Guide To Basic Car Maintenance
- Thursday, 16 July 2015 13:29
- Written by Jim Hipple
- 0 Comments
Taking good care of your vehicles’ tires is important, as these are the only part that comes in contact with the road. Avoid fines, but more importantly, an accident.
Tire pressure should ideally be checked every two weeks to every month, either at a garage or with a good gauge, and adjusted as necessary. Tire pressures can be found by checking your vehicles manual or on the inside of the drivers’ door. Tire pressures not only have an effect on fuel economy, but low tire pressure can lead to poor vehicle handling and longer braking distances.
Although the law varies in some states and you should always comply with these rules, the average minimum tire tread depth is 2/32 inch (approximately 1.6mm). Remember that this is the ‘minimum’ required, but obviously a greater depth of tread will provide greater grip and therefore this should be considered when deciding when to change your tires, and it is often recommended that a minimum of 1/8 inch (3mm) is maintained.
If you are needing to add air to one or more of your tires on a regular basis, perhaps every week or every few days, then it is likely that you have a slow puncture, and will need to replace as soon as possible.
When checking your tires’ condition, don’t forget to check the spare tire too.
Although like much of your vehicles’ maintenance regime, how often you rotate your tires will vary and it is recommended that you consult your owner’s manual. However, as a general rule you should look to rotate tires every 7,500 miles or every 6 months. Failing that, at every service or once a year is strongly advised to keep the tire tread from wearing unevenly.
Tire Pressure and Fuel Consumption
Safety concerns are one good reason to check your tire pressures, however there is also another good reason that may motivate you – saving money. According to www.tyrepal.co.uk, “Twenty per cent of a car’s fuel consumption, or one tank in every five, is used to overcome the rolling resistance of tyres, but this increases if tyres are under-inflated. For commercial vehicles the figure is even higher with a fully loaded HGV using one third of its fuel in overcoming tyre rolling resistance. Low tyre pressure and the resulting increase in rolling resistance leads directly to higher fuel consumption. In a car, tyres under inflated by 15 psi (1 bar) lead to 6% greater fuel consumption.”
NB: It is advisable to clean off brake dust on a regular basis to maintain good wheel and tire condition.
TOOLS / SAFETY EQUIPMENT:
Make sure you are familiar with the location of the vehicles’ toolkit, which will often contain at a minimum a jack and wheel removal tools. Be sure to check this and if this is not present then it is strongly advised to replace this straight away. Be careful to make sure that this contains the correct items however, as, for example, if the wheels have been replaced with locking wheel nuts you will need the correct tool in order to remove and change the wheel.
It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the use of the jack, location of jacking points and use of any tools before the need arises.
There are certain items that it is advisable to keep in your car at all times, and others that should be considered during the colder winter months in case of breakdown. These include a hazard warning triangle, jumper cables (jump leads), warm blanket, manual, flashlight, first aid kit, USB mobile device charger etc. There are many other items that you may wish to carry in case of breakdown or emergency, and this will depend on the time of year, weather, length and location of your journey etc.
Be aware of warning lights. Don’t ignore the warning lights. They can mean many things, many are not serious, but if you ignore a warning light it may be costly later, or even dangerous. A handheld diagnostic can be carried out by your mechanic to find out where the problem is.
Oil levels / Oil Changes
Check oil levels weekly, as both high and low oil levels can cause serious damage to your cars’ engine. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects to vehicle maintenance, as without correct oil levels an engine will be seriously damaged. Is it also important to carry out regular oil changes. This can be as often as every 1,000 miles if your car is running at extreme operating conditions (if your car is old; you make lots of short journeys; stop-go driving; driving in hot or dusty conditions etc.), up to as many as 10,000 miles. The best thing would be to refer to your handbook and to consult your mechanic, but if you think it’s been too long then consider an oil change, and be aware that a high oil consumption may indicate that your engine has a problem.
NB: And if you are happy to change the oil yourself, consider what you will do with the old, used oil. Read our blog for some ideas here: What To Do With That Old Can Of Motor Oil In Your Garage
An engine may contain numerous rubber belts such as the timing belt or cam belt, or the drive belt. It is recommended to check these regularly as the rubber can perish, but at least every 25,000 miles, and replace every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
Other Oils & Fluids
Although requiring to be checked less often, ensure that power steering fluid, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluids, gear oil etc. are checked at every service, and ideally once a month as part of your maintenance routine. If replacing, be sure to use the correct fluids and oils as advised in the vehicles handbook.
Don’t forget to keep your manual to hand, it is an essential source for good vehicle maintenance.
The main thing to bear in mind when considering fueling a car may seem obvious, but many a motorist has been caught out. That is, using the correct fuel. Make sure you know which type of fuel your car runs on and don’t be tempted to risk anything else. If you drive a diesel, fill up with diesel.
It is advisable to check all lights on a weekly basis, and make sure you don’t forget to check brake lights, fog lights, indicators and hazard lights. You should also make sure that all lights/light casings are cleaned so as to not obstruct the lights themselves – why have a working light if it cannot be seen?
