Save Money with these 8 Easy Car Maintenance Tips
Eight easy car maintenance steps to make your vehicle last longer and save you money in the long run.
Car maintenance is key to keeping a vehicle in good shape. The numerous parts a car is made of all need some attention over the lifespan of a vehicle. Neglect one that is starting to fail and it can have surprising consequences on other parts. We’ve tallied up eight important steps any owner should pay attention to on a monthly basis when it comes to car maintenance. This whole inspection process should not take more than 15 minutes, but will save you a lot of trouble down the road.
1. Tire pressure
Checking your car’s tire pressure is important for many reasons. First, under inflated tires will have an adverse effect on fuel consumption and handling while over inflated tires will not allow the car to have the grip needed in emergency maneuvers.
Tire pressure should be checked when tires are cold, which means you have not used the car for a couple of hours. Most manufacturers list the recommended tire pressure on a sticker inside one of the doors or behind the gas cap door; proper pressure is also listed in your vehicle manual.
When checking tire pressure, use a good quality gauge and use the same gauge every time to insure consistency in the readings. If one tire pressure is a lot lower than it should be, look at the tread closely; there could be a nail or some cut allowing air to escape.
Tire pressure should also be checked manually even if your car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), as many of these systems will only warn you when it is too late.
2. Visually inspect your tires
While verifying tire pressure, give your tires a good look. Does the tread look worn on one side of the tire more than the other? This could mean you have alignment issues. Is wear uniform all across the tread? Any unusual cut, bubble or deformation on the tire itself? Catching these before they cause a flat is always preferable.
While inspecting a tire, also look at the wheel it is mounted on. Are the wheel weights still there? Are there any dents or flat spots on the outer rim? Often caused by potholes, these bends can be the reason you started feeling a vibration at certain speeds.
3. Engine and transmission oil level
Now time to open the hood and make sure all mechanicals have what they need to run smoothly.
For the following car maintenance steps, park the car on a flat surface so all fluid levels can be properly read.
To check engine oil levels, run the engine for 10 to 15 seconds to make sure the engine is well lubricated. Stop the engine, pull the engine oil dipstick and clean it with a rag; insert it back completely to take a reading, then pull it out to take a look at your levels. The level should be at or very close to the “full” mark.
Do not panic if it is not reading full; add some engine oil until it reads full and monitor the oil level once a week for the following couple of weeks to see if the issue persists. If you are continually getting low readings it may be time to take your car to the mechanic for an inspection.
Some engines will use oil on a regular basis. Talk to your trusted mechanic if you are worried by it, but note that using up to a litre of oil between oil changes is nothing to be alarmed with. The importance of monitoring the oil on a regular basis is to be able to notice if the engine starts using a lot more than normal, which would then signal a more serious issue. It could something as basic as a camshaft seal or as involved as an engine rebuild.
RELATED: The oily slope to engine disaster
The procedure to check a transmission’s oil level is the same as for the engine oil. The dipstick is often located lower and further in the engine bay. Here though, fluid consumption should raise a concern. Pay a particular attention to the smell of the transmission fluid. Bring the car to your mechanic if it smells burnt as this indicates serious problems with the transmission.
4. Coolant level
After taking care of the engine oil, the next step is to check the engine coolant. The procedure to check coolant level is simply visual. Most vehicles have a coolant expansion tank which is translucent. A look at the tank will allow you to see two special marks, often located on the sides of the tank: max and min. You should see the coolant level in between these two marks.
Add some coolant if it is found to be low, but once again don’t panic unless you have to add a full gallon or so. Start to talk about coolant consumption to your mechanic if you realize you need to add coolant at every one of your monthly car maintenance inspections. You may have a small leak somewhere. It is normal to need to add coolant once in a while, but not every single time.
5. Steering fluid level
Another fluid to monitor monthly is the power steering fluid. Checking the level of this fluid is usually done by unscrewing the cap of the power steering fluid reservoir, which incorporates a special dipstick.
Any fluid consumption here is cause for concern as there is no reason for a steering system to use any fluid other than if there is a leak somewhere.
6. Brake fluid level
Last but not least, check your braking system fluid level. Some manufacturers will have a special tank on top of the brake booster allowing you to see the fluid through the tank the same way you can see the engine coolant, but other systems require you to unscrew a cap and use a dipstick integrated into the cap.
It is unusual to see any fluid consumption or variation unless something is wrong with the braking system. The only occasion you may see it slightly low is after your mechanic has performed work on the braking system; he or she will have topped it off, but fluid may allow air bubbles to come to the surface or the simple mechanical movement of the new brakes as they set-in may have an influence on the level. If that is the case, top it off and monitor it once a week for the following few weeks to make sure it is stable. Go back to your mechanic if it does not stabilize.
7. Check your lights
Close the hood and walk around your car to make sure all lights are working. You may want to ask a helper to activate brake and signal lights, or simply do as I do and find an industrial area close to home that has those buildings with mirrored glass. Drive there late in the evening so not to bother anyone who works there and look at the reflections of your lights on the mirrorrd glass to make sure they all work.
Take note of when you are changing which light bulb. Having to change the same one too often can point to electrical issues or a headlight/tail light that is compromised.
8. Quick cleanup
As the final step of your monthly car maintenance checkup, walk around the vehicle and make sure no lights are chipped, no rocks have dented the paint and no small trim is getting loose. Catching these things as they start saves a lot down the road. It is easier to tighten a screw on a mud flap rather than having to find a new one. Same with paint, it is easier to do a simple touch up than to have to respray a whole panel because of rust.
Another good thing to do when walking around the car is to remove those leaves and other dirt from the various air vents and between body panels. These can prevent some important ventilation from happening as well as cause rust issues down the road.
While long to read, doing all of this should be quick once you get the hang of it. It will also help you feel good about the general state of your car and help you preserve it for the long run.