Taking good care of your car is about more than just getting it serviced regularly. While an expert car service is vital, there’s plenty you can do at home to keep your car in peak driving condition (and you don’t need to be an expert mechanic).
Why Car Maintenance is Important
There’s much more to car maintenance than just avoiding breakdowns. Carrying out at-home maintenance between services can help to:
- Improve vehicle safety
- Improve reliability
- Improve handling and performance
- Save money by taking care of minor repairs before they become major repairs
- Maintain resale value
So let’s have a look at what you can do to keep your car in peak condition between services.
Read the Owner’s Manual
How many of us have actually read through our car owner’s manual? But, if you’re serious about taking care of your vehicle, then it’s absolutely worth doing. Each car is different and each requires different types and levels of maintenance. The owner’s manual contains vital information about the specific maintenance that your vehicle needs, including what systems need to be checked and when and how to check them. It will help you to understand the warning systems in your car and what to do if a warning light comes on. It will also provide practical information for maintenance and repairs. By not taking the time to go through your owner’s manual, you risk missing vital maintenance milestones, carrying out improper repairs and even voiding the warranty.
Carry out regular Visual Inspections
Fixing a problem starts with identifying a problem. And identifying minor issues (or potential issues) before they become major problems will save you money and extend the life of your vehicle.
A regular visual inspection of your car will help to identify any anomalies and enable you to proactively address any maintenance issues before they turn into major car repair jobs.
When it comes to visual inspections, the two most important areas to inspect are the underside of the vehicle and beneath the bonnet. Look for any signs of oil or fluid leaks. The location and colour of the leak is a good indicator of the cause. For example, a green fluid leak from the very front of the vehicle is usually a sign of a coolant leak. Whereas a brown or black dripping under the centre of the engine bay is probably an oil leak.
You should also check for any signs of corrosion or moisture around the engine bay and any signs of abnormal wear and tear on engine components. Regularly inspecting the engine bay and underside of your car helps to familiarise you with the different parts, which means you are more easily able to identify when something doesn’t look quite right.
Check the Fluid Levels
There are a number of fluid levels that you should check regularly. These include the engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windscreen washer fluid and coolant levels. Your owner’s manual will outline the processes for checking these fluids and provide information on the specific products to use when topping them up.
The most important fluid check is the engine oil. Maintaining the correct oil level is essential for lubricating the engine and preventing engine overheating and seizing, which can be extremely expensive to fix. To check the oil level, first make sure your car is parked on level ground. Remove the dipstick and use a clean rag to wipe off any oil. Reinsert the dipstick all the way and remove it again. The oil level should be somewhere between the high and low marks on the dipstick. If the level is below the low point, you will need to add some more oil. Check your owner’s manual to see what type of oil is recommended.
When checking the oil level, you should also check the oil colour. The oil should be a dark brown or amber colour. Black oil could mean the presence of contaminants in the oil, in which case you may need an oil change.
Monitor Tyre Pressure and Tread
Maintaining the right tyre pressure and ensuring even tyre wear is vital for safe driving and can improve vehicle performance. Uneven tyre wear and incorrect pressure can increase fuel consumption, increase braking distances, affect vehicle handling and increase wear and tear on other components like steering and suspension.
You should check your tyre pressure every few weeks and adjust the pressure as necessary. Your car’s recommended tyre pressures should be outlined in your owner’s manual. It’s worth noting that there will be some difference between the recommended front and rear tyre pressures.
You should also periodically check the tread on your tyres. According to VicRoads guidelines, tyres must have a minimum tread depth of 1.5mm in all principal grooves. Most road tyres also have tread wear indicators moulded into the principal grooves. Once the tyre is worn to the legal limit of 1.5mm, the indicators should be level with the surface of the tread. However, it’s important to remember that these indicators are just a general guide. For best performance and safety, manufacturers may recommend replacing the tyres before they reach the level of the tread indicators.
Understand the Warning Signs
A vital part of vehicle maintenance is proactively getting on top issues become they turn into major repairs. And that means understanding the warning signs. Here are some key warning signs that your car needs a mechanic’s attention:
- Dashboard warning lights – Depending on which light is on, you may need to stop driving immediately. Consult the owner’s manual for more information
- Unusual noises or vibrations – Make note of what the noise is and where it’s coming from and contact your mechanic as soon as possible
- Temperature gauge increasing beyond normal limits – You should stop driving as soon as possible and check your radiator
- Braking abnormalities including noises, vibrations or a spongy or tight feeling in the brake pedal
- Steering pulling to left or right while driving – Could be a sign of steering or wheel alignment problems or uneven tyre wear
- Any fluid leaks beneath the vehicle
- Increased fuel consumption
- Any smoke from the exhaust
If you notice any of these problems, you should contact your mechanic as soon as possible. Taking care of these issues as soon as possible will reduce the chances of them growing into major repairs or safety risks.