Keeping your car in a good shape takes a bit effort, but you certainly don’t have to be a mechanic to do it. The most important thing is knowing what needs to be done and how often. Prolonging the life of your car and maximizing its performance depends on regular maintenance over the years. Some of the parts and fluids mentioned here need to be checked regularly, while others only in the long run. In both cases, it’s important to follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule and service interval record.
Oil and coolant level
After several gas fill-ups, and especially before longer trips, it’s advisable that you check the oil and coolant levels of your car. You should do it while the engine is cool, in the morning for example. Locate the oil check gauge and the yellow dipstick handle and pull it out. Wipe the measuring end clean, insert, and pull out again. If the oil level is between the two marks, you’re good to go. The engine coolant tank is semitranslucent, so you can easily see the fluid level between the max. and min. marks on its shell.
Oil and air filter
As the second most important fluid in your car, the engine oil has a couple of main functions, so keeping it clean is vital for the engine performance. Depending on your car and the type of oil you’re using, you may need to change the oil and the oil filter in-between 5,000 and 10,000 km. The air filter, on the other hand, keeps the dust and debris from entering the engine air intake, so by replacing it yourself after the service period, you decrease emissions and improve your car’s fuel economy.
Tyre pressure and rotation
Well-maintained tyres are essential for a safe, fuel-efficient ride, so make a habit of visually inspecting your tyres from time to time. Check your tyre pressure every month, especially before long trips and heavy hauls. Keep in mind that during the colder months the pressure drops, so consult your owner’s manual to see how much air is needed for the given tyre size. To ensure the even wear of each tyre, make a habit of rotating your tyres every year, as well.
Depending on the weather conditions in your area and the winter conditions you may encounter on your trip, in cold and snow you may want to switch to winter tyres. When the temperature drops, the tyre compound in non-winter tyres hardens, decreasing the grip and handling performance, while increasing the braking distance. Winter tyres are made with softer compounds and have tread patterns designed to provide better grip in snowy and slushy conditions. These days you can easily buy tyres online, choosing among manufacturers, as well as width, profile, and rim numbers.
Lights and turn signals
Among headlights, main beam, dipped lights, brake, parking and fog lights, it’s easy to overlook checking all light groups from time to time. Once a month, park in front of a flat surface and check that both your headlights are working, including the main and dipped light. Get out of the car and visually inspect the turn signals and parking lights. Park in reverse and use the same flat surface to check if the brake light engages when you hit the brake.
Spark plugs and glow plugs
The spark plugs in your engine ignite the gas mist and air mixture that essentially powers your vehicle. If your spark plugs cast an uneven spark pattern, your engine will lose power and run under its capacity. The same goes for glow plugs in diesel engines which help pre-heat the mixture before it’s pressured into ignition. While you can easily replace both spark plugs and glow plugs yourself, have a professional check your car to determine if they’re causing the problem or it’s something else.
One of the vital components of your car, the battery, supplies the power for the starter, engine and other electronic accessories in the car before the engine alternator takes over the power supply. It’s advisable to test the battery regularly, and especially before longer trips, as extreme temperatures affect its performance.
Finally, in maintaining your car, one of the most important secrets is knowing when not to do it yourself. Sometimes even another DIY enthusiast can help, but make sure you know what’s too big or tricky for you to handle and when to call in the cavalry.