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Car maintenance tips

10 maintenance checks you’ve probably never done

Published July 1, 2013
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Just about everyone knows to check their oil regularly. Here are some less-common maintenance checks that might not be on your radar, but should be:

1. Most people occasionally check tire pressure, but completely ignore the spare – as will mechanics unless you ask.  All pneumatic tires lose pressure over time.  After a few years of neglect, the high-pressure compact spare is typically underinflated, sometimes dangerously so, if ever required.

2. Check all lights.  Don’t let a broken bulb lead to a collision.

3. Check battery “eye” if equipped.  Some batteries have an “eye” to visually indicate charge condition.  Any colour besides green means trouble.  But note that green can also be a false positive where battery output only becomes insufficient under load due to bad cell.

4. Check coolant level and condition.  If discoloured or foul smelling, a flush-and-fill may be due.  An inexpensive coolant tester (syringe) can verify freeze-up/boil over protection.

5. Visually check air-con “eye.”  Bubbles in the A/C sight-glass indicate low refrigerant, and oil streaks spell trouble.  Watch for refrigerant flow to avoid confusing a completely discharged A/C system for a full one.

6. Clean debris from fins of radiator, air-con condenser and power steering cooler, if equipped.  Obstructed airflow can lead to overheating of these systems.

7. Pull out tranny dipstick and sniff it.  Really.  Fluid should be clear, bright red, and have no burnt odour – which indicates overheating.  Check fluid level while engine is running.  (Of course, it’s also good to check oil, brake, power steering and washer fluid levels.)

8. Visually inspect tires.  That is, look at them once in awhile.  Uneven tread wear, bald tires, or damage to sidewalls or tread require attention.  A nail in the tread can typically be mended if caught early (i.e. tire looks unusually low), but can lead to a high-speed blowout if ignored.

9. Check jack and spare.  Don’t find out at roadside that the jack is missing in your used car, or that you need special tools (e.g. for wheel locks).  In my old Jeep, some fasteners were mixed up at the factory so the spare couldn’t be removed without a wrench.  Fortunately, I discovered and corrected this problem at home – where I had access to the right tool – rather than on the road in the middle of nowhere.

10. Lift foot mats in an older car and inspect floor.  Salt water running off your shoes in wintertime can pool beneath mats and corrode metal.  Holes in the floorboard will allow potentially deadly exhaust fumes to enter vehicle.

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