Own a car? Maintaining it is a must. The easier (and more expensive) option is to have a mechanic handle all maintenance and repairs. But a wiser approach is to tackle some of the work yourself.
What upkeep does your car need? Check the maintenance schedule section in your owner’s manual. The manufacturer knows your vehicle best and will suggest maintenance by mileage and time intervals.
Here are six basic maintenance skills every car owner should have.
1. Check Your Tire Pressure
It is a simple task, but one frequently neglected. Invest in a tire gauge and check the air pressure when tires are cold. Don’t forget the spare! Compare each tire’s pounds per square inch (PSI) reading with the recommended PSI. That information is listed in your owner’s manual and also can be found on a placard on the door jamb on the driver’s side or in your glove box.
Fill each tire to the recommended level and recheck every month. To extend tire life, rotate them on a regular basis according to your owner’s manual.
2. Replace Your Wiper Blades
Your vehicle has two, perhaps three, wiper blades: two on the front windshield and possibly a third on the liftgate or rear window. They’re prone to wear and tear, and should be inspected regularly.
Changing wiper blades begins with identifying the right size blades. Some cars have different sized blades working together up front. Your owner’s manual will list those sizes.
After you get replacements, replace each wiper by lifting the arm off the windshield and depressing the tab underneath the blade where it meets the wiper arm. Remove the blade and install the new one, ensuring that it is connected to the arm before lowering the arm back onto the windshield. Repeat this process with the second arm. Activate the wipers to ensure the blades are secure and operating streak-free.
3. Test and Replace Your Battery
Your car’s battery is the heart of your vehicle’s electrical system. When it fails, you aren’t going anywhere. Most vehicle batteries are under the hood, but in some cases, they’re found in the trunk or the rear storage compartment. In a few models, they’re under the rear seat.
Invest in a multimeter to check your battery. With the ignition off, remove the positive (red) terminal cover, then the negative one. If a dust-like material is present, remove it. Connect the positive lead for the multimeter to the positive battery terminal, then do the same with the black lead. If the battery reads 12.66 volts or above, it is 100 percent charged. Lower numbers suggest a battery needs to be recharged or is near the end of its useful life. Batteries usually last from three to five years.
Changing the battery means having a new one before you start the job. The good news is that most auto parts stores will do the work for you and for no extra charge. And they often will recycle your old battery.
Jumpstarting your battery is another part of the equation. Keep a set of jumper cables in your vehicles as part of your emergency kit. With your ignition off and a vehicle parked alongside yours, connect the positive cable on your car to the positive cable on the other vehicle. Next, connect the negative cable to the other vehicle, then ground the other end of the black cable to an unpainted metal surface within the engine compartment on your vehicle. The other vehicle should be started first, followed by your car. If your battery has a spark of life in it, it should turn over. Reverse the cable connection process to disconnect the batteries.
4. Check Fluid Levels
Your car relies on gasoline, oil, brake and transmission fluid, and coolant/antifreeze to run. You keep tabs on your gas by checking the gauge on the dashboard. When it comes to checking your other fluids, you need to lift the hood and inspect each reservoir.
Oil and brake and transmission fluid are checked by locating the labeled reservoir and examining each level. Refill or replace per your owners’ manual.
Inspecting coolant levels is done a bit differently. Instead of removing the radiator cap and risking a severe burn, you can examine it in the clear reservoir and add fluid, if needed. While you’re at it, top off the windshield fluid. That’s something you should automatically do when replacing the blades.
5. Change a Flat Tire
If you rely on run-flat tires, you can drive up to 50 miles before needing assistance. For everyone else, changing a flat tire is an essential part of car ownership.
If you are driving and have a flat tire or a blowout, get off the road to a secure location. If that isn’t possible, head to the shoulder and park as far away from traffic as possible. Engage your emergency lights, and if you have them, set up flares and warning triangles to alert oncoming traffic.
Hopefully, you have a spare tire and it is adequately inflated. If not, you’ll have to wait for help. If the tire is in sufficient condition to replace your flat, you’re ready to get to work. You’ll also need a jack and lug wrench.
First, set the parking brake. If a board or brick is available, place it in front of the wheel diagonally opposite the wheel to be changed. This will keep your car from rolling. Next, pull out the spare and remove the hubcap from the flat tire. Loosen the lug nuts with the lug wrench, then move the jack underneath the car near the pinch flange. Raise the wheel with the jack and remove the flat tire. Position the spare on the wheel, then loosely tighten by hand. Lower the tire to the ground — finishing tightening the bolts — then place the hubcap on the wheel. Put the flat tire in the trunk or other storage area, and place the jack and lug wrench back in the car.
As soon as possible, head to the nearest service station to check air pressure at all four corners. If your flat tire can be salvaged, have it repaired. Otherwise, purchase a replacement tire.
6. Replace an Air Filter
One of the easiest maintenance tasks is checking the air filter. Typically located in a box at the front of the engine compartment, the air filter serves as a purifier, ensuring only clean air enters the engine. When dirty, the air filter can impede airflow and reduce fuel mileage.
Find the air filter for your car and replace it with a new one. That’s it.
Getting It Done
Most simple car maintenance tasks can be handled easily and completed without a hitch. Once you accomplish these projects, you may find yourself willing to take on other jobs, not just to save money, but to demonstrate an interest in maintaining your car. The more you do on your own, the less money you’ll pay others. You’ll also become more familiar with your car and more knowledgeable of problems before they worsen.