A Brief Guide to Auto Maintenance
To keep your vehicle running at its best, it’s important to keep up with regular inspections and maintenance. Common vehicle inspections, such as checking your oil level, can be done by most car owners. For more advanced procedures, such as a tune-up, it may be best to visit your mechanic. By maintaining your vehicle, you can help to reduce repair costs, extend the life of the car, and enhance your vehicle’s performance. Learn more about how to take care of your vehicle and how often to perform common procedures.
Checking Tire Pressure
Tire pressure is determined by the amount of air within the vehicle’s tires, in terms of pounds per square inch. Vehicle owners can check the tire pressure on their vehicles at home using a pressure gauge. Tire pressure can range depending on the vehicle make and model. Specifications can typically be found on any door post, inside the glove compartment, under the center console cover, or in the owner’s manual. After finding the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure for your vehicle, use a digital or dial-type tire pressure gauge to get an accurate tire pressure reading. When checking your tire pressure, ensure that you check all four tires. On average, tire pressure should be checked monthly. Checking tire pressure is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe on the road and to prevent tire damage. Overinflated tires are too stiff and can become easily damaged when driving over potholes and uneven terrain. Underinflated tires increase your risk of a blowout and reduce the life of your tires.
- DMV – Checking Tire Pressure: Guide to purchasing a quality tire pressure gauge, checking tire pressure, and adjusting tire PSI.
- Michelin – How to Check Tire Pressure: Instructions on how to check tire pressure, and a comparison of nitrogen versus compressed air.
- Safer Car – Checking Tire Pressure: Learn the importance of checking tire pressure on your vehicle on a regular basis.
Checking Oil Level
Oil is essential for the engine of your vehicle; it is used to lubricate its internal moving parts. Oil also helps to keep the engine clean, prevent it from overheating, and helps vehicle owners to get the most miles from their engines. When checking oil level, ensure that the vehicle is parked on level ground and that the engine is cold. Some auto manufacturers recommend that the car is warmed up when checking oil, so refer to your owner’s manual. While the engine is turned off, locate the dipstick under the hood of the vehicle. Pull the dipstick up and out of the car, and wipe off the excess oil from the end. Reinsert the dipstick into the tube and pull it back out again. Look at both sides of the dipstick to determine the oil level. Check the color of the engine oil, also. Black and brown-colored oil is normal, but milky or light-colored oil could indicate coolant leaking into the engine. Vehicle owners should check their oil level every few hundred miles.
- Briggs and Stratton – Checking and Changing Oil: Guide to checking oil level, changing oil and choosing the proper oil for your vehicle.
- Shell – Oil Levels and Other Fluids: Step-by-step instructions on how to check oil level and appearance, and change the engine oil.
Checking Other Fluids
Checking the fluids in your vehicle on a continuing basis is essential and helps safeguard against possible mechanical damage, accidents and breakdown. Transmission fluid, if you have an automatic transmission, should be changed every 30,000 miles for optimum protection. The exception is for newer vehicles which are typically good for 100,000 miles. It’s best to check the fluid level while the vehicle is running and the engine is warmed up. Check the transmission fluid in the same manner as the engine oil, but instead, pull out the second of two dipsticks. Brake fluid can be seen through the plastic reservoir and should be labeled appropriately. Vehicles should not consume brake fluid, therefore if the fluid is low, it may indicate worn brake pads or a leak in the brake line. Next, inspect the power steering fluid through a plastic reservoir similar to the one containing brake fluid. If more than a few ounces are needed to bring the fluid back up to an acceptable level, have a professional inspect the fittings and hoses for leaks. Coolant and windshield wiper fluid should also be checked on a monthly basis and refilled as needed. Checking fluids can usually be accomplished by the vehicle owner, but should be done according to manufacturer instructions for safety reasons.
- Quaker State – Checking Your Automatic Transmission Fluid: Step-by-step guide on how to properly check your automatic transmission fluid.
- Ford – How to Add Brake Fluid: Precautions and information on how to check and add new brake fluid to your vehicle.
- Fair Auto Stores – Check Fluid Levels: Instructions on how to check various vehicle fluids, such as coolant and brake fluid.
Checking Tire Tread
Tire tread should be checked at least once every month, as well as before and after extended trips. Various clues can tell you whether you need to purchase new tires, have your wheels aligned or balanced, or simply change your driving habits by just looking at the tread. Clues, such as both edges being worn, can point to underinflation, while the center tread being worn can be due to overinflation. Other things that vehicle owners should look for are one-sided wear, which is typically from poor alignment, erratically spaced balding spots from worn shocks or wheel imbalance, or whining or other weird noises from worn shocks, worn tires or poor alignment. To check the tire tread on your vehicle, get a tire tread depth gauge and insert it into various portions of the tread. Ideally, the tread should be 1/16-inch in depth. Having sufficient tread on your tires is very important, as tread helps your vehicle adhere to the road in various conditions, such as ice, snow, and rain.
- Tire Rack – Measuring Tire Tread Depth with a Coin: Guide to accurately measuring tire tread by using U.S. coins.
- Good Year – Personal Tire Care: List of self-help tips for tire care, including how to conduct a visual inspection and perform repairs, balance, and alignments.
- RMA – How to Take Care of Your Tires: Tire maintenance checklist from The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).
Getting the Oil Changed
Oil changes can be a do-it-yourself job for many vehicle owners who are up for the challenge. It also saves money and only requires a few simple tools. When changing the oil, ensure that the engine and oil is warm, but not hot. Remove the oil filler cap to allow the oil to drain faster as air goes into the engine. Locate the oil plug beneath the vehicle and remove the nut with an appropriate-sized wrench or socket. Remove the oil filter and thread a new filter into its place. Replace the oil plug and refill the engine with new oil using a funnel. On average, four to five quarts should be sufficient. When completed, allow the car to run for about five minutes. This allows the engine to regain proper oil pressure and gives you the opportunity to check for leaks. Most vehicle dealers and mechanics recommend an oil change every 3,000 miles, however, always check your owner’s manual to determine how long your vehicle should go between oil changes.
- Firestone – Oil Change FAQs: Frequently asked questions about getting an oil change in your vehicle.
- CAA – Getting an Oil Change: Information on how often you should get your oil changed and where to get it changed.
Checking Brakes/Getting Brake Pads Replaced
Maintaining the brakes in your vehicle is very important, as they are responsible for slowing the vehicle and bringing it to a stop. Noisy brakes or brakes that grind can indicate a need for replacement. Examine the brake pads to see if they are worn down or have left a deep, circular groove into the brake rotor. Remove the old brake pads by first removing the caliper held in by several bolts. With the brake pads exposed, slide out the old brake pads and slide the new pads into place. It is common for vehicles with an automatic transmission to require more frequent brake pad replacements. On average, mileage in excess of 35,000 miles will require brake pad replacement. Other factors can play a role in how often brake pads are replaced, including make and model of vehicle, drivers prone to speeding, and the service life of the brake pads.
- Halfords – Change Your Brake Pads: Checklist of tools and materials needed and step-by-step instructions on how to change your brake pads.
Getting a Tune Up
Vehicle owners are recommended to get a regularly scheduled tune up at least once per year. Acquiring a tune up on a regular basis will help extend the life of the vehicle and promote maximum performance. A tune up typically includes a replacement of several parts of the vehicle. Most commonly, the air filter is replaced, the spark plugs are cleaned or replaced, and the rotor and distributor cap are replaced. A tune-up can also include the replacement of the fuel filter, oxygen sensor, spark plug wires and PCV valve. Getting a yearly tune up also gives the mechanic an opportunity to check the vehicle’s systems, such as the clutch, brakes and fluid levels. If the tune up is performed during spring or early summer, the air conditioning unit should also be checked.