Getting your first car is an exciting milestone in your life which is why you want to look after it. You don’t need to have any mechanical knowledge to maintain your vehicle and prevent a breakdown. If you don’t know a wrench from a screwdriver, this beginner’s guide to car maintenance is for you.
Read Your Owner’s Manual
We get it – after purchasing your car, you’d rather show off your new wheels instead of studying the novel-sized owner’s manual. But the owner’s manual does a great job of covering the new technology and complex safety systems that your old car may not have had.
Perhaps the most important information in your owner’s manual is your vehicle’s recommended service and maintenance schedule. Following the schedule set out by your car’s manufacturer will improve your car’s longevity and reliability. It might even bump up your car’s value when you sell it. In the case of a new car, it will also teach you about your vehicle’s warranty, what is covered, and how to make a claim.
Keep Up With Preventative Maintenance
Neglecting preventative maintenance can damage your vehicle, hurt your wallet, and make your car dangerous to drive. Performing preventative maintenance is as easy as following your vehicle’s recommended service schedule as laid out in the owner’s manual. And even better, you don’t need any mechanical knowledge whatsoever to keep the preventative maintenance up to date, as long as you have a trusted mechanic.
Preventative maintenance, as we will explain later in this article, covers more than just a basic oil change. A car has several consumable parts that are designed to be replaced at a designated interval. These parts include hoses, belts, and filters. Other parts like fluids may become contaminated or simply wear out. As part of your preventative maintenance schedule, your mechanic will advise you of any additional work that needs attention.
Don’t Ignore Your Tires
Your tires are one of the most important safety items on your vehicle and something you’ll replace regularly. With a little know-how, you can increase their lifespan, improve your vehicle’s fuel economy and handling, and reduce the risk of a blowout.
The leading cause of premature tire wear is incorrect tire pressure. Tires naturally lose between 1 and 3 PSI per month through osmosis. This may not sound like a lot, but if not rectified a tire will go flat in less than a year. Some tire pressure gauges cost less than a cup of coffee, and it’s one of the best investments you can make for your car.
While you’re checking the tire pressure, it’s the perfect opportunity to also check for signs of abnormal wear such as bulges or cuts in the tire or sidewall. You also want to make sure there is adequate tread left on the tire by looking at the tread wear indicators. Also, pay attention to how the car feels while driving. If the car naturally veers off to one side or you can feel a vibration through the steering wheel, your vehicle likely needs its wheels balanced or aligned.
Check For Rust Or Dents
Nobody likes having to repair damaged bodywork or take care of rust, but it’s a problem that will only get worse if ignored. A car can rust at any age when the protective paintwork is damaged, leaving the exposed metal of a car body vulnerable to oxygen and water. Rust can affect every part of the car, including the underside and chassis.
Signs of an area vulnerable to rust can include:
- Bubbles in the paint
- Water or dampness consistently accumulating in one particular place
- Body damage
- Paint damage
The earlier that rust and body damage is taken care of, the easier and cheaper it is to fix. Rust can largely be prevented by washing your car regularly and getting any damage to the vehicle’s paintwork or body repaired when it occurs. If you live in an area where vehicles drive over a lot of road salt or accumulate road grime, it may even be worth investing in a ceramic coating to protect your vehicle’s paint. The better your car looks when you go to sell it, the more money it will be worth.
Check Your Car Regularly
Owning a car can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to walk around your vehicle at least once every week or two and note anything that needs attention. You don’t need any mechanical training or expertise to do this. If you’re unsure of anything on our checklist, just ask your mechanic to show you how to check it.
These are the items on your vehicle you should inspect periodically:
- Inspect the vehicle paint and body for any damage.
- Check the windshield wiper blades are in good condition and the windshield washer bottle is full
- Inspect tires for signs of abnormal wear and ensure tread depth is adequate
- Check under the hood and underneath the vehicle for signs of water or oil leaks
- Check radiator hoses are pliable and not showing signs of cracks or leaks
- Examine belts for signs of cracking
- Inspect fluid levels (brake fluid/power steering fluid/coolant and oil) and top off if necessary
Caution: These checks should only be carried out on a car that has been switched off and sitting idle for a while. If the hood of the vehicle feels warm to the touch, let it cool off before performing these checks. Heat causes fluids to pressurize and checking fluids in a pressurized state can cause injury.
Get A Trustworthy Mechanic
As the saying goes — a good mechanic is worth their weight in gold. When looking for a mechanic, find one who is familiar with the make and model of your vehicle, as well as the common problems associated with it. They’ll also only use quality parts and be focused on giving you a great experience.
A good mechanic will get to know your car, its history, its quirks, and areas that need the most attention. This not only saves you money but also makes diagnosing and repairing mechanical issues easier. Having a trustworthy mechanic means you can enjoy a trustworthy vehicle.
Know When Something Is Wrong
When getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, most people love to switch on their favorite music and put their minds on autopilot. But knowing the warning signs when something isn’t right can stop small problems from becoming larger ones.
When you feel something unusual like a vibration or shudder, notice an odd smell, or hear a strange noise coming from your car, properly describing these symptoms can help your mechanic diagnose the issue and get to the root cause. Try to avoid driving your vehicle until your mechanic has determined the cause of the issue to avoid causing unnecessary damage to your car.
Get Familiar With Warning Lights
Cars have elaborate systems of sensors and warning lights. These lights will tell you everything from whether you forgot to close the gas cap to whether one of your tires is low on air. Knowing what each of these lights means will give you an early indication that a problem has occurred. Your owner’s manual will walk you through these lights and provide a visual aid. If any of these warning light becomes illuminated, it’s best to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic right away.
- Check engine light – This indicates your car’s computer has detected a problem and logged a fault code. There are more than 4,000 different fault codes on a vehicle and your mechanic can read the code and diagnose the problem with a special scanner.
- Brake warning light – Many braking issues may set off a brake warning light including a faulty park brake or low brake fluid.
- Service engine light – This indicates that your vehicle is due for its scheduled maintenance.
- Electrical fault light – When this light is illuminated it means there is a problem with your vehicle’s electrical system. This includes the cars starting system.
- Oil warning light – When there is a problem with your oil pressure, the oil warning light will flash. It is important not to drive your vehicle when this happens as you risk seriously damaging the engine.
- Coolant warning light – This will illuminate when there is not enough coolant in the engine to keep it from overheating. It may also be accompanied by a rising temperature gauge.
- ABS warning light – If you have an issue with the anti-lock braking system, you will get this warning. Your brakes still work, but the anti-lock system is malfunctioning. Being a safety issue means it’s a problem that will need to be taken care of as soon as possible.