Car maintenance 101
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.
Every car owner should know the basics of car maintenance and the simple vehicle checks that can be carried out at home.
Your car may be your best friend or your pride and joy, but above all else, it’s a machine. Every machine has a tendency to experience wear and tear over time, however, there are a few simple steps you can take to minimize these issues without the need to visit a mechanic, saving you time and money.
Automotive Training Advisor Daniel Schonewille shares his expertise on how to carry out basic car checks at home and how to identify wear and tear on your car, plus the steps you can take to fix them.
Your quick and simple car care guide
Danielle: In this video we look at how simple routine vehicle checks can play a vital role in keeping your car in its best condition. Protecting