So, you’ve got your driver’s license and you’ve got yourself a car. The thing is you’re a new driver who probably hasn’t experienced maintaining a car. Fret not because here are basic car maintenance tips that you should to help you out.
Browse your owner’s manual
Check your owner’s manual (usually in the glove box) and look for advice regarding maintenance specifically for your car. If you can’t find it in the glove box, look for it online.
A lit oil warning light
A lit oil light means you’re almost out of oil, you’ve got an oil filter blocked or strainer in the sump, or the oil pump has died. This mean your engine won’t be receiving lubrication and it will be running metal against metal.
You should stop right away, unless it’s unsafe to do so, when you see the oil light come on. Don’t try to drive home or to a mechanic’s repair shop, stop as soon as you can. Your car is at risk of the engine seizing which would cause further damage that is more expensive to fix.
An oil change usually is required at certain mileage intervals – you’ll have to change oil after you reach a specific mileage. However, if you have get a leak or any problem with the oil system, or you take a long time to reach the prescribed mileage you may need to top it up or change it earlier. Make it a habit to inspect your engine oil every 4-8 weeks using the oil dipstick that’s easy to locate in the engine bay. It usually has a yellow cap with an oil can picture on it. The oil level must be within the minimum and maximum levels allowed. You can check it by pulling the dipstick out, wipe the tip with a cloth, dip it back in and pull it out to inspect. If you noticed that the oil level is already below the minimum, then it’s time to add more oil. Don’t over-fill the oil reservoir. If you add too much, you will need to drain some by pulling out the drain plug – only do this if you know what you are doing.
Don’t exhaust your fuel
If your fuel ran out the fuel pump will have pulled the sludgy petrol from the bottom of the tank through the system, and then you’ll have to replace your fuel filter early. It’s good to fuel up before you get underneath ⅛ of a tank. Go and fill-up as soon as the fuel light comes on. Another reason why it’s good to keep your fuel tank topped up is to avoid wasting precious time filling up your tank when you need to drive right away because of an emergency situation.
Coolant warning indicator
The radiator is the heart of your car’s cooling system, which directs coolant around your engine’s cylinders and valves to convect heat, then flow it back to the radiator to dissipate it safely. Don’t wait for the light to come on before you check your coolant level, instead make it a point to check it regularly and add to it when necessary.
Stop immediately if you see the coolant light on, but don’t open the radiator cap right away as the water with coolant, due to heat pressure, would come bursting out to you. Let it cool down first before adding fluid into it, and only use tap water as a last resort because it would leave mineral deposits that are bad for the cooling system.
A lit handbrake light indicates that your handbrake is still on. Be sure to release your handbrake before you pull away as it would burn the brake shoes if you don’t.
If unsure about your tires’ pressures, then refer to the owner’s manual for the recommended pressure. Don’t over-inflate your tires because this will give you less road grip as it would reduce the amount of tire rubber in contact with the road. On the other hand, under-inflated tires cause extra rolling resistance because they deform more, and this causes heat buildup which could be a reason for a delamination where the tyre’s layers separate, or a blowout. Under-inflated tires will also cost you a bit more fuel consumption. Oh, and make sure you inflate your spare tire with the correct pressure, too.
You can rotate your tires every 10,000km to keep your tire wear even. This means swapping your tires either side-to-side, front-to-back, or diagonally. If your tires are uni-directional, you can swap the front right to the rear right and vice versa. Don’t do a side-to-side swap or your tires will be rotating in wrong direction that the tread pattern isn’t designed to, and it will be ineffective at dispersing water in the wet.
Blown or flat tire
If you have a flat tire, see if the tire isn’t completely deflated, and if that’s the case you may be able to drive to the nearest vulcanizing shop to have it repaired. If it is completely deflated or it has blown out, pull over and replace it right away with your spare tire (you should always have one in the car). Driving with a blown or completely deflated tire will damage your tire rim which will be more costly.
It’s important to keep it topped up as this will help you clean your windshield; a dirty windshield could restrict your vision, especially when driving towards the setting or rising sun, and therefore impair your driving.
Blown headlight bulb
It’s fine to touch the metal area with your bare hands, but be careful that you do not touch the glass area using your bare hands (use gloves or a clean cloth) as oil transferred from your hands and fingers to the bulb’s surface will heat up and cause it to crack.
You can usually access the headlights from within the engine bay, although you may need a screwdriver to undo the housing.
If there’s a squealing sound whenever you start the engine and drive off which stops after a few meters, it could be caused by the slipping of your fan belt, so replace it as soon as you can. Your engine will lose lots of its cooling capability at low speed if the fan belt breaks.
Visit your local mechanic
Some things are better done by the experts themselves. Visit your trusted mechanic and get your car serviced. Usually it needs to be serviced within 5,000-15,000km, or every 6-12 months (depending on how often you use it).
Keep a list
Keep a list to remind you of your car’s periodic maintenance schedule. Although in general, 4-8 weeks is fine when inspecting your tire pressure and tread depth, radiator fluid, windshield fluid, and oil level.