It’s easy to be complacent about car maintenance. As long as you stick to your scheduled services there’s not a lot for you to do right? Back in the day, there was a ‘service station’ on every corner. Whenever you went to fuel up, the station attendant would give your vehicle a quick medical to ensure all was in order before you went on your way. That’s regular maintenance!
Now, with self-service stations and our busy busy lives, we tend to rush in for overpriced fuel, and rush straight out again. Rarely do we give our vehicle health much attention outside of a professional service.
Learning the basics of DIY car maintenance can increase the life expectancy and performance of what is one of your most important assets. Looking after your vehicle can help it hold value, and could also save you a few dollars come service time. Prevention is the best cure when it comes to vehicle problems.
Do it yourself car maintenance between scheduled services is easier, and maybe even more FUN than you might think!
Here’s our easy to digest guide to the very basics of DIY car maintenance.
How to check your car oil
We don’t know how or why ‘dipstick’ became a derogatory term, it’s a very handy tool!
Be sure to check engine oils when the car is off.
- Locate the dipstick, pull it out and wipe clean on a rag or towel
- Slide the dipstick back into its home and remove again
- Observe the dipstick markings to see if the oil levels are sufficient
- If residual oil reaches below the ‘add oil’ mark, you need a top up. But never fill above the ‘full’ line
- If the oil is foamy or smells of petrol, you should seek the advice of a professional
You can check the levels of your transmission fluid, brake fluid, clutch fluid and radiator fluid in the same manner. Dipsticks are great.
Car battery maintenance
The inconvenience of a flat car battery is something we’ve all experienced. With increasing sophisticated vehicle technology and safety features, your battery power is high in demand! A well-maintained battery could last anywhere up to seven years; but as a general rule of thumb it should be tested at three years of age. You can prolong the lifespan of your battery with regular maintenance.
- Check that the battery connections are clean and tight and free from corrosion
- Check and clean battery terminals, casing and tray areas
- If there is corrosion, clean with baking soda and water
- Keep in mind the powdery stuff around a corroded battery terminal is very acidic, so you should always wear gloves, or steer clear if you’re unsure.
- Top up battery fluid when needed, being careful not to overfill
- Drive regularly. Short distance driving or not using your vehicle often enough can result in the battery becoming discharged as it hasn’t had sufficient time to charge fully. This is known as acid stratification and sulfation. It’s the number 1 reason for premature battery failure
- If you do need to leave your vehicle stationery for long periods, we recommend disconnecting the battery
If you detect a lag in your starting power at any time, get your battery analysed by a professional straight away.
Looking after your tyres
In addition to ensuring a decent tread on your tyres, they should be kept at the recommended pressure levels at all times. This helps your vehicle maintain a great relationship with the road and reduces the the risk of burning excess petrol.
- Check your vehicle manual or this online tyre pressure guide to determine what pressure levels your tyres should be at
- Buy a tyre gauge or go to the nearest station to check and adjust your tyre pressure; but not after a long drive, you should check them while they’re cold
- Have your tyres regularly rotated so they share the load fairly, and wear more evenly
Wiper blades are made from rubber or silicone. In sunny Aus they’re very prone to drying out, becoming brittle and losing their flexibility. The brackets can also rust and seize. To protect your windscreen and keep it squeaky clean, you should aim to change your wiper blades roughly every 10,000 to 16,000 kilometres, or once to twice per year. They should be inspected and cleaned every time you clean your car. (which should be regularly!)
- Run a soft soapy cloth over the wiper blades to remove dust, dirt and grime
- Check and top up your wiper fluid if necessary
- When cleaning or replacing your wipers, be sure to thoroughly clean your windscreen as well with a high quality glass cleaner. This will increase the longevity of your blades, and enhance visibility.
Wipers are an extremely important, yet relatively inexpensive item. There’s a noticable difference between good quality and cheaply produced wipers, so it’s worth a little extra expense on a decent product.
Interior and exterior cleaning
- Wash your car regularly with good quality car cleaning products. Once per fortnight should be sufficient depending upon how often it’s driven and where it is stored
- Remove bird or bat droppings and bug remains asap or they can damage your paintwork (and become impossible to remove!)
- Pay attention to your lights, windscreens and windows. Always lift your wiper blades to clean the windscreen (and wipers) thoroughly
- As you lovingly wash your vehicle top to toe with a soft foam sponge, keep your eye out for any scratches, or stone chips in your paintwork or autoglass. These should be fixed ASAP to combat rust and prevent them from rapidly becoming worse.
- Look after the upholstery, dash and flooring. Dirty and messy cars can attract rodents and insects, and it’s not a good look. Start by wiping down all surfaces to remove dust. You could also try blasting the air to blow any extra particles out from the vents. Remove any mats and vacuum thoroughly.
- Clear out, or store out of view any belongings that could tempt thieves. Here’s a handy article on how to reduce the risk of a break in.
- After washing, use a chamois to dry your car – you towel yourself off after a wash don’t you? Your vehicle deserves the same attention to avoid streaks, and soap or water stains.
If you love your car, it will love you back by getting you from A to B as safely as it can, and holding its value when it comes time for an upgrade. Whatever the age or model of your vehicle it has an important job! With so many bits and pieces a lot could go wrong if not maintained correctly. Be car proud and enjoy your wheels.