Your essential car maintenance guide
17 July 2023
Whether you use your car to drive long distances or just for short trips to the shops, it’s good to know how it should run – you never know when it will come in handy.
What is car maintenance?
Car maintenance involves you taking preventative actions to prolong the life of your car. Such actions can include:
- changing the oil on a regular basis
- keeping your tyres inflated with enough air, and
- regularly having the car serviced by a qualified mechanic.
Why car maintenance is important
When you maintain your car, you’re giving it the best chance to perform better over a longer period. That has huge potential benefits over the long run.
Maintaining your car can protect you, your passengers, and those you share the road with from potential injury or worse. The last thing you’d want is a vital safety feature, like having the airbags fail in a moment of need, or a rusty part dislodging at high speed.
When you maintain the health of your car, it runs like a well-oiled machine – literally. You give yourself and your car the best chance to work when you take care of it.
With cars, a minor issue left unchecked can quickly become major. And major issues can be time-consuming – and expensive to fix.
When to take your car for a service
Taking your car to a mechanic can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. You can get a list of accredited mechanics from your local motoring association. Once you find a great mechanic, consider them your car maintenance guru.
Whether you purchase a new or used car, it should come with a manual. It provides detailed information about the car, including the recommended servicing times. Generally, a car should receive a minor service every six months and a major service annually.
If you drive your car more than the average person, have your car serviced every 10,000 kilometres. Servicing schedules do vary between manufacturers. Familiarise yourself with your car’s manual or logbook and plan based on this.
How to perform simple car maintenance
It never hurts to learn a new skill – especially when it can help you out of a jam. Understanding the basics of car maintenance is a prime example, and it’s much simpler than most people think.
Before you do your checks
Having the right tools can help you complete most maintenance tasks properly and prevent further damage to the car. Keep an emergency toolkit in a secure location like your garage or in the boot of your car.
Emergency toolkit essentials
- A set of metric combination spanners: 8mm, 10mm, 13mm, 15mm and 17mm.
- An eight-inch adjustable spanner.
- A set of Phillips and slotted screwdrivers in small, medium and large.
- A metric socket set with 3/8th drive.
- A pair of pliers.
- An Allen key set.
- A tyre pressure gauge.
- A small 12-volt tyre compressor.
- A pressure can of emergency tyre Inflation.
- A can of water dispersant – such as WD40.
- A roll of electrical or duct tape.
- Work and latex gloves.
- A groundsheet.
- Clean rags for checking oil levels.
- Hand sanitiser.
- A jack and tyre/wheel wrench.
Keep a copy of your checklist handy to know what you currently have or will need to get. Older vehicles may use imperial measurements for tools such as spanners. Ask your parts dealer what the metric equivalent would be.
Car maintenance checks you can do at home
Stage 1: Safety checks
Every so often, you should walk around your vehicle and look for any damage, deterioration, or dents – even if you think your car is fine.
Stage 2: Tyre check
Check your tyre’s tread and date to ensure they’re not too old or worn out. Having tyres in good condition is important for safety and can also be good for fuel economy.
Stage 3: Tyre pressure
If your tyres are over or under-inflated, it can be hazardous for you and those around you. You should be able to locate the manufacturer’s recommended PSI level in the car’s manual or on the tyre.
Stage 4: Changing a fuse
If something electrical within your car has stopped working, it could be the fuse. Checking this is easier than you might think. First, ensure that the vehicle is turned off then figure out which fuses are faulty and remove them with a pair of needle nose pliers. Then replace it with a new fuse with the same amperage.
Stage 5: Brake system checks
A brake warning light may appear on your dashboard. Firstly, check if your emergency or parking brake is engaged. If not, open the bonnet and check if your brake fluid is past the minimum mark on your reservoir.
If it’s below this mark, do not drive your vehicle. Arrange to have it taken to your nearest service centre to be serviced.
Stage 6: Brake lights and indicator checks
Ensuring your brake lights and indicators are working is essential. To check your brake lights and indicators, turn your ignition on and make sure your car is parked. Get a friend or family member to observe your lights.
If they’re not working, don’t worry. They’re relatively easy to replace. Read your owner’s manual to see what type of bulb it needs. An auto parts retailer can sell you a replacement bulb, and usually, they can install the replacement for an extra cost.
Stage 7: Coolant level checks
Engine coolant is a special liquid designed to prevent your engine from overheating. When you take your car to a mechanic, they will top up your coolant. But keep an eye on your coolant levels, as it can evaporate or leak over time.
Stage 8: Oil level checks
Too little oil can lead to serious mechanical issues for your engine, but so can having too much oil. Here’s how to check your car’s oil levels:
- Check your owner’s manual to find the location of your car’s dipstick.
- Ensure the car is also on a flat service and the engine has been stopped for at least 20 minutes.
- Remove your dipstick and clean it with a rag. The dipstick will have marks indicating the lowest and highest recommended levels.
- Place the dipstick back in and draw it back out. This should now show you an accurate level.
Stage 9: Auto transmission level checks
In older vehicles, the auto transmission reservoir will be similar to the oil tank and contain a dipstick. In modern cars, this may not be the case. If you have noticed leakage from the auto transmission reservoir, take your car to your mechanic and have them investigate this.
Stage 10: Have appropriate coverage
Now that you know the basics of car maintenance, the next thing you should do is ensure you have the right insurance for your car. Suncorp Insurance offers a variety of car insurance coverage that may suit your needs.
- How to wash your car at home
- When is it time to sell your car?
- How to protect your car from hail and storm damage
Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Limits and exclusions apply. Read the Product Disclosure Statement before buying this insurance. The Target Market Determination is also available. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.
The information is intended to be of general nature only. Subject to any rights you may have under any law, we do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage, including loss of business or profits or any other indirect loss, incurred as a result of reliance upon the information. Please make your own enquiries.