If you own a car and take it out on the road for a drive, you are responsible for the everything that you do behind the wheel. When it comes to your car’s health, however, most of us rely on professional mechanics, brake centers, tire centers, and quick change oil service centers to keep our cars operating in the best shape possible.
Car maintenance courses are available when you’re in high school, can be learned from friends or family members who are mechanically-inclined, and there are even a few adult classes on the market to take, but most of us depend on the skills of others to get us through our annual car maintenance.
Getting to know your car’s parts, at least the ones that you may need to identify and interact with should an emergency occur out on the road, is a critical part of what it means to be a safe driver. It is so important, in fact, that some countries like those in the UK require that drivers be able to identify anything that they point to under the hood of the car and explain basic maintenance before they will issue a driver’s license.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that you had the skills to handle the basic maintenance your car requires? What if you could not have your car serviced, and had to tackle the maintenance on your own? The good news is, you can become pretty proficient at car care in a short amount of time, making you a safer and smarter driver while extending your vehicle’s life.
It is still important that you have your car checked by a professional mechanic whenever issues arise, and that you don’t attempt to tackle anything that can put you in physical danger or can put your car at risk. When in doubt, see a professional for help with car maintenance.
The easiest things that you can learn to do for your car involve inspections, checking and changing fluids, and taking care of your tires. Before you inspect fluid levels, be sure that you know when it is safe and unsafe to have the car’s engine on or off. Always check your car’s manual before following the steps below.
Under the Hood
It may look like a twisted mess of cables and metal, but it is important that you can lift up your hood and find where to check your engine’s oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and antifreeze levels. Nearly every car looks slightly different under the hood, but they all have the same necessary parts that keep your car running.
The parts under the hood that you may want to learn to monitor and maintain on your own include:
- Windshield wiper fluid
- Oil Check
Many places have quick, affordable oil change service, but you should try to check your oil on your own and top it off when necessary. Healthy oil is clean and dark, and oil levels can be checked with the oil dipstick.
Before you check your car’s oil levels, your vehicle parked with the parking brake on, the engine must be off and should be cold.
To start the oil check, first you must find the oil dipstick under your hood. The oil dipstick will usually have a round hoop handle on top for easy removal and checking. With a clean rag ready, pull out the oil dipstick and wipe off the oil onto the rag. Oil is brown to near-black in color, and should be clean (no particles). If your oil looks milky in color, this could indicate a coolant leak. If this occurs, have your car towed to the mechanic for inspection and maintenance.
When clean, note how your dipstick indicates the high and low levels of oil. Some dipsticks have top and bottom holes, some are marked with line indicators, some have the words MIN and MAX, and some have the letters H and L on them.
Once wiped, put the dipstick back into the oil tube and push it all the way to the bottom of the container. Let it sit for a moment before pulling it back out. When you pull the dipstick out again, check the oil level.
If your level is low or near the minimum line, you will need to top off the oil. It is important that you refer to your owner’s manual or your mechanic’s suggestion when choosing the correct type of oil for your car and environment. To add oil, locate the oil fill cap (generally on top of the engine) and add a little at a time with a funnel. If your oil level was at minimum, you will likely need to add the whole quart otherwise, half a quart should be sufficient. Pour it slowly and monitor with the dipstick. Secure the oil cap when you are done, and use rags to clean any spilled oil.
When you have noted and topped off the oil, put the dipstick back in and make sure that it is fully seated in the tube. That’s all there is to it.
Oil and oil filters should be changed, on average, every 2,000 to 3,000 miles by a maintenance professional.