This car maintenance article gives you a list of basic things you must do to keep your car in working order. It is important to take good care of your vehicle so it can serve you well year after year. Some maintenance work can also improve your fuel efficiency and help you avert unnecessary accidents on the road.
If you haven’t done so, read through your car owner’s manual. It has all the important information on maintaining your car. It also states the allowable specifications for any parts you may want to replace in the near future.
Here is a summary of some general information you will find in any car owner’s manual:
1. Keep all fluids clean and topped up. Some examples are engine oil, coolant and brake fluid.
2. Keep to the servicing schedule so your mechanic can replace your spark plugs, engine oil, brakes, air filter, timing belt and oil filters regularly.
3. Check your tire pressure each week.
4. Change your windscreen wipers if it doesn’t work well.
5. Observe any strange noise coming from within the car.
6. Wash your car regularly and wax it to make the paint job last (and to prevent corrosion).
7. Use original parts.
These car maintenance tasks seem really simple and it can save you lots of money in the long run. For example, if you keep your tires pumped up, you will prevent early wear and tear. If each rim costs you $50 to replace, you will have saved yourself $400 simply by checking the tire pressure each time you fill up your petrol tank.
In Singapore, there are many things that the mechanic will help you with. Nevertheless it will be good for you to know how to perform a few basic maintenance tasks if you do not want to visit your mechanic as regularly.
Checking your engine oil
The engine oil cools down and lubricates your engine. Driving with a low engine oil level can cause significant issues in the engine. So make sure you check this once in a while.
To check your engine oil, park your vehicle on a level ground, then cut your engine. Wait for a few minutes to allow the engine oil to drain back into the oil pan. After that pull out the dipstick and clean the oil off. Then insert back fully. Finally, pull out the dipstick to read where the oil level is.
The engine oil level should be between the “LOW” and “FULL” markings. The colour of the oil must also be brown but clean and transparent. If it is blackish or is opaque (like coffee with milk), it is time to change the engine oil.
To change (or top up) the engine oil, you have to buy the recommended type of oil as stated on the oil filter cap. If it states “SAE 5W-20”, please use only this type of oil. If your engine uses only synthetic oil, please use only this type of engine oil. Otherwise you may promote early wear and tear within the engine.
The coolant helps to keep your engine within the acceptable temperature. Some vehicles make use of distilled water while some others require commercial fluids that are readily available.
To top up your coolant, you have to make sure your engine is cool. Hot coolant is pressurised. Thus opening the radiator cap while it is still hot will often send boiling coolant spewing and gushing out of the outlet. This can give you a bad scald.
After opening the cap, simply pour in the coolant till the level is between the “LOW” and “FULL” markings.
Engine air filter
The air filter keeps unwanted dust and debris from entering your engine’s combustion chambers. Over time, it gets dirty and the air flow becomes restricted. As such, the engine will not be able to perform as well and you may feel that your car has lost some power.
Most user manuals require you to change your air filter every 20,000 – 24,000 km. There are different types of air filters in the market. In order to make sure you buy the correct type of air filter, remove your existing filter and bring it along with you to the store.
When you fit the air filter into its position, make sure it fits snugly into where it should be. If unfiltered air bypasses the filter, it can damage the airflow sensor and increase engine wear.
Automatic transmission fluid
If you are driving an automatic transmission car (most of us do), then you have to make sure the fluid is at its correct level. The procedure to do this is exactly like how you will check for the engine oil level. Very easily done. You (or your mechanic) should do this routinely just to make sure things are ok. Usually there are very little issues with transmission fluids and you do not have to top them up even after one or two years. Yet many owner’s manual will recommend changing them after 45,000 – 50,000 km.
You may have to change your batteries every 12 to 18 months, depending on how lasting they are. While you are doing your regular car maintenance checks, make sure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. Corrosion at the battery terminals will cause poor connection, which can result in all kinds of problem.
If possible, use sealed lead acid or maintenance-free batteries. This will save you some hassle. But if you want to use those traditional lead acid batteries and have fun maintaining them, you are responsible to keep them in ship shape. Otherwise they can fail on you.
Tires are easy to handle. You simply have to make sure they are pumped to the correct pressure each time you visit the petrol kiosk.
Since your front tires wear out at a different rate as the rear ones, you also have to rotate your wheels. This makes sure that your tires wear more evenly and last longer. Some manuals recommend wheel rotation at every oil change while others recommend a specific mileage. Tire rotation pattern is also different for different tires. The correct direction will be indicated on the tire. If you are not sure about this, check with the retailer or the manufacturer.
Through time, your tires will eventually wear off and you have to change it. Otherwise there will be insufficient traction between the tires and the road. This is dangerous for you and your family. Therefore as soon as the tire is worn to its limit (as indicated on the tire), replace it right away.
If you feel your car vibrating while you are at cruising speed, you need to have your tires balanced. Uneven tire wear also indicates alignment problem. Improper alignment causes increased tire and suspension components wear. If your car pulls aside, wanders or feels unstable on the road, have the alignment checked. Proper wheel alignment (as well as regular car maintenance) will make your car’s ride smoother and more enjoyable.