So, 2019 is over, and 2020 begins a new year and a new decade, unless you believe we’re jumping the gun. A minority but logical opinion is that, since there was no year zero, 2020 is actually the end of the last decade, and the new decade will begin in 2021.

But I’m getting off track, and regardless of what you believe, the past year is over, and an annual review of common automotive repairs and problems can be enlightening.

General service and maintenance continue to be the best way to ensure the reliability and safety of your vehicle. Customers who are faithful to their oil change intervals suffer the least number of issues, but there is a caveat that I’ll detail further on.

Fresh oil and a clean filter handle internal lubrication, and the correct quantity and oil pressure help components like hydraulic valve lifters and variable valve solenoids function correctly. Hydraulic timing chain tensioners keep the chain taut at the appropriate tolerance, preventing major problems like skipped timing that will cause the dreaded check engine light, rough running and possibly internal engine damage.

With the proliferation of timing chain-driven engines, fewer timing belts are still out there, reducing an expensive maintenance procedure that many people were either unaware of or unwilling to invest in, particularly on an older or less expensive car.

This was a major issue that we saw a few years back as timing belts were nearing the end of their service limit.

As cars and trucks become more reliant on electrical components for everything from infotainment to engine management, it is more crucial than ever to keep these systems dry.

Sunroof drains are a common cause of cabin water infiltration. Sunroofs are popular features and have grown in size dramatically, keeping pace with larger SUV roofs. It’s a misconception that they seal when shut; rather, they weep but are designed to drain harmlessly to the ground via small tubes that run down the body pillars.

Unfortunately, these drains can clog over time, and the tubing can shrink leading to internal leaks.

Many electrical accessories run through modules that are mounted in places where water eventually puddles like corners of the trunk, behind front kick panels, under the cowl (between the engine bay and the cabin), and, in a few cases, under the floorboards. All reasonable locations when attempting to maximize interior space but less than ideal when water finds its way in.

We’ve found the majority of electrical systems to be reliable as long as they stay dry. The majority of issues we’ve encountered were a direct result of getting wet. Hint: Don’t leave your windows down or your sunroof open in the rain, and if you’re offered a good deal on a car that was in a flood, walk away. Fast.

Road construction throughout Maine and New Hampshire has left pavement in less than ideal condition. Suspension components and tires bear the brunt of roadway hazards, and we’ve seen plenty of bad ball joints, clunking sway bar links, loose tie-rod ends and out-of-alignment steering that has the ability to scrub off a perfectly good tire or sidewall shoulder in short order.

We still see rust as a major concern, mostly under the vehicle where moisture, salt and chemicals used in winter ice control takes its toll. Brake, transmission and fuel lines are especially susceptible to corrosion, and pose a danger when compromised. It’s the parts that can’t easily be seen that are the most vulnerable.

On a positive note, and it may sound strange, we’ve seen a lot of general deterioration and wear. This is a good thing because it proves that vehicles last longer and aren’t affected by premature component failure as often.

Vehicles are mechanically more robust than ever, even with the increase in electrical features and although these features aren’t as simple as they once were, they are less prone to malfunction. Reaching 250,000 miles is not uncommon these days across the spectrum of makes and models. Cars are surviving longer than ever provided you can keep the corrosion at bay.

All this brings us back to proper maintenance. Consider your regular service interval as a means of checking over your entire vehicle rather than simply an oil change.

Use the opportunity to evaluate the suspension, brakes, exhaust, tires, steering components, fluids and filters. Catching abnormal wear on tires and rotating or aligning is a lot less expensive than a new set of tires. An exhaust flange might just need a new gasket or quick weld rather than a system replacement.

Discovering discrepancies early is not only safer, it’s less expensive in the long run and will lead to a more reliable and efficient ride. Happy new year! Drive safely.

Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.

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