Car maintenance checks you can do at home
Automotive Training Advisor Daniel Schonewille began his career as an apprentice Automotive Mechanic before moving into car service centre management. He now works at the Kangan Institute’s Automotive Centre of Excellence guiding the next generation of service mechanics and making sure people know how to look after their cars and vehicles.
Going to the mechanic can be an expensive task that can sometimes be unnecessary. Daniel Schonewille shows us some simple tests that almost anyone can do at home and a few simple things to look for in your car to keep you safe on the road.
Always find a flat surface area, apply the hand-brake and turn the ignition off, before commencing any checks on your car.
Stand back and walk slowly around the car, looking for any visible signs of damage or deterioration that may exist, loose fitments, scratches, chips or anything of the like.
Once in a while it’s good to look at your car and try to spot any deterioration or damage that has occurred that you may not have noticed when it happened.
The most important thing to check is your tyres. It’s important that your tyres are in good condition and inflated to the correct pressure.
We tend to forget about the tyre, but effective tyre condition is so important as it’s your contact point with the road and affects how your car handles, brakes, even affects fuel efficiency, level of grip and overall safety for you and your family.
Check the tyre for any visible sign of inflation loss and taking a good look at the tyre wall itself. This can be damaged by parking against kerbs – this one looks in good order!
Over time, heat, sunlight and ozone can affect the tyre compound, so make sure you check the age of your tyres.
The next test is to make sure your tyres have plenty of tread. Most tyres when new, have between 8-9mm of tread on the tyre here.
As you can see, with that it will actually disperse water quite easily with that amount of tread. With this tyre in particular, you have little tread indicators, which let you know when the tyre is getting close to needing replacement.
The closer that tyre gets to these tread indicators, the less likely it will be able to disperse water.
These tyres however are in perfect condition!
Remember, rotate your tyres regularly. That will minimise the wear on all four tyres and we recommend to do that every 5,000-8,000 kilometres, or whatever the manufacturer specifies.
Having tyres in good condition are not only good for safety, but can also be good for fuel economy. Make sure it is safe to drive with this important step.
Over or under inflation of tyres is dangerous and can cause excessive tyre wear.
To check your tyre pressures or what’s required on your car, this tyre placard will always have the answers for you. Also, what we recommend is to have one of these handy in your glovebox.
What this will do, will be able to help you check your tyres to see if you need to inflate your tyres.
Remove your valve cap, and then attach the gauge to the valve.
You see the pressure reading come over on the bottom of the valve there and that will tell you, whether you need to inflate or whether your tyres are at a good pressure already.
This tyre is sitting at 22 PSI, and it needs more inflation to get it back up to 36.
A cool little trick, is to have one of these in the boot of your car. This is an air compressor and you can easily adjust your tyre pressures to where they need to be.
Having over-inflated or under-inflated tyres can be extremely dangerous for not just you on the road, but those around you as well.
Fuses are an integral part of your vehicle’s electrical system.
What they allow is for current to flow through to all of your control modules and make sure you are not going to have any damage with spikes in the system.
So, what we found with this vehicle is that the radio isn’t working. Let’s check and see if the radio fuse is blown. The best way to do that – a set of pointy nosed pliers or a pair of tweezers…
Huh! As you can see, this is the culprit.
Make sure you put the same amperage fuse back into position, to make sure this is all going to work again.
Most people don’t know what a fuse is or what one looks like, but it’s easy to change one once you know how.
Currently on the dash here, we have a brake warning light on.
The first thing I’d check is to make sure your park or handbrake is not engaged.
If the emergency brake is off, the brake warning light could be indicating there may be a problem in the brake hydraulic system.
Open up the bonnet of your car and have a look at the brake reservoir.
These are often a clear plastic and show a minimum and maximum level of brake fluid that is required to run the system. If the level is below the minimum indicated, please do not drive your vehicle.
As you can see here, the brake level is low, that could be a few reasons.
There could be an issue with brake lines, an issue with hoses, master cylinder or even wheel cylinders. It’s recommended to take your car to your nearest service centre, if you find this is a problem.
A warning light may appear on your dashboard if there is an issue with your brakes. It’s important to know what it means and what to do.
To check your brake lights, ensure your ignition is on and your vehicle is not in gear.
Don’t forget to check both your left and right-hand sides, but most importantly, the centre stop light as well.
Like your brake lights, making sure your indicators are operating is vitally important, for letting people know where you are going.
If you do find it’s more than just a bulb here, take it you your nearest service centre.
Making sure your brakes and indicators is extremely important for when you’re on the road – if they are faulty or damaged, it’s important to fix them as soon as possible.
Engine coolant is a specially formulated additive that runs through the radiator to keep your engine cool.
Your mechanic will change the coolant at regular intervals, set by the manufacturer.
However, I would keep an eye on it as sometimes it can either start to evaporate, or if under load or heavy conditions, stopping and starting in traffic, or towing, it can require a top up.
Older cars will sometimes use more coolant than modern vehicles.
If you do notice that your coolant is starting to drop, it could be a tell-tale sign there is a more significant issue inside your motor.
Make sure your coolant bottles are stored safely away as they are highly poisonous to children and animals.
Engine coolant is a special liquid designed to keep your car from overheating. Making sure you have enough can prevent your car from damage or a breakdown.
Having too low oil inside may cause some wear and tear to the engine, however on the opposite side of things, having too much oil can also have a negative effect.
Having too much in here will start to pressurise the seals and may cause damage and costly repairs.
Now you always need to make sure you are checking that oil level. Here, you will find a dipstick that will have a minimum and maximum line ready for you to check. When your vehicle has just finished at operating temperature, is the best time to check it as long as you are careful and don’t burn yourself.
With checking this, make sure your vehicle is on a flat surface.
Wipe the dipstick with a rag and put it back in the dipstick holder. When you remove it out, the level should be accurate now.
If you do need to add any oil, make sure you fill it up to the top line here. When putting the dipstick in its holder, make sure you push down firmly, that way you won’t get any debris to fall into the engine sump.
Many people know that having too little oil in your car can cause expensive damage, but do you know what happens if you have too much oil in your car?
When checking Auto transmission fluid, older vehicles have a similar system to checking your engine oil with a dipstick.
However, with some of these modern-day vehicles, they don’t run a dipstick at all.
If you do notice any leaks or oil that looks like it could be coming from your transmission on your driveway, or where you park your car, the best bet would be to contact your dealer, service centre or a mechanic and take the vehicle down to them to have a look at it.
How you check your transmission fluid is largely dependent on the make and model of your car – but do you know what to look for?
A basic motorist tool kit is essential in any car. You never know what type of situation you’ll end up in and when you are going to have to use it.
Here we have a basic tool box, for this type of thing, everything can be stored in here.
Then we come across to your basic wrenches that you would usually use, a pair of pliers, an adjustable wrench, some Allen keys – most European cars need Allen keys, rather than your standard Phillips head or flat head screw drivers, a blade, your tyre pressure gauge, some tape, have some water dispersant, a torch.
Most importantly if you have a flat tyre, you have your air compressor here, then we have a couple of kits, as well. We have all of your screw drivers, torque bits and wrenches here for you as well.
As you can see, your emergency road-side toolkit packs away nicely. Pop this inside the boot of your car and just in case you ever need it, you are prepared and ready to go!
Being able to make maintenance checks is one thing, but being able to do them is another. Make sure you have the right tools on hand to do the job properly and not cause any more damage yourself.
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The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.