- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

As the upcoming year's new car models are introduced across the land, a good many of us find ourselves in new-car showrooms, looking, dreaming and sometimes even buying that super-sleek temptress whose allure proves too strong to resist.

There is no question that the new iron coming off both foreign and domestic assembly lines is some of the best we have seen, both in looks and in performance. This futuristic stuff is ready for your garage now.

But the decision to buy should be the beginning, not the end. After you've laid down big bucks for your new car, does it make sense to treat it as if it's worth that much, or should you simply hop in and drive hell-bent-for-leather, ignoring how much of your hard-earned money you have just put to work?

The answer seems self-evident, but I'm always amazed at how many new-car buyers take the latter route. They drop major bucks for some new iron, then go out and treat it as if it's some fifth-hand junker they're planning to scrap in a month or two. It's only 50,000 miles later that they wonder why their car isn't giving them the service they had expected to get or why it seems to need endless repairs the day after the warranty expires.

One of the main reasons that cars act up sooner than expected is sheer neglect their owners don't take a little time and a few additional bucks to break in the car correctly. I'm not talking about big money or lots of owner inconvenience here, merely a few simple maintenance procedures that will pay off big time down the road.

Remember, the engines and transmissions of today's high-tech cars may be computer-controlled but beneath all those electronic sensors lies the same basic machinery that's always been there. An engine is still an engine, a transmission is still a transmission and there are some fundamental things that machines need if they're to serve you the way you want them to.

If you study the owner's manuals of some of today's most expensive import cars, you'll notice that they require a servicing after 1,000 miles to 1,500 miles. In that initial break-in service the oil and filter are changed, the transmission fluid is changed and the fluid in the rear axle if the car has such fluid is changed.

Why bring the car in so soon? Because the manufacturers know that this break-in service will lay the groundwork for subsequent good performance and longevity of the vehicle.

A car with 1,500 miles on it has completed the most wear-intensive period of its life. The wear and tear on engine and transmission components is extremely high, as their parts mesh and grind in the process of finding the best, most efficient mating surfaces, the surfaces that produce the least amount of friction.

This high rate of wear is actually desirable it's a good thing for the parts of your new car to wear in properly.

But when they do, it generates a tremendous amount of wear debris minuscule particles of metal that are shaved off during the wearing-in process. This debris quickly finds its way into the lubricating fluids, and it isn't a good idea to let this junk keep circulating with the lubricants after the break-in mating surfaces have been honed.

That's why you want to change the fluids and put in some new stuff. It's not that the oil has worn out but that it's polluted with a lot of things that your car will be better off without. The simple act of flushing away the break-in debris will have a profound effect on how efficiently your car operates thereafter.

Remember, the car manufacturers who have a reputation for longevity Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Saab, to name a few make these services a warranty requirement. If the makers of these expensive cars consider it mandatory, don't you think it would be smart for you to give your car the same degree of attention, regardless of how much or how little you paid for it? Believe me, it would.

So, after your car has gone 1,500 miles or so, take it in to have these three fluids changed. It's smart, it doesn't cost that much, and it will help the car perform better and last a lot longer. Naturally, there's more to a good break-in than simply changing these fluids, but it's a great place to start.

Getting off on the right foot is as easy as one, two, three three fluid changes, that is.

NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE

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