“Maintain your car well,” we are told often. Aren’t you maintaining your car well by adhering to service intervals, giving it regular washes and keeping it dust-free? There’s quite a bit more you can do to keep your car as good as new. We’ve put down a few tips for you:
- Regular oil changes are the most important aspect of keeping your engine in good shape.
- Wash your car regularly, wax it on your weekly off to keep the car shining and free from corrosion.
- Take care of any minor niggles as soon as you can, so that they don’t balloon into serious problems and maybe the need for expensive repairs.
- Use only original parts. Spurious spares may be cheaper, but how much is your peace of mind worth?
How to check the engine oil
Park your car on level ground and turn the ignition off. Wait a while so that the engine oil drains into the oil pan. Remove the engine oil dipstick. If you don't know where the dipstick is, go through your owner's manual - it will show you where to find it. The dipstick usually has a bright handle saying "engine oil". Wipe it with a clean rag or tissue. Then put it back all the way down into its place.
Now, pull the dipstick again and check the oil level. It should be at the "FULL" mark. It isn’t a big problem if it's a bit lower than the ‘Full’ mark, but top it up anyway. If the oil is black and opaque, it's definitely time to change it. If it's slightly brown, it'll do. If it's dark-brown, but still transparent, it's admissible but it will need to be changed soon; the sooner the better.
If the oil is white (the colour of coffee with milk,) it means that the engine coolant is mixing with the engine oil. This indicates an internal engine problem, for example, a blown head gasket - have your car checked at authorized service center.
How to top up the engine oil:
It is better to add the same type and brand of engine oil that is already being used. Add a little at a time, wait a while to let the oil drain and then check the oil level again with the dipstick. If it still isn’t full, add some more - but don't go over the mark. Don't forget to put the dipstick back and close the oil filler cap when you are finished topping the oil up.
How to check automatic transmission fluid.
Park your car on level ground and start the engine. Set transmission lever to the "P" (Park) position, and let the engine idle (on some cars this procedure may be different, please check the owners' manual for details). Pull the transmission dipstick. Check your owner’s manual to find where transmission dipstick is placed in your car if you don’t already know where it is. Wipe it with a lint-free clean rag or tissue. Then insert it back carefully all the way down into its place.
Pull again and check the fluid level. If the engine is cold, it should be above the "COLD" mark. If the engine is hot, the level should be at the upper end of the "HOT" mark. If it's just a little bit lower you don’t need to worry. If you do, go ahead and top it up. Check the fluid condition also: if it's black and has a burnt smell, your transmission isn’t going to last. Normally it should be clean and transparent, as in the image. New transmission fluid is red in colour. Over time it turns brownish. If it is brown, check your owner's manual, it may be time to change it. Some manufacturers require transmission fluid changed at 60,000km, others specify that you never have to change it - check your car’s manual for information pertaining to your car.
How to top up the transmission fluid
It's very important to use only the transmission fluid specified in your owner’s manual. For example, some Chrysler transmissions need a specific fluid and regular fluid like Dexron II may even destroy the transmission. Add a small amount of the fluid through the dipstick pipe and do not overfill it. Wait for a few minutes - let the fluid flow down. Start the engine. Check the level again.
Low coolant level will cause the engine to overheat, which may cause serious damage to the engine.
How to check the engine coolant level:
The coolant level should be between the "LOW" and "FULL" marks in the coolant overflow tank. If it is lower, top it up. If there is no coolant in overflow tank or you have to top it up quite often, have your car inspected, there is probably a coolant leak.
Caution: never open the radiator or coolant overflow tank when the engine is hot! The fluid is under pressure when the engine is hot, and might spurt out and burn you. Turn off the engine, and when engine is cool enough (a few minutes after the engine has been turned off,) simply add a coolant into the overflow tank.
Check tyre pressure at least once a month. If you don't have a tyre pressure gauge please invest in one, it is worth every penny. You can find the recommended tire pressures for your car in the owner's manual or on the tire pressure placard. Some cars have it on the inside of the doors as well. The maximum pressure listed on tires is NOT the ideal pressure! Refer to the owner's manual for the ideal pressures.
Rotate tyres at every other oil change - it will ensure that all tyres wear equally. If you feel vibrations at cruising speed, have your wheels balanced. There is a safe limit for tread wear. If the tire is worn below this limit it is a safety hazard. Refer to the result of mechanical inspection. Uneven tire wear indicates alignment problem or problems with your suspension.
Improper alignment causes increased tire and suspension component wear and poor handling. In worst case scenarios, improper alignment may throw your car into a skid, especially on a wet road. If a car pulls to one side, wanders or feels unstable on the road, have the alignment checked. Alignment that has been done properly will make your car's ride a lot more enjoyable.
CV joint boots
Most modern vehicles are Front Wheel Drive, and they all have CV joints (Constant Velocity joints) used to transfer the engine’s torque to the front wheels. The CV joint is greased on the inside and sealed by a rubber boot that unfortunately, may break. If the CV joint boot breaks, the grease escapes, dirt and water enters and the whole axle unit may become inoperative in a short while. There is a CV joint located on the internal side of each of the front wheels. You can check CV joint boots visually by looking inside the front wheel arch from the front of the car with the wheel turned as far as it will go in that direction. The boot should be dry. If it is broken you will see grease all over the area. If the boot is broken, it needs to be replaced. If not replaced in time, the whole axle shaft will need to be replaced which will cost you more than replacing just the boot.
A stitch in time…
As soon as you feel there is something wrong with your car, for example, any irregular noise, vibration, shimmer, or you note some leak or a warning light comes on while driving or anything irregular occurs, have your car inspected at a dealer or a garage as soon as you can - it might be unsafe to drive. It is better to check for a small problem before it develops into something serious.
Regular mechanical inspection
For your safety, have your car inspected at least once a year by a mechanic. Not a simple visual inspection by a fast-lube place, but a mechanic that can lift your car and check major components such as brakes, suspension, etc., while having your tires rotated, for example. This is because many components (e.g ball joints), can not be inspected visually with the car on the ground.
Treat your car well and it will treat you well – you’ll have a good-looking car that will be a pleasure to drive and when the time comes to move on, will return a good price as well. The little things matter, so pay careful attention to them and you’ll end up with a much better ownership experience.