Simple steps to take to help extend the life of your beloved truck
A truck is like most things in life: You get out what you put in. And for those who depend on their vehicle day-in and day-out to deliver results, a bit of care and maintenance goes a long way. While each make and model will have its own special needs (yes that means consulting the owner's manual) with these simple maintenance tips, your truck can continue running like it's fresh off the lot for years to come.
We tapped collective wisdom, and then went to Ford's Global Chief Engineer of Customer Service Engineering John Norton in order to compile these things any man can do to help keep his truck running smoothly. What's customer service engineering, you might ask? Basically, Norton and his team are the people who make sure your truck's easy to fix. They work on solving problems before they become problems. In other words, he's your best friend in the garage.
This one's easy, but no doubt one of the most important things you can do to ensure a long life for your truck (or any vehicle for that matter). Ford recommends you do this every 7,500 miles or six months (whichever comes first) for 2008 model year trucks and newer. For older, higher mileage trucks, always change your oil filter when you change your oil. Be sure to pick up the best oil for your needs. There are dozens of varieties of oil and a wide range of high mileage options tailored to increasing the life of older engines, so be sure to consult your owner's manual to ensure you pick the right viscosity-index for your truck. And then double check before you buy—having to visit the same auto shop twice in the one day for a single item is both embarrassing and waste of time.
Changing your oil is a good time to check up on other types of routine maintenance too. Rotating your tires each time you change your oil helps ensure an even wear—because tires wear unevenly according to the drivetrain of your truck. "Tire rotation is very important," Norton says. "Customers often think, 'Oh I just need to change the oil at the prescribed interval,' but we recommend that you rotate your tires every time you have your oil changed so that your tires are wearing evenly." While it depends on how you use your truck, the front tires will typically see the most wear. Rotating them can not only extend the life of the tires themselves, it can make for a smoother ride and reduce the burden on your truck's suspension that can come from unevenly worn tires. According to Norton, if there are any alignment issues you should be able to spot them when the tires are rotated. Check your owner's manual for the recommended tire rotation pattern.
When getting your tires rotated, it's also worth having them balanced. A tire is balanced when the weight of the tire is equally distributed around the axle. With each bump, pothole and off-road mission, your tires get more and more out of balance. An unbalanced set of tires can lead to vibrations on the road and cause increased wear on your suspension as well as uneven wear on your tires. If you need to have a tire replaced or patched, that's also a good time to get them balanced.
If around the time of your oil change, your truck is pulling to one side or the other it's probably time for a wheel alignment. Driving over rough roads at high speeds and aggressive driving can both increase the likelihood of misalignment. If your wheels are out of whack, you'll cause higher wear and tear on tires, generally get worse gas mileage, and experience poor handling on the road. Getting your wheels aligned pays off big in the long run. Vehicle pulling can also happen when your tires are unevenly inflated or you've got your truck bed weighed down heavily on one side. Inflate all of your tires to the designated pressure and keep your load evenly secured and spread across your bed to reduce pull.
It's easy to get into complacent, so that you're only thinking about maintenance around oil changes, but monthly checks on a few basic components are worth the minimal time investment they require. That way, if there are any issues with your vehicle, they'll be on your radar before they become bigger problems. For instance, check that all of your interior and exterior lights are working properly. A dim light can indicate an electrical problem, while a burned out light can be dangerous and lead to a hefty fine. And while you're at it, ensure your glove box is stocked with spare fuses—few things are as embarrassing as calling a tow truck when all you really need is a seventy-five cent replacement fuse.
Next, check out your essential fluid levels. The most important one to check is the engine oil. Just make sure it's cool first, in order to get an accurate reading. Also, check the oil itself. If it's dirty or smells like gasoline, it's time for a change. Next, engine coolant. Truck engines make a lot of heat; this is what keeps them from overheating. Check the levels by popping the cap (generally identifiable by a warning and matching illustration indicating you should never open when engine is hot). Refill as needed with the coolant specified in your owner's manual. Finally, check out your windshield washer fluid. It's a good idea to keep an extra jug of the blue stuff somewhere onboard, especially in winter, when salt and sand are on the road.
In order to function its best, engines need clean air. Over time, air filters become clogged with dust, debris, and chemical contaminants. Swap in a fresh engine air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles or even more often if you're frequently driving on dirt roads. A clean air filter will not only help your engine last longer, it can optimize your engine's efficiency and acceleration.
Routine maintenance and checklists can only get your truck so far down the road. One of the most important aspects of long term care is keeping in mind what kind of wear and tear you're putting on your truck. Whether you're carrying heavy loads, driving off road, or making multiple short trips daily, the way you use your truck will determine the exact type of maintenance you'll need. "Some driving conditions require special maintenance, such as if you're in a high idle situation or dusty conditions," Norton says, "the vehicle can't sense that, so it changes the scheduled maintenance." Talk to your local mechanic about the best ways to care for your truck given the roads you're driving on each day.
If there's one thing that can help keep your truck going longest, it's knowing when to bring an expert in. Most automakers offer specified checks at dealerships. Ford's multi-point inspection is basically a doctor's check-up for your truck. Everything from your batteries to spark plugs to brake pads is analyzed for issues. Technicians should spot potential problem areas early, based on wear, helping keep you safe and your truck running longer.
According to Norton, everything you need to know about keeping your truck running well is in the owner's manual. From cleaning, to optimal fluids, to maintenance checklists — it's all in the book. "Too many times customers only refer to the owner's manual when they have a question about how something might work, but there is a lot of good information with regards to fuel, oil, and how they should maintain their vehicles," Norton said.
* This article is part of The Code, an editorial partnership between Road & Track and .