When replacing a bulb you will be able to find what you need at any good auto parts store, and they should be able to help you to identify the correct bulb. When it comes to replacing the bulb itself, refer to your manual and make sure not to handle the glass part of the bulb on headlight bulbs, as these often have a special coating that you could damage.
Is it important to check coolant levels regularly, as the engine cannot function without coolant being present in the system.
Checking coolant levels is something that every vehicle owner can do, simply identify the coolant reservoir (refer to your vehicle handbook if unsure), and top up with coolant to between the min & max marks. Please note that this should be done only when the engine is cold, as removing the radiator cap when the engine is still hot can result in injury from escaping steam.
It is recommended that you should flush the coolant system and change the coolant at least once a year, though more or less coolant may be required depending on the time of year etc.
WINDSCREEN / VISIBILITY:
For obvious reasons a clear, undamaged windscreen is essential when driving. A windscreen with limited visibility could be your ticket to an accident, and it is likely that the blame will rest with you. Make sure that wipers are in good condition and will leave the windscreen clear of rain etc, and replace any damaged wiper blades straight away. You should consider changing your wiper blades once a year.
Make sure you also keep your screen wash topped up, as smearing on your windscreen will dramatically decrease visibility. Try to use a good quality screen wash, and do not just use water, as this will not be able to remove stubborn grime or tar etc.
Cracks in the windscreen can occur easily, especially from a stone chip when driving at freeway speeds. If a crack occurs it is important to attend to this quickly before it can get any worse. If the crack is large then it may be that you will need to have the windscreen replaced, otherwise it is sometimes possible to have the windscreen repaired.
When it comes to keeping the bodywork of your car in good order there are different levels you can go to, depending on how much time and money you have spare, how much you value your car, and of course how much you enjoy a shiny car with shiny paintwork. The main factor to consider is using good quality cleaning products, and taking the time to learn the correct techniques when waxing, polishing or applying any car care or vehicle detailing product. Of course, professional valeting services are also an option if you are low on time, do not feel confident or just don’t want to spend that much time cleaning your car.
Make sure you remove bird droppings straight away, as the corrosive nature of the droppings can quickly damage your vehicle’s paintwork. Also be careful with stickers, as these can also damage your paintwork if they need to be removed, consider using magnets instead which are easily removable.
Also bear in mind that it is not just the parts of the vehicle that you can see that get dirty and require cleaning. The underside of the car, underneath the wheel arches and engine ware all areas that will benefit the longevity, value and general health of the vehicle.
If there is damage to your vehicles’ bodywork attend to it as soon as possible, as leaving it may result in rusting, which may soon become a serious issue.
During the winter months roadside assistance organizations report an increase in callouts resulting from flat batteries. This can be due to the increased use of heaters, fans, lights etc., therefore try not to over-task the electrics more than is necessary.
It is also advisable not to let your car sit idle for long periods of time. Try to start it every few days at least to ensure that the battery receives a regular charge.
Finally, remember that batteries do not last forever, often around 5 years, and depending on usage, maintenance and weather conditions may fail in as little as 3 years. Therefore it may well be worth replacing your battery before you have problems if you know that you are coming up to this time period.
It is certainly a good idea to make sure that the tread on your tires is above the legal minimum requirement, but this is even more relevant in the winter months where roads may be wet or icy, and water dispersal and grip are of vital importance. For winter driving it is often recommended that a minimum tread depth of 5mm is used.
It is also recommended that when checking tire tread, tire pressures should also be checked to ensure that the best possible surface contact is maintained with the road surface. This should ideally be done at least once a week during the winter.
Although it is important to check your lights regularly all year, during the winter months it may be even more essential. During the lighter, longer days of the summer many people may find that they drive very little in the dark, but come the darker winter nights they may become caught out by a broken bulb, facing a fine, or even risking an accident by driving with insufficient lights. In winter it is also more likely that fog lights may be needed, so don’t forget to check these too.
WINDSCREEN / VISIBILITY:
During the winter it is likely that you may encounter ice or snow on your car when you wake in the morning. Firstly, do not be tempted to try and remove ice with your wipers, as this is likely to damage the blades. Instead, use your heaters, and carry a can of deicer in the car. Although it doesn’t always seem this simple, giving yourself a little extra time in the morning can allow you to remove ice without leaving you in a rush for work.
The same applies for snow, make sure you clear any snow from the windscreen, but also from the entire car, as the snow on the roof can drop back on the windscreen, road or another vehicle.
The use of antifreeze is important to stop the engine freezing during winter conditions and preventing a potentially expensive repair. Be careful not to mix incompatible types of antifreeze (often long lasting and traditional antifreeze should not be mixed) – consult dealership or mechanic if unsure which to use.
TOOLS / SAFETY:
Many of the items that you carry in your car will be similar in winter than at any warmer time of year, however there are other things that you may want to add for winter driving.
For example, you may want to also add a space blanket in case of very cold times, a flask of hot drink and food (energy bars are great and easily stored away), an ice scraper and even a piece of old carpet you can place under tires for extra traction should you find yourself stuck in the snow.
Admittedly this can all seem like a great deal of information, and it may seem that there are so many different checks you need to make. However, if maintenance checks are kept up to date the task becomes a simple one, and the bottom line is, it’s your safety that’s at stake!