10 Car Maintenance Tips from a Rally Racing Champion

Rally Car racing is the ultimate test to a cars endurance. Rallying pushes its vehicles through rain and snow, day and night, and sometimes hundreds of miles of racing. In order to succeed through these kinds of conditions, racers need to be smart about the way that they drive and maintain their vehicles.

Wyatt Knox is a US Rally Racing champion and expert on all things automotive.  Knox currently works at Team O’neil Rally School in New Hampshire as a Special Projects director and Chief Instructor. Team O’neil is regarded as a top leader in North American rally education. The school was called “the best rally school in the country” by Road and Track.

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O’neil Rally School offers one to five day rally car courses that guide its students through the fundamentals of rallying into the more advanced topics like rally navigation and turbo charged cars.


No matter what package you sign up for at the school, the first day always ends with a review of one ever important topic: car maintenance. You don’t need to be drifting around icy bends in order to make use of these tips; proper car maintenance and driving technique applies to all types of driving. These are the top ten tips that Wyatt Knox suggests every driver to keep in mind:


Warm your car up in the winter. This isn’t about your comfort; it is necessary to get your vehicle up to operating temperature to avoid undue wear and tear on engines and other critical components.


Don’t slip or dump clutches.Releasing the clutch pedal too slowly or too quickly are both bad habits that will cause premature wear or failure of your clutch or other driveline parts.


Avoid full steering angles. Turning fully one way or another (particularly when applying additional steering force) is bad for your power steering system, and can also prematurely wear out driveline components in FWD and AWD/4WD vehicles. Full steering angles with aggressive throttle or brake inputs are specifically to be avoided.


Avoid aggressive braking, but also don’t brake very gently for very long periods of time. Overly aggressive braking will prematurely wear your brake components, while braking for a very long time (such as down a very long hill) can overheat your brake system and can cause full brake failure.


Avoid bumps in the road when possible/practical, but braking over bumps or potholes in the road is specifically to be avoided. Braking causes weight transfer to the front of the vehicle, which reduces your suspension’s ability to absorb bumps and makes bottoming out, breaking/bending suspension components, or getting flat tires more likely.


Any unusual noises are to be taken seriously and reported to your mechanic. A small grinding noise, rattle, or clunk may be an easy first indicator of a major problem forming, and these problems are usually much more easily dealt with early in the game.


Tire pressures change with temperature, as weather gets colder you may need to add some air to your tires, as weather gets warmer you may need to let some air out to maintain the proper amount of air pressure in your vehicle to ensure proper and safe handling, normal tire wear, and minimize risk of catastrophic failure.


Fuel tanks should be kept close to full as temperatures hover around the freezing point (32 degrees F). If there is air space in your fuel tank, condensation forms as the temperature fluctuates, creating moisture that can cause your vehicle to run poorly, or even ice in your fuel lines that may keep your car from running at all.


Always use the appropriate tires for your vehicle and the season.  “All season” tires are great for normal driving in three seasons. If you need to drive in real winter conditions, then real winter tires are what you need on all four wheels. Also changing the tire and/or wheel sizes will directly affect the handling of your vehicle. Doing this may interfere with suspension or body components, and can alter your speedometer readings.


Take the time to read your owner’s manual. It is crucial to know and understand the driveline configuration of your vehicle (FWD/AWD/4WD/RWD), how to check your own fluids at reasonable intervals, what modern safety systems your vehicle is equipped with (ABS/TRAC/DSC and others), and simply to be completely familiar with all of the equipment and controls.