Trips to the auto shop can be expensive. Often when you go to get your oil changed or engine checked mechanics will conveniently find something else wrong with your car. You can avoid all this hassle by simply learning how to perform basic car maintenance yourself.
This instructable will take you through some basic car maintenance steps. It will help you identify when you need to take action to maintain your vehicle properly, but it won't go too in depth on how to solve each problem. For example this instructable will cover how to check your oil, but to actually change your oil you may need to read another instructable.
To get started let's take a look under the hood of your car. To pop your car's hood, look for a lever near the drivers seat similar to the one pictured above and then pull/push it. Your hood should pop up a little bit, and now you'll need to feel the lever like device in the center of your hood. Releasing this will allow your hood to extend all of the way up, and you'll be able to see your vehicle's engine.
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Step 1: Check Fluids
The first picture featured above is an under the hood view of a Buick Regal. Your vehicle may not look like this at all when you open the hood, but many have similar layouts. We'll first look at various fluids you need to check to make sure your vehicle is running properly.
#1 Check Oil
It's important to keep your engine running smoothly, and that's just what your vehicle's oil does.
- Find the yellow handle in engine, should look like the yellow handle pictured in the engine overview.
- Pull handle out completely (this is called the dipstick). Using a paper towel or rag wipe oil off of the end of the dipstick.
- Re Insert dipstick and hold it there for a few seconds.
- Remove dipstick again. If the level of the oil on the dipstick is under the hash marks add more oil (check owner’s manual for correct oil weight). If it appears chunky or has whitish fluid mixed in with the oil, take your vehicle to a mechanic right away, as there may be issues with gaskets in your vehicle.
#2 Check Engine Coolant
Engine coolant is like a vehicle's equivalent of an ice cold glass of lemonade. So if you love your vehicle you are obviously going to check it.
- Locate the plastic tub in the back corner of engine where coolant is stored.
- There are two marks indicating where the liquid should be, “hot” and “cold”. If engine is hot when checking fluid level needs to be at “hot” line. If engine is cold fluid level needs to be at “cold” line.
- If under the appropriate line add a combination of coolant and water (check coolant bottle to see how much water to add with the coolant).
#3 Check Brake and Transmisson Fluid
In picture 3 we have both the brake fluid container and the transmission fluid dipstick. The brake fluid rarely needs added/adjusted, but it's an important fluid to check.
- Brake fluid is contained in a white plastic container (do not need to open to check).
- Check fluid goes to the full line (look from eye level not an angle).
- If below full line, remove cap, add enough brake fluid to bring liquid up to the full line. If your brake fluid keeps going down you may have a leak and you need to take your vehicle to a mechanic.
In order to check your transmission fluid, first you need to start your vehicle.
- Leave car running for 5-10 minutes until the engine is warm. Locate the red handled dipstick and remove it.
- Wipe fluid off of the dipstick.
- Reinsert, and remove again.
- If the liquid is under the hashmarks, add more automatic transmission fluid.
- If your vehicle does not have a transmission fluid dipstick (a few models don't), refer to your owner's manual on how to check your transmission fluid.
#4 Check Windshield Wiper Fluid
Windshield wiper fluid helps keep your windshield clean and helps break up icy material off of your windshield in the winter.
- Look for a clear container like the one pictured in #4.
- If you aren't sure how full it is, slowly add fluid until you see it start to fill the top of the container.
Now that we've checked all of our important fluids, we can take a look at some other parts of our vehicle.
Step 2: Check Belts and Wipers
While your hood is still up on your car, check one more thing.
Check Engine Belts
- Look over the belts around your engine, make sure they are not overly worn or torn.
- Make sure they are situated in pulleys correctly, and check their tension (shouldn’t be able to move the belts much).
Now we can close the hood and take a look at some of the things on our vehicle's exterior.
Check Windshield Wipers
- Pull the wipers away from windshield.
- Make sure everything is intact Check for missing pieces/cracks that might keep them from performing well in a heavy rain.
- If they appear old or too worn, you can pick some up at any auto store or Walmart/Target.
We're almost done, lastly we'll take a look at our vehicle's tires.
Step 3: Check Tires
Your car's tire's are the only thing between you and the road, it's a good idea to make sure they are in running condition.
Check Tire Tread
- Find a penny
- Hold the penny so Abe Lincoln is upside-down
- Insert the penny into the tire tread, you should not be able to see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head.
- If you are able to see the top of his head, it's time to buy some new tires.
Check Tire Pressure
- Get a tire pressure gauge, (make sure the gauge measures past the maximum tire pressure).
- Remove the cap on the tire's valve, then stick the tire gauge on the valve.
- If the gauge shows that your tire pressure is under your vehicle's recommended tire pressure (see your owner's manual to find your recommended tire pressure). You need to add some air to your tires.
- If you do not own an air compressor, drive to the nearest gas station and park next to the air, (most gas stations offer free air to fill tires).
And that's it, you've checked your vehicle's major areas for basic maintenance. But why is there one more step in this instructable?
Step 4: Plan to Check Again
This last step is about planning to check your car's maintenance again. Unfortunately checking your car just once isn't good enough. It's important to regularly perform the steps outlined in this instructable. A good schedule would be to run through all of these checks every 6 months.
To a long and prosperous life for your regularly maintained vehicle, and to your fatter wallet, full of the cash you didn't have to give to your mechanic to perform basic vehicle maintenance.