Isn’t she a beauty?[/caption] When I started driving over 30 years ago, I had a 1981 VW Rabbit, diesel; gas was 99¢ a gallon and I could usually scrape up a week’s worth of gas by cleaning under my seats! My father made sure that he taught me how to change a tire and the oil; replace the wiper blades and light bulbs for my head/tail lights. He reasoned that as a teen driver if I could save money on basic maintenance, I would be better able to afford a real repair if when the car needed it. AND of course being able to change a flat tire is a safety issue and all dad’s want to protect their children. In my illustrious driving career, I’ve only had to change a handful of tires, but I appreciated having the knowledge to get the job done. So let’s take a look at what you should be checking on your vehicles. Obviously, as car technology has evolved, there are things you won’t be able to change or fix…but regular maintenance checks can spot an issue when it’s an easy fix vs. letting it become a BIG, expensive problem.
- Read your owner’s manual! Each car is different and those manuals contain valuable maintenance information and basic repair instructions.
- Check those tires. Tire pressure is effective by temperature so it’s a great idea to buy an inexpensive tire gauge and check the pressure once a month. Proper inflation of your tires leads to better gas efficiency and tire life. You should also check for any bulges, cuts, and use a penny to check the tread on the tires.
- Check your fluid levels (and top off if needed). You should know how to check your wiper, brake, transmission, power steering and antifreeze fluid levels. This is where reading your owner’s manual is valuable; not only will it have a diagram of where each of these reservoirs resides, it will tell you what fluids are appropriate for your specific vehicle!
- Check engine belts for wear. Your owners manual will have recommendations for changing your serpentine and timing belts, but it’s a good idea to do a regular visual inspection as well. Weather and your own driving habits can change the needs of your vehicle and being able to see that there may be a stress crack in the belts before they rip on a long trip, saves you a major headache!
- Check your oil. Engine oil ensures that the mechanics of the engine can run smoothly and the oil degrades with use. So it’s wise to check not only the oil level but the color of the oil. Fresh oil will be a translucent warm brown color; old oil will show up as black on the dipstick.
- Check your battery. Most batteries these days sealed (back in my day you used to have to fill with water to maintain them!) and there’s very little to do to maintain. BUT you can check the contacts and make sure they are not corroded and give them a quick clean with a battery brush. Also check for any leaks, if you find one get thee to an auto parts store for a new battery!
- Replace your wipers when they get streaky! A wiper is only good if it actually clears the window of rain, snow, and road splash. When they start getting streaky and “chattery”, it’s time to replace the blades. You can stop at any auto parts store, look up your make and model and chose the right wipers. And most auto parts store employees will happily replace them for you if you ask.
- Check your cabin air filter. This is the filter that the air coming into your heating/cooling system passes through. It’s designed to filter out dirt and debris and should be check regularly. It’s generally very easy to access and check and replace. Again, your owners manual is an excellent reference to help you locate the filter and what indicates a need for replacement.
- Change your spark plugs. Dirty or worn spark plugs means that your car’s engine is not working efficiently and ultimately costing you money in fuel and could lead to a breakdown. Check your owner’s manual and if the placement of the spark plugs are accessible, you can easily check their condition and replace if needed. Depending on the type of spark plugs you have you may need to change them every 30,000 miles (standard copper spark plugs) or may get 100,000 miles out of them (iridium plugs).