L2P – Car Maintenance
To get some expert advice on how we can take good care of our car (and hopefully save us a bunch of $$) we caught up with Bruce, an L2P Mentor and real-life mechanic.
What do you think are the most important things a young person can do to look after their car?
The important things to look out for are the fluids – the Engine oil and the Coolant. Check the tyres are properly inflated and in good, safe condition. Electrical checks of lights, wipers and air systems, Vehicle body – the door and bonnet locks, windows and any obvious panel problems. Is that 5 checks? Seatbelts. Check all of your restraints too,
Can you tell us a bit more about those things?
Engine Oil and Coolant.
Ok. When checking your engine oil and coolant levels and condition, it’s important to make sure the car is parked on level ground, and the engine is off. To check them do it ONLY when the engine is cold (hasn’t been running for a while) so the systems are cool and not still under pressure. When you open up the bonnet of the car, have a look around for any clear signs of water or oil leaking anywhere, and any signs of plastic or rubber parts cracking.
Any of the things you want to check will, with a newer car, be made clear with highlighted colours.
You’ll need a rag or cloth to help you with this one. Pull up the dipstick – check the bottom of it, wipe it clean. You’ll be able to see two marks, indicating when the oil is full. Put it back in and wait about five seconds, then pull it up again, and see where the level is at. If closer to the add line than the full line, add new oil. If the Oil is a honey-brown colour its good. If it its gunky and black, your whole oil will need replacing soon.
Check the level of your coolant. You can top this up with water if low. If very low, consider getting coolant additive as well. While you are here, also top up your washer fluid with water.
With the tyres, you need to check the pressure, and a basic safety inspection – checking the tread and side walls for cuts, damage or degradation. If your tyres are slumping near the ground then they will obviously need replacing, but sometimes they can be low and you can’t even see it – and if they are, it will be costing you in extra fuel. You can check and inflate your tyres at most service stations. Your car should usually have a sticker in one of the doorways that will tell you what pressure you should pump your tyres up to.
Check the treadware indicator to see how close the tyres are to needing replacement. These indicators are the little lumps between the tread (the main part) of the tyre. When the tread gets worn down to the same height as the indicators, it’s time to replace them.
With the engine running, check all of the electrical systems. First check that the air systems are running and can heat and cool the car, especially the front and rear demisters. Check that the wipers work. To check the lights, you can either get someone to help you and tell you they are all working – or, you could pull up to the window at a shop with a glassfront, like a service station, and check them in the reflection.
Is air flowing when system is on? Can you feel it heat and cool when set appropriately?
Demisters – Check that the front and rear are both working.
Check the lights at the front – 3 settings for the headlights – Park, Full, and High-beam. Left and right indicators. At the back, check Taillights, Brake lights, Reverse lights and the left and right indicators. Also check the hazard light function.
If you are by yourself, you can check the lights in a reflection – both front and back.
Check the door locks – that they haven’t been damaged, that the key still goes in and turns smoothly. Check the Bonnet locks down properly. Look around for any significant dents or scratches on the panels. Check the windows for cracks and chips, especially the Windscreen.
Door locks & ignition – If it’s sticking a bit, a little spray of WD40 will help.
Window cracks and chips can grow in changes of temperature if they aren’t dealt with. Small cracks and chips can be repaired much more easily.
Check that each of the seatbelts pulls out and retracts properly. Check that each of them buckles when pushed in, and releases with one press of the release. If you have child restraints you check that it is in firmly and safely.
How often should we be checking each of these things?
Oil level, tyre condition and pressure, coolant and working lights around once a month. Child restraints should be checked every time you are putting a child in it. The other things just need a quick check from time to time.
What basic tools should be kept in the car?
Make sure you familiarise yourself with your tools and where they are kept. The tools are often kept with the spare tyre under the floor of the boot, but may be somewhere else in your car. You should definitely have the Jack, a Spare Tyre, tyre changing tools and Screwdrivers (both a Philips and a Flat head). If you want the extra, carry some gaffer tape, pliers, and a couple of adjustable spanners.
What things should a professional look at and how often?
Your car should be serviced at least once a year (or more often if you drive a lot – check the service manual that is in the glovebox), and the mechanic there should be changing the oil and oil filter, checking the air filter, the battery, checking the brakes and replacing them as needed, and rotating the tyres. Keeping the service books up to date also helps keep the car value if you want to re-sell it later.
Any extra advice you’d like to give?
It’s always good to be a member of a roadside assist program such as the RACV, Budget Direct or NRMA. If you have a breakdown they can come to you and do certain replacements and repairs, or organise towing to the nearest mechanic (or to your home if it isn’t far).
Thanks Bruce for that insightful information, all the very best!