It’s one thing to own and drive a bad-ass truck or SUV, but it’s just as important to keep that bad-ass-looking truck or SUV running and performing at its optimum potential.
Keeping a maintenance log book can help you organize your service scheduling by recording your mileage between changes in powertrain fluid, oil/filter, coolant, transmission/screen, differential, power steering and brake fluid. Other important consumable items to check under the hood are fuel filter, fuel pump, belts and hoses, which are vital to your vehicle’s operation.
Under the Hood
Today’s engines with less cubic inch displacement are producing more torque and horsepower and are getting better fuel mileage than the larger cubic inch displacement engines of the past.
Fuel delivery systems are much improved by electronic fuel injection (EFI). EFI works fairly simply and the system is divided in three categories: fuel delivery system, air-induction system and the electronic control unit.
To improve airflow into the throttle body, install an aftermarket air intake system. Doing so will give your truck optimal torque power up to 15 percent and improve fuel mileage. These systems have less restriction than the factory units, meaning increased flow rate and velocity. More air entering the engine increases the efficiency of the combustion process, creating more horsepower and torque. The air filters can be cleaned and reused.
Engine Fluids Oil
Oil is graded in different weights of viscosity (thickness). Lubricating oil creates a film between surfaces of abutting, moving parts to minimize direct contact, decreasing heat caused by friction and reducing wear of internal components.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed a numerical code system for grading engine oils according to their viscosity characteristics. Numbers 0, 5, 10, 15 and 25 are labeled “W” which designates “winter” and is used for cold winter starts.
Single-grade oils have 11 viscosity grades, such as 0W and 5W, and 20 and 30. These numbers are referred to as the “weight” of the single grade motor oil. The SAE designation for multi-grade oils includes two viscosity grades, the most common of which is 10W-30.
Synthetic Oil and Synthetic Blends
Most late-model truck manufacturers have specified using 5W30 synthetic motor oil. The synthetic oil flows more easily in cold weather without loss of prime when the oil is cold. It’s highly resistant to viscosity breakdown. Synthetics can also go longer between oil changes.
High Mileage oils tend to be of a thicker viscosity and treat and condition seals and prevents leaks.
Coolant or Antifreeze
Change it every three years or 30,000 miles. Adding Water Wetter reduces or eliminates bubbles or vapor barrier that form on hot metal surfaces in the cooling system. It also reduces cylinder head temperatures. Water Wetter can reduce coolant temperatures up to 20 degrees, and it is compatible with new antifreeze.
Power steering fluid improves wear protection, resists thermal breakdown, evaporation and foaming of fluid. It also provides continuous high pump output. The lightweight fluid avoids power loss, or drag, on the engine and helps prevent high-temperature steering fade and effortful steering at low temperatures.
Check belts regularly, both separate belts and serpentine belt, for dryness, cracking, cuts, shredding or delamination. Change belts every 100,000 miles; it’s good practice to save used belts in your truck, just in case.
Ignition Wires and Coil Cables
It is essential to maintain ignition wires and check them periodically. Ignition wires are susceptible to engine heat under the hood. When you change the distributor cap and rotor, it is best to change the ignition wires.
Spark Plugs (Gas)
Change spark plugs between 50,000-100,00 miles. Check the electrode and ground strap to see how they are burning the fuel. A normal spark plug should burn with a brown or light gray color. Recheck the gap between the electrode and ground strap with a gap gauge. If the gap is not set correctly, it will affect the spark burn of the air/fuel mixture. Reading the ground strap will indicate the heat range condition of the spark plug. If the ground strap shows an annealing (heat) mark where the ground strap changes color, it’s too hot. If the annealing mark continues the entire length of the ground strap, it’s too cold. If the mark is just at the tip of the electrode, it’s also too cool. The ideal mark continues to the beginning of the bend of the ground strap.
Glow Plug (Diesel)
Instead of spark plugs, diesels use a heating device called a glow plug to help the engine start. When the electrical current is activated, the glow plug heating element heats up due to its electrical resistance. Glow plugs have the same characteristics as a toaster. The heat that is generated by the glow plugs is directed into the cylinders, warming up the engine block immediately surrounding the cylinders.
Diesel engines rely on compression to raise the temperature of the air to a point where the diesel will combust spontaneously when introduced to hot high pressure air.
Your driving conditions on and off-road will dictate the longevity of the air filter.
Your truck’s battery is a vital component of the electronic power and charging system. The conventional lead acid batteries have been used in the automotive industry for many years. Vibration tends to break down the vertical lead plates inside the casing and these batteries have to be mounted vertically. Dry cell batteries are high current car/truck audio power cells. These deep cycle power cells produce 600-3,800 watts of power and can also be mounted in non-vertical positions.
The truck frame is the carrying component that supports the engine/transmission, body and interior, which in turn are supported by the truck’s suspension. The suspension components of you truck are constantly being worked under load and stress. The control arms, spindles, rearend and axle housing are supported by springs. The spring action is controlled by shock absorbers. In the custom truck world, we have seen pneumatic (air) ‘bags or air spring systems that are use to achieve lower than low ride height and static dropped stances. Helper pneumatic ‘bags are also used to assist heavy payloads while towing. The helper ‘bags are inserted between the rear axle housing and frame rails. They are inflated for added payload capacity.
