Young or old, new or veteran driver, everyone who drives a vehicle should be familiar with basics of car care. A car is often the second largest investment an individual makes (a home is usually the largest) and does require maintenance to keep it operating safely and in the manner the manufacturer intended. To begin your automotive education, locate the owner’s manual for the vehicle- it may be in the glove compartment. Read through the maintenance schedule and familiarize yourself with it. Consider always taking your vehicle to the same repair shop for any service, oil changes or repairs. This allows you to develop a trusting relationship and in turn, they will get to know your vehicle better. In many cases, you can monitor small changes until it is necessary to service them. They will keep your maintenance records on file (so you don’t have to) and they will be more willing to take care of small needs as they arise, sometimes at no cost just because you are loyal to them.
The following list of items needs to be checked for maintenance. These are often included in a safety inspection that may be routinely performed at your oil change service or you may check them yourself.
1) Check lights: turn the ignition key to “on” but don’t start the engine. All the lights on the instrument panel should come on, at least momentarily. If one is illuminated while driving, take it to your mechanic and have them diagnose it. With a friend, check all exterior lights on the car so that you can see and be seen. This includes headlights, taillights, turn signals (front and back) and brake lights. Some bulbs are easily changed and some require bumpers to be removed, etc.
2) Understanding fluids: Regularly check the oil in the vehicle by removing the dipstick. Wipe it clean, then reinsert the dipstick. Pull it back out and verify that the level is between the full and add lines. If the oil is below the add line, add a quart of oil and recheck. Windshield washer solvent is housed in a transparent container, simply fill to the fill line. Other fluids include power steering, brake, and coolant/anti freeze and are typically visible in translucent containers. They may have a full and low line on the outside of the container, although these fluids are flushed periodically and shouldn’t need to be topped off. Never open the coolant reservoir when the engine is hot, coolant could spray out and cause burns. Additionally, some vehicles have transmission fluid in sealed systems that cannot be checked.
3) Battery: Average life expectancy for a car battery is 3-5 years. It is helpful to make sure that the connection is clean, tight and corrosion free. A professional can test the battery to determine the life left in the battery. Know how to jump start a car properly or call roadside service if you do not. Many of today’s vehicles have advanced computers that run their systems and can be permanently damaged if a car is jumped incorrectly, thus causing very costly repairs. Always wear eye protection when working on your car battery and never lean over it- batteries produce a hydrogen gas which can ignite with a spark and cause a fire.
4) Noise proof: (no, not the kids!) Check your exhaust. Often times we drive around with our radios on and don’t pay attention to how loud the car sounds. If your exhaust system has a leak or a hole in it, the fumes can be dangerous. Loud noise or visible cracks or holes are first indications of trouble. Have your technician inspect it while in the air for service. Additionally, if your state requires emission testing, it won’t pass with leaking exhaust.
5) Tires: Did you know that it is illegal to drive your car if the tires have less than 3/32” tread on them? Brand new tires are sold with 10/32” tread (standard). A rule of thumb to use at home- insert a nickel into the tire tread. If Jefferson’s head is fully visible, the tires need replacement. Also, if sections of the tire are “balled” (smooth, without tread) or if the steel belts are showing or if the tires are more than 5 years past the manufacture date, they should also be replaced. Tires should be properly inflated to the pressure listed on the door label and molded into the sidewall of the tire. Locate your spare and be familiar with how to change the tire. Did you know some new cars are sold with a can of “fix-a-flat” instead of a spare tire? If you jack up the vehicle in the wrong place, you run the risk of causing damage to the frame, fuel lines or brake lines.
6) Wipers: if the rubber piece on the wiper blades is worn, it can cause streaking, making visibility very limited. Generally, wipers should be replaced every 6 months or so- more often if you take your vehicle through a car wash regularly.
Last but not least, if you want professionals to inspect these areas of your vehicle, call Keith’s Car Care today at (630) 554-8911 and set up an appointment, we would be happy to make sure your vehicle is in safe, running condition.