General Auto Maintenance Tips

Auto maintenance

Here are some maintenance tips you can do yourself to help keep your vehicle running better and longer. For safety sake, any major tasks should be done by a certified automotive specialist.

Tires

Rotate your tires

Tires should be rotated very 5,000 miles or 8,000km so that the wear and tear on them is distributed evenly to each tire.

Clean brake dust off regularly

Brake dust contains all sorts of nasty stuff. If you leave it too long, the combination of road grime, moisture and heat from your brakes will bake it on to your wheels. Brake dust normally clings to wheels with static electricity so a damp sponge and clean cold water is the best way to get it off.

Check your tire pressures

Check your tire pressures regularly - once a week is ideal. Bad tire pressures can affect fuel economy, handling and comfort. It's easy to do and there is no excuse not to.

Check your tread depth

Bald, slick tires might be good for motor racing but they're no good on the road. Most tires come with tread wear bars built into them now - find one, examine it and if your tread is too low, replace your tires. Four new tires might seem expensive but they're cheaper than a fine or an accident.

Engine

Check your belts

Engine maintenance

At the front of your engine there will be a series of rubber drive belts that loop around various pulleys, driving everything from the alternator to the a/c compressor. Rubber perishes, more so in extreme conditions like those found in an operating engine bay. Get your timing belt and accessory drive belt checked every 25,000 miles, preferably replacing it every 50,000 miles. See the Fuel and Engine bible for information on interference engines and why checking your timing belts is a necessity, not a luxury: arrow Interference engines

Fuel Economy

Check your tire pressures regularly - once a week is ideal. Bad tire pressures can affect fuel economy very noticeably. It's easy to do and there is no excuse not to. arrow Checking your tire pressures

Checking your oil level

This is something everyone can do - it's quick and easy and it'll tell you if your engine needs oil. If the oil is too high or too low, it can cause trouble for your engine. To check the oil, park on level ground and wait until the engine has cooled down after driving, then locate the dipstick. Pull it out and wipe it clean, then push it all the way back in until the top of it is seated properly in the dip tube again. Wait a moment then pull it out again. Check the level of the oil. If it's between the high and low marks, you're fine. (If it's too low, add a little.) The high and low marks can be denoted by two dots, an "H" and "L" or a shaded area on the dipstick. The photos below show a Honda dipstick which has the two dots. Why not just read the level first time around? The first time you pull the dipstick out, it will have oil all over it and it will be difficult to tell where the level is. That's why you need to wipe it on a rag to get a clean dipstick, then dip it back into the oil to get a good reading. More information on why you should check your oil level is here

Checking coolant level

Checking your coolant level

Again, something everyone can do. The coolant is the other thing your engine cannot go without. Every engine is different but if you check your handbook you should find where the coolant reservoir is. It will normally be bolted to one side of the engine bay or the other, and be a white semi-transparent bottle. Wait until your engine is cool and take a look at it - the outside should have 'low' and 'high' markings on it and the level of coolant inside should be between the two.

Do not take the radiator cap off to check coolant levels. If the coolant system is still hot then it is still under pressure and the pressure release will burn you.

Bodywork / paint

Keeping your paint finish in good condition

Only choose superior car detailing supplies to keep your car's interior and exterior like new. There are plenty of decent quality waxes and polishes on the market today and if the last time you waxed or polished your car was over a decade ago, things have changed considerably since then. The wax and polish compounds are far more sophisticated both in terms of protection from fading, the look of the finish, and the ease of application. For example Turtle Wax Ice gets rid of that old problem of white wax residue. Is a clean car a vanity thing? Partly, yes, but if you park under a tree where birds help repaint your car with recycled blueberries, that guck will come off a lot easier if it falls on a waxed paint job.

Tip: If you find a bird has pooped on your car, wash it off as quick as you can. There are compounds in bird waste that can damage most car paint jobs. If you leave it in the sun and the poop bakes on, you could end up with a dull spot in the paint.

Also: If you want to show your support for a cause, car magnets are better than bumper stickers. They don't damage the paint and are easy to move around and ultimately remove when the fad has passed.

Electrical

Disconnecting and reconnecting your battery

Disconnecting auto battery

If you're going to do any work on your car involving the electrical system, disconnect the battery first. To do this, loosen the connector for the negative/ground terminal first, and wiggle the terminal cap off. Use a wire-tie or similar to tie the cable back out of the way. If you need to take the battery out, you can now take off the positive connector.

Why negative then positive? If you disconnect the positive side of the battery first, the negative side is still connected to the entire car. If you drop a tool and it lands on the positive battery terminal and touches anything else on the car, you'll have an electrical short. By disconnecting the negative first, you're cutting off the return path for the current. Now, if a tool drops on to either of the battery terminals, it doesn't matter if it touches part of the chassis or not - there's no continuous path for the electrical current.

Reconnecting your battery. Connect the positive terminal first, and the negative second - the reverse of removal, and for the same reasons. When you slip the negative connector on, there will be a spark as it gets close and makes contact with the negative battery terminal. Don't be afraid of this - it's nothing to worry about. Make sure the terminal caps are done up nice and tight.

Check your battery terminals

Most modern cars run on a 12 volt negative ground electrical system. If your battery terminals or contacts aren't clean, you're making it more difficult for the current to pass around the electrical system. Remove the terminal caps as described above and clean each contact post with a wire brush to get a nice clean metal contact surface. Do the same to the terminal caps, then reattach them as described above.

Lights

Automotive blinker

One indicator or blinker is flashing faster than the other

When you indicate one way and the blinker flashes quicker than when you indicate the other way, it means one of the bulbs has blown. An auto parts store will be able to tell you what sort of bulb you need to replace it with and your manual should show you how to get at the indicator bulbs - they're different on every car.
Don't touch the glass when changing headlight bulbs

Most headlight bulbs now are filled with halogen and have special coatings on the outside of the glass. If you pick the bulb up by the glass with your fingers, you will leave trace amounts of oil and grease on the glass. When the bulb is used, that area of the glass will get hotter than the rest and it will eventually cause the bulb to crack. When changing headlight bulbs, only hold the metal bulb holder at the base, or make sure you're wearing rubber surgical / mechanic's gloves (clean ones) if you're touching the glass.