Ball joints hold the front suspension together by linking the suspension’s steering knuckles to the control arms, allowing the wheel and suspension to sway and move as the truck is moving and turning. A common symptom of a worn ball joint is uneven tire wear do to suspension misalignment. A ball joint will make loud noises when it begins to wear out; the noises start out as minor clicks felt in the steering wheel, which then increase to loud thumps and clunks as the ball joint continues to wear.
Tie Rod Ends
When you feel a lot of play in the steering wheel before the tire begins to turn, it’s likely that the rod ends are worn. Another symptom is excessive drifting from side to side while driving straight. You may also hear excessive tire noise when turning or feel clunking from the steering wheel when you step on the brake.
Control Arm Bushings
Worn control arm bushings are mostly caused by misalignment of the front suspension. Also high mileage on the bushings will cause them to wear out. When you replace the worn bushings make sure to get the front suspension realigned.
The idler arm is the pivoting support for the steering linkage, and it consists of a rod that pivots on a bracket attached to the frame of the truck on one end and supports a ball joint on the other end. If the idler arm is fitted with grease fittings, they should be lubricated with a grease gun during each oil change.
The Pitman arm is a linkage attached to the steering box that converts the angular motion of the steering or sector shaft into linear motion necessary to steer the front wheels. A worn ball joint in a Pitman arm will cause play in the steering wheel and progressively get worse.
Wheel bearings must be well lubricated with wheel bearing grease only. It’s a good idea to check the wheel bearings every time you rotate the tires. If you use your truck to tow a boat, check them more often because water can cause the grease to break down and attract contaminants and rust. To check their condition, grab the tire from the top backside and pull and push it back and forth. If you feel any movement or play in the tire, check the wheel bearings. You might just need to tighten the wheel bearing castle nut, or they might need to be replaced.
The steering knuckle contains the wheel hub or spindle and attaches to the suspension components’ upper and lower control arms. The pivot holes of the upper and lower control arm ball joints and steering tie rods should be checked for any play or hole elongation (oval shape) of the steering knuckle/ball joint hole.
Like a wheel bearing, the hub bearing also supports the weight of the truck. They should be checked for wear just like the wheel bearings.
Sway bars are also known as stabilizer bars, anti-sway bars or anti-roll bars. Sway bars are located at the front or rear or both front and rear. They help eliminate suspension body roll when cornering.
One end of a long metal bar is attached to the truck’s frame. The opposite end is enclosed in a lever, the torsion key, and mounted perpendicularly to the bar that is attached to a suspension lower control arm. The vertical action of the wheel suspension travel causes the torsion bar to twist on its own axis and is resisted by the bar’s torsion resistance.
Proper tire inflation pressure is very important to a tire’s wear and life expectancy.
Over inflating a tire will cause the tread footprint to crown or convex, causing the center of the tread to be higher than the shoulders, making the center of the tread wear more rapidly than the shoulders.
Under inflation causes the tread footprint to concave, causing the outside shoulders to wear more rapidly than the center of the tread.
Your tire’s sidewall includes a variety of vital information. The number and letters may appear to be confusing at first glance. But they all identify dimensions and performance standards that allow you to compare tires more accurately and efficiently.
Wheels and Tires
After mounting your wheels and tires always have them spun-balanced to ensure proper wear.
Increasing wheel/tire combinations creates a greater rotating mass. Centrifugal force is multiplied the further the outer wheel/tire rotating mass is from the wheel’s center axis. This means that it takes more torque to begin the wheel/tire rotation and more braking energy to stop the increased rotating mass, causing standard size factory brakes to wear faster. When going with a larger wheel/tire combination it’s a good idea to install larger diameter brake rotors and calipers. When tightening lug nuts always tighten in a crisscross pattern. Never finish tightening with an impact gun. Check with the wheel manufacturer for proper torque specs.
Radial tires must be rotated front to back on each side of the truck only. Truck tires should be rotated every 5,000 miles. When rotating tires always check for tread wear and tire pressure. It’s best to check under cool conditions before driving.
After they’re properly mounted, make sure the wheels and tires are spun-balanced to obtain maximum tread wear. Balancing is done by adding lead weights to a pinpoint location on the wheel to counter-balance it. Check the weights to make sure they have not come off the wheel.
When installing larger wheels and tires it’s a good idea to install larger brake calipers and rotors. Larger wheels and tires will add increased rotating mass that will affect acceleration and braking. Under-sized brakes will cause excessive wear, heat and brake fade. Installing larger bakes, calipers, brake pads and rotors will give you much greater braking performance; more gripping surface means increased stopping power.
Brake rotor warping is caused by extreme heat due to over-braking. When you feel pulsing during braking, this indicates that your brake rotors are probably warped. Take the rotor(s) to your local automotive parts store or shop and have them turned.
Brake fluid should be changed every two years, and if you tow regularly, every year.
It is important to maintain and service your truck on a regular basis. Making upgrades will improve performance, comfort and safety.
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