I car-pool frequently, but even when I’m the designated driver, my car may not be the designated taxi. My dogs shed and slobber in my car, so sometimes my passengers prefer to take their cleaner, more comfortable vehicles.

However, driving other folks’ cars, I’m often alarmed by problems that the owners barely noticed. Problems much more disturbing than dog hair.    

My friends and family aren’t unusual in overlooking wear of their vehicles. Customers have also doubted my recommendations for servicing their cars, until they saw the difference after the repair. One surprised client admitted “I didn’t know it was supposed to feel like that!”   

Deterioration of a vehicle can be gradual. Fluids seep out, rubber rots away, metal rubs together, parts wear down. The change can be so minimal from day to day, the regular driver doesn’t notice it. But when a fresh operator hops behind the wheel, the defects are glaring.      

One car that alarmed me recently is serviced by the best repair facility I know. The technician is very thorough and road-tests his customers’ vehicles even when performing a maintenance service.

But this vehicle is low-mileage and goes many months between oil changes. And the technician doesn’t road-test on our usual path down I-295 with its 70 mph speed limit and hairpin exits.

Luckily, I had the chance to drive that car and point out its symptoms, so it could be repaired before an accident happened.    

Now it’s spring time in Maine.  We’re recovering from the cold and snow, and our cars need to recover from potholes and frost heaves.

Now is the time to have your steering and suspension checked for problems caused by winter roads.  Measurement of wheel alignment, along with a pre-alignment inspection of the steering and suspension, is the most thorough check for wear. In my experience, most vehicle owners will only request an alignment in order to repair a perceived problem, though.     

So here’s a suggestion: Even if you think your car is OK, have someone else drive it. Or, if you’re concerned about others’ safety, drive their cars.

The car should be road-tested on its typical commute, and then driven in tougher conditions. Does the steering feel loose, the brake pedal sink low, the AC blow warm? Heed any warning signs, and seek a technician’s professional diagnosis.      

I’m happy to chauffeur my friends and family to help everyone get home safely.  I’m also happy to try my loved ones’ rides and warn them to get service, so they can get home safely in the long term.   

Ruth Morrison is an Automotive Technology Instructor and Department Chair at Southern Maine Community College.  She holds certification as an ASE Master Technician and Advanced Level Specialist and was a former Ford Senior Master Technician.  She graduated from the Ford ASSET Automotive Technology program at Central Maine Technical College and most recently earned her master’s in Adult Education from the University of Southern Maine.