Labor Day tends to sneak up on me these days. My formal school days are behind me, and my kids have embarked on their own adult lives, leaving this milestone holiday as little more than a long weekend bookmarking the far side of summer. Not to diminish from the intent of Labor Day, a holiday made federal in 1894 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of American labor, and a fitting tribute, falling after the heat of summer, a day to rest and reflect.

But for many, Labor Day marks the beginning of school season, and whether that means going back to school locally or embarking on a college or trade school education far from home, having a vehicle that’s safe and reliable is one more detail that eases the cost and stress of the new year.

Safety of younger drivers is a wide-ranging topic. There’s a sentiment that kids text while driving or drive distracted and those situations, of their own making, lead to crashes that could be avoided. This may have some merit although there are plenty of experienced, adult drivers doing the same things and suffering similar consequences.

Inexperience may play a bigger role in traffic accidents involving younger drivers while distractions contribute to the statistics. Regardless of the cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that keeps these statistics, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States accounting for a full 20 percent or 4,074 deaths in 2016.

A law recently passed in Maine that mirrors an existing law in New Hampshire bans the use of handheld devices while driving, presumably meant to reduce distracted driving. I do agree with the intent of the law but not necessarily with its conclusions. The act of holding a phone — or a drink or a sandwich, for that matter — is a distraction, but the concentration removed from the immediate task of driving might be more dangerous.

True, searching for a contact or texting is distracting, but with voice-to-text, Bluetooth and voice commands, those distractions are minimized.

Don’t misunderstand my argument, I’m not advocating for rolling back the law, I just wonder how effective it is in light of advances in technology. Too little, too late perhaps in light of the myriad of infotainment systems built into modern vehicles.

The admonition of the manufacturer to refrain from accessing these systems while driving might fit the legal requirement for liability absolution. but it falls far short of dissuading most drivers from actually utilizing them while operating a vehicle.

Distractions and inexperience could be long debated but there are other steps that help make a vehicle safer and more reliable. A thorough evaluation of a vehicle by a local shop can give peace of mind before traveling. It’s always more comfortable to take care of repairs and regular service with a service provider you know and trust.

Regular service, which consists primarily of an oil and filter change, is important. Yes, the manufacturer of your Gilded Edition Globe Stomper SUV might recommend annual oil changes or some other ridiculously long oil change span; however, 3,000-5,000 miles is more prudent for conventional and synthetic oil service intervals, respectively.

Others may disagree but my advice is based on personal experience, so take it as you will. Manufacturers and their marketing department only need your vehicle to last through the warranty period, but if you prefer to keep your vehicle in good health longer, change your oil.

And don’t forget the rest of the service, including checking filters, topping off fluids, scanning any check engine light codes, checking lights, belts, hoses, and brakes, and checking the front end for play in the components that give an indication of excessive wear or damage. Be sure you’re getting this full service when having your oil changed to avoid surprises down the road.

Appropriate tires make a big difference when dealing with foul weather like snow and rain. Dedicated snow tires will provide traction under circumstances where a standard all-season tire might slip. Winter or snow tires are comprised of a softer rubber compound and remain more pliable in cold temperatures giving them an edge when slippery road conditions exist.

Studded snow tires provide the ultimate traction, but they should be used seasonally, as intended. Their soft rubber will wear quickly on hot, dry pavement and they are restricted to use between Oct. 1-May 1 in Maine, while New Hampshire places no restrictions on their use. Keeping tires at the recommended pressures and regular alignments will allow tires to wear evenly and maximize your investment.

Unusual noises could be as minor as a small exhaust leak, which might be repaired, or as involved as a bad wheel bearing. Ignoring or deferring something that doesn’t seem right will only be more costly and involved later. Mechanical issues rarely fix themselves, be proactive in checking out possible problems.

A simple charging system test will reveal issues with battery health and potential alternator problems. This is always a good idea when heading into winter. Heat actually has a detrimental effect on batteries, but cold reveals the problem. A cold engine requires more battery power to start than a warm engine and the first cold snap will test your battery's ability to start your car, ready or not.

You might have realized by now that basic care for your car will help prepare it for what lies ahead. Nothing will eliminate all possibilities of mechanical trouble, but simple some steps now will contribute to safety and help avoid a car crisis later.


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