Regular maintenance is probably the single most important thing you can do as a car owner to keep your car in perfect working condition and save on repairs. But not everybody agrees on what exactly preventative maintenance entails, or when you should do it. We’re going to clear that up in this article and give you maintenance tips that you can apply to any vehicle.
First, read the owner’s manual
This is important for every car owner. It doesn’t matter what type of car you drive, there is a regular maintenance schedule designed specifically for it, and with it you don’t have to fall for old car myths like ’You have to do an oil change every 3,000 kilometres or so’’ -unless the manual says to do that- and odds are it doesn’t. The particulars of oil change vary widely by car type and you need to know which type of oil and gas to put into your car. The following are important car care tips to help you save money on unnecessary auto repairs.
· Do regular inspections.
It sounds rather basic but regular inspection will help you catch anything that’s out of the ordinary before a simple problem turns serious. Check the lights and tire pressure every few weeks to make sure you’re getting good mileage and saving money on fuel. Listen to the sounds the car makes and look for wear indicators on tire treads- if anything’s amiss, visit an auto shop for repairs.
· Check the fluids.
Not everyone knows how to change coolants, power steering, antifreeze or even wiper fluid and that’s okay because you learn along the way- check if levels are running low and visit a petrol station or auto shop to fill up when running low. Depending on the make and model of your car, it might be possible to see the tank level directly but there should also be a dipstick or gauge that you can pull out to see current levels. Your car manual should have something to say about checking antifreeze and transmission fluid but even if you can’t find that information, don’t be shy about opening you hood to try to locate it. If you find you are running low, fill up or get someone to do it for you, and never ignore a leak.
· Check your timing and serpentine belts.
Your mechanic might suggest changing the timing belt every 90,000 kilometres or so, and the serpentine every 64,000 kilometres: but again, your car manual should have something to say about that. You can also get this information online by checking your car model- or just have an authorized expert examine the belts. If the belts get worn and damaged the car will break down and the total cost of repair will be much higher because other accessories will be damaged as well.
· Check whether the battery is in good condition and if necessary, clean the contacts.
Fortunately most batteries don’t need a lot of maintenance but still, you should be able to locate it and determine if there are any leaks or strange mineral build up on the contacts. Ask for a battery cleaning brush at the auto part store and keep it in the car. While you’re at it, consider buying a jump tester or battery tester; that way you won’t need to call roadside assistance for an emergency jump.
· Windshield wipers should be changed when streaks start to appear.
A lot of people ignore their wipers and typically have them changed as part of a bigger job- which doesn’t make sense because wipers are considerably cheap and you can replace them yourself. Don’t wait to have zero visibility on your windshield; it’s just like cleaning your glasses, and you wouldn’t wait to see an optometrist for that.
· Replace your spark plugs if they are worn out.
Spark plugs can get covered in thick build up which reduces engine performance and increases fuel consumption. Your manual will guide you in changing them but if you’re not able to just drive into any auto store or call and ask for assistance.
· Your engine filter might be a little trickier to access depending on what type of car you drive but it should also be checked regularly.
The filter doesn’t get too dirty unless you have long commutes every now and then; but refer to your manual or mechanic for instructions on replacing engine-air filter.
Additional car care tips
As a car owner you need to know what work has been done on your car so nobody tries to up sell you on things you don’t need. But if you’re the busy type it won’t be easy. You might try keeping the receipts in the glove compartment or just scan them and put them into Dropbox or Evernote- but even that isn’t the best option. There are a number of maintenance apps that make this job easier for you. RoadTrip is a great distance and maintenance tracking app and it has a tire log that tracks summer and winter wear on the tires. Other apps include:
· Car maintenance reminder
· Car Minder Plus
Don’t ignore issues
We’ve mentioned a number of things here that car owners need to get done and most of it is work that you can do by yourself, but some things are better left to the professionals. The following are car repairs that should only be handled by a certified professional:
Basic wiring and other old-school electric components are fine if you know what you’re doing and can handle a risk of shorts and bad connections but if we’re talking computers then you get into a whole other world of complexity and rigor. Also you can void the warranty if you touch some of those controllers.
2. Automatic transmission repair
Even a clever and resourceful home auto repair maven would find it incredibly challenging to repair an automatic transmission. A modern 8-speed wonder box is far more complex than the old Turbo Hydra-Matic and even that required training and experience to repair.
3. Changing a clutch
So this once and see if you want to try it again. It’s not the most complicated job but it may require engine removal- in which case it’s best to leave the literal heavy lifting to people who are paid to do that. Other complicated repairs include repairing the AC, airbags and windshield, body work, mounting tries, and straightening a frame.