I am no expert when it comes to cars and how they work. For the longest time my knowledge extended to: gas in, turn key, go vroom.
However, over time (and owning a crappy car or two), I realized that I could save money by paying close attention to the condition of my car. Perhaps I couldn’t fix all the problems myself but I could certainly keep up with maintenance and prevent bigger issues down the road.
(I could also avoid being gouged by mechanics by knowing a thing or two.)
In order to keep track of vehicular maintenance and inspections, keep a log of everything done to your car, including work done at a shop and general maintenance done by yourself.
This way, you’ll know what has been done, when it was done and when it needs to be done again.
It’s always handy to keep a tire gauge in your car to check your tire pressure every 1000 miles (1600 km). A tire gauge is a small instrument, usually costing between $10-$20, that measures the pressure of your tires.
If your tire has low pressure, or is underinflated, the tires will wear down quicker and your vehicle will end up using more gas.
There should be a label on the inside of your driver’s side door that indicates exactly what amount of air is required in your tires. Use the tire gauge to ensure there is enough air in each tire.
Tire rotation should be performed every 5000-8000 miles (8000-13000 km). This involves removing each tire and rotating them to a different position around your car.
Tires do not wear out evenly and, without performing a rotation, you may end up with wear and tear on one or two particular tires.
Your tires should be replaced every 25000-50000 miles (40000-80000 km). Over time the treads will wear down and reduce traction of the tire – this puts you at risk of slipping and sliding.
Most vehicles feature an indicator light that lights up on your dash whenever your windshield wash is getting low. Otherwise, you will notice that spray not as strong as the level gets low.
Windshield wash is inexpensive and universal – there is no vehicle-specific formula. Just keep in mind that the fluid is available in winter and summer blends, the winter blends usually featuring a de-icing component.
Topping up your windshield wash is simple: open your vehicle’s hood and look for the cap that indicates windshield wash. Flip the cap up and pour in the fluid. To avoid a huge mess, invest in a cheap funnel.
Coolant, also known as anti-freeze, absorbs the heat of the engine and releases it through the radiator. If your coolant fluids run low, you run the risk of having your vehicle overheat.
You can check your coolant levels by looking at the plastic coolant tank under your vehicle’s hood. If you check while the engine is cold, the coolant level should be at or above the “minimum” or “fill” line. If the engine is hot, the coolant should be at or below the “max” line.
If you need to top up your coolant fluids, DO NOT open the cap if the car is running of if the engine is still hot. You could get burned.
Also make sure you are using the proper make of coolant for your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual or inquire when purchasing the fluid.
Other than gasoline, motor oil is an important component of making your vehicle go vroom. It lubes up the engine parts and reduces friction. Without it, you run the risk of damaging or totally destroying your engine.
To check your oil levels, simply take a clean piece of paper towel, remove the oil dip-stick and wipe is clean. Re-insert the stick and pull it out. Do not wipe it again.
You can then read the oil level by looking at the information at the end of the stick. The oil should reach the safe zone and have a goldenish color to it. Anything dark brown or black indicates it is time for an oil change.
If you need to purchase and top-up your oil, be sure to purchase an oil manufactured for your make and brand of vehicle.
A well-maintained and good quality battery should last you about 5 years. If you are not sure when your battery was purchased and installed, do a regular check of its condition – look for corrosion around the terminals or any other indications of outer wear and tear.
To ensure longevity of your battery, turn off all electrical devices in the vehicle (wipers, heaters, lights) before turning off the engine. This helps to conserve the life of the battery.
Keep in mind that if you habitually make only short trips in your vehicle, your battery may not have enough time to charge. Alternatively, if your vehicle goes through long period of time not being used, the battery may die if not started every once and a while.
Finally, and this is my personal advice, invest in a set of charger cables. You may think your battery is in tip-top shape but you never know when you may need a boost. Plus, you get to be the hero of the day when your cable-less friends find themselves with a dead battery.