My grandfather owned his own auto shop in a small, southwestern Minnesota town. He didn’t have all the fancy stuff they have today – like the computer diagnostics and other electronic tools – but he made a living from it and was able to feed five kids in the process.
One phrase that he drilled into my mother (and was subsequently passed down to me) is the often quoted, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And, this is true when it comes to car maintenance too. Taking care of your car before it falls into disrepair is the key to having a vehicle running well and will help you avoid the large repair bills down the road.
Read the Manual
The key to proper car maintenance always starts in knowing your vehicle well. Most of us don’t do this – but becoming familiar with your car manual will give you an idea of the recommended maintenance routines you should be performing on your car to extend its life and keep it running in peak condition. I suppose you could bring your manual to bed a few nights to familiarize yourself with what needs to be done this week – and it’ll probably help you fall asleep faster too.
Once you’re familiar with your owner’s manual, you should have a good feel for what to focus on in your routine checks.
Routine Checks You Can Perform
A good starting point is your tires. Making sure the tire pressure is consistent all around the vehicle is key to getting better gas mileage and even wear on your tires. Your manual will give you the proper pressure to set your tires at. Be sure to regularly balance and rotate your tires too.
Another common area to check on your vehicle is the oil. Pull out the dip-stick to check the color of your oil. If the oil is dark or muddy, it’s time to get an oil change. You should also have the ability to check the oil level. If it is below the line, you may want to throw in some more oil. It could also mean your car is burning oil – which is never a good sign.
Changing oil isn’t as tough as you might think – and is something you can do yourself. You’ll just need a place to dispose of the old oil when done. A common misconception is that your oil needs to be changed every 3,500 miles. This isn’t always necessary as most newer cars today can go twice that amount between changes.
Some other fluids under the hood that you can check yourself will be the brake, anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluids.
Your car will give you a pretty good indication when it’s time to get new brakes. A couple of signs will be the vehicle pulling to one side when you apply your brakes and/or any squealing or vibrations during braking. Brakes are not something you want to mess around with – so be sure and get into the shop when you experience any of these signs.
An easy maintenance check is to verify your lights are working. Get your spouse or friend to help you with this one. Apply the brakes while the car is stationary to check if your brake lights are working. Have your friend/spouse stand behind the vehicle and then move to the front after you apply the brakes again. You’ll also want to see if your head and tail lights are functioning. If no one is around, sometimes I’ll flash my lights on and off against a flat surface (like the garage door) to check that all the lights are working.
These are simple tasks that you can perform on your car. Are there any other maintenance items you check for on your car? Leave a comment below!