Why regular servicing is a must.
If you don’t want your next service to be an expensive visit, you need to carry out a series of regular health checks. These checks will not only prolong the life of your car, they will also make it a more attractive used-car proposition when the time comes to sell.
Check your car’s fluids
Don’t be afraid of getting under the bonnet of your car – although it’s always best to do so when the engine is cold. Most modern cars help owners with the task of checking oil and water levels: the caps for the engine coolant tank and windscreen-washer bottle, as well as the engine oil dipstick, are commonly highlighted in yellow.
- When checking all levels, make sure the car is parked on a flat surface and that the engine is COLD.
- NEVER open the cooling system when the engine is hot.Not only will you burn yourself from the 90-degree-plus coolant, the coolant will gush out and potentially create an air pocket in the cooling system. This can cause major engine damage if not corrected.
- If the cooling system needs topping up, use water. Do not use coolant unless you have a bottle that is identical to what is already in the cooling system. If different types of coolant are mixed, the worst-case scenario would see the coolant turn to a jelly-like substance and clog up the entire cooling system. Fixing the problem is an expensive exercise.
- To check your engine oil level, simply remove the dipstick and wipe it with a clean rag. Re-dip the dipstick and read the oil level. All dipsticks are marked with a ‘Full’ mark and an ‘Add’ mark. If a top-up is needed, the oil filling point is always at the top of the engine and is usually clearly marked. There are a few important things you need to remember, though:
a) Always use the correct oil recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle – e.g. 10W/30. And don’t mix mineral oils with synthetic oils. Your car will still be driveable if you do mix, but we would recommend changing the oil.
b) Never overfill the engine with oil, because you can cause damage. More is NOT better. Accidental overfills can be remedied by draining the excess oil before you start your engine.
c) If the oil level is on or below the ‘Add’ mark – or even worse not registering on the dipstick – you need to top up the oil level urgently. Ignore it, and the consequences can be as fatal as engine failure.
- Some, generally older cars also feature a dipstick for the transmission oil. You can follow the same procedure as outlined above for the engine oil, although access is sometimes difficult. In such a case, it’s best to ask your local mechanic.
- Windscreen-washer bottle. Fill with water and buy some correct windscreen washer additive. This helps clean the screen and help prevent streaking. Don’t use hand soaps or washing detergent as the soap will congeal in the bottom of the washer bottle and block up any filters in the system.
- Battery. Most modern car batteries are maintenance-free, which means you don’t have to keep them topped up. They usually have a small sight glass in them that changes colour according to the battery’s condition. The glass window will have a colour-coded readout. For example: GREEN is good; CLEAR means battery needs charging; and RED, naturally, means replace the battery.
If your car has an older style battery, and has some form of removable caps on the top, then you need to check your battery’s fluid level. Top up the battery with distilled water, or alternatively use filtered water from your kitchen. Be very careful not to overfill the battery. It will leak when it gets hot and the battery acid will eat away any paint it comes into contact with.
Neglected tyres = dangerous car
Never underestimate the importance of tyres. Those four round hoops of rubber are the only things between your car and the road. Worn or incorrectly inflated tyres can have a negative effect on fuel consumption, ride comfort, and – most important – grip, whether conditions are wet or dry. The less tread on your tyres, the greater the chance your vehicle will lose grip on the road – with potentially fatal consequences.
Check tyres regularly – at least once a month – for pressures, wear and damage. Only check tyres when they are cold. You can do this at the local servo with their hose, or for around $20 you can buy a handy home tyre pressure gauge, or just drop into Garry’s Mechanical Repairs and we’ll check them for you. Keeping your tyres properly inflated will save you money at the petrol pump, and ensures your car goes, corners and stops like it should. Use a tyre-pressure gauge when checking. It’s not always possible to tell visually whether there is sufficient pressure in your tyres. For correct tyre pressures, check the manufacturer’s specifications, which are often found on a placard in the driver or passenger’s door jamb or in the glove box.
All tyres are different and run at different pressures, so it is important to match the manufacturer’s recommended pressures for the best performance and wear. If you are ever uncertain, a tyre pressure of 32PSI (pounds per square inch) will, as a general rule, get you out of trouble on all tyres until you can find the correct figure.
Check tyres for signs of damage or wear. There should be no cracks on the sidewall, no chunks out of the tread or sidewall, no uneven wear across the face of the tyre. The legal minimum tread-depth is 1.5mm, however we recommend you should have at least double this for safe driving. Anything less can hinder the tyre’s ability to clear water from the road on a wet day. All tyres must have a tread wear indicator. Once the tyre wears below this it means your car is not roadworthy – and should the worst happen your Insurance Company would be within its rights to void your cover. Re-treads – we recommend against taking the cheaper option of recycled tyres, re-treads or recapped tyres, because quality can vary and their operating envelope is often significantly reduced (some to a maximum of 80km/h) – and after all, the tyres are the only thing keeping your car on the road. Wherever possible, stick with the brand and model of tyre recommended by the car’s manufacturer – often referred to as OE tyres (Original Equipment).
Don’t forget to check your spare tyre regularly, too. It can lose pressure from sitting around un-used and may leave you stranded when you need it most.
See the lights
Walk around your car and check the condition of all lights – headlights, taillights, indicator lights, etc. Make sure they are all working. Get a friend or family member to help you check the operation of your lights, as it’s quicker and easier to spot a problem. Get them to sit in the car and push the brake while you check tail-lights. Do the same for indicators, reversing lamp, parking lights, low and high beam, and any fog lights that may be fitted. Don’t forget to check your fog/driving lights if your car is fitted with them, as well as your reversing lights.
Read the manual
If you have any uncertainties about maintaining your car, or learning how something works, you can always pull out the owner’s manual. In this book, the manufacturer should have everything illustrated clearly and indexed simply. It’s always worth a read whether you’re mechanically minded or not.
A healthy car
Get to know the feel and sound of your car once you have attended to all the above.
If the sound of your car changes, it could suggest there is a crack or hole in your exhaust system that needs attention.
If you notice your steering wheel shakes, you may have a wheel balance or tyre problem. If the feel of your brake pedal changes, or the handbrake lifts up higher than it used to, get it checked by a licensed mechanic immediately, because these all contribute to the safe operation of your vehicle.
The inside story
Your car’s interior also deserves a quick check at least once a month. Start with the seats; are they all securely mounted to the floor? Is there any wobble or ‘give’ when you shake them? There shouldn’t be, and any flex is a sign that the seats need attention. Check the steering wheel and steering column. Give them the shake test. They should not move an inch. Also check that the pedals are securely mounted in the foot well. Check the seatbelts for any signs of fraying or tearing. If there is, get it seen to immediately. Also, give each seatbelt a firm and fast tug to ensure the automatic locking mechanism – designed to keep you in place in a crash – works effectively. Clear out the cabin of any unnecessary items. Any loose objects will turn into dangerous missiles if you have to brake or swerve suddenly, or if you crash.
The cabin should be a place for occupants only. Put all loose items in the boot or glove box or seat-back pockets. Never travel with bags on seats or unrestrained pets in the cabin.
An ounce of prevention…
Run through all basic maintenance procedures outlined above at least once a month. Mark it on your calendar – an easy date to remember is the first Saturday of the month, every month. It won’t take as long as you think – and in the long run it will save you both time and money.