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posted: 4/22/2012 5:39 AM

Under the hood: Shocks, struts often ignored

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Did you know April is "Car Care Awareness Month?"

It's that time of year again when we all start thinking about taking some vacations or maybe some long weekends that requires putting a few extra miles on the car. The last thing we want is a problem when we are heading out to have some fun!

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Your local service provider can certainly make recommendations of the items that need to be checked or serviced on your vehicle before heading out on your trip. A great place to get some additional information would be the Car Care Council website, www.carcare.org. There are all kinds of information there including service schedules and car care tips.

A couple of items that I want to mention because they seem to be neglected these days are the shocks and struts, and the spark plugs.

Shocks and struts do have a limited life. With the average age of vehicles in the U.S. pushing 11 years old, a good percentage of our cars really could use a replacement set of shocks and struts. They don't have to have a leak to be ready for replacement. A vehicle that has 100,000 miles on it has put the suspension through its share of work and its shocks and struts are more than overdue for a change.

Weak shocks and struts can cause your tires to get a rough choppy pattern worn into the tread, which can create excessive noise and lead to an uncomfortable ride, not to mention the loss of handling. Lack of tire rotations can cause this as well.

There are two things you can replace on your car to improve handling and you will really notice the difference; one is the tires and the other is the shocks & struts. You will be amazed at the difference in the ride; it can actually save on fuel and decrease stopping distance because energy is not being wasted in weak suspension.

As for the spark plugs, many manufacturers have pushed the change interval out so far that we forget about them completely. Be sure to follow the maintenance schedule and use the correct plug for your car, based on brand and application.

As a spark plug wears, the gap gets wider and wider. As the gap gets wider, the spark has to jump farther, which creates more heat in all the components downstream like the coils and modules. Neglecting a simple spark plug change can lead to the unnecessary replacement of ignition coils, modules or even an expensive catalytic converter.

As always, a little preventive maintenance can save a whole bunch of money.

Fuel tip of the week: Maintain your spark plugs, as discussed above. According to Energy Consumers Edge, a misfiring spark plug can reduce fuel economy by as much as 30 percent.

I had a reader write in with a tip of his own. Stay off the gas! While it seems like it should be obvious, hard acceleration and quick stops can use a whole lot more fuel than we might realize. Accelerate from a stop gradually and when coming up to a stop or a traffic light, come off the gas sooner; not only will you save fuel, you will save wear on your brakes.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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