you experience rapid fluid loss requiring continual top-ups, or see rusty coolant or dark/dirty brake fluid, you should immediately book the vehicle in for a service.

Look around the engine bay - stains, strong odours or excessive oily residue indicate leaking gaskets, seals or hoses. A quick glance underneath the vehicle may reveal the source of those annoying oil drops on the garage floor.

Check each tyre for odd wear patterns or visible damage.

High-pitched metallic noises when braking, a shimmy in the steering wheel, a knock in the suspension when leaving the driveway, the subtle glow of that engine check light, loud screeching on acceleration or a rumbling sound every time you turn the air-cond on is your vehicle telling you "I need maintenance".

Trust your instinct - if it doesn't sound, feel or look normal, it's probably not. Ignore the warnings and the cost of a simple repair may become an expensive major overhaul.

Addressing issues early will avoid the greater inconvenience and cost of having the vehicle off the road for bigger repairs.

Plus you'll have the added safety benefits of minimising potential component failure before any remote travel where vehicle recovery fees could far outweigh the cost of the initial repairs.

The West Australian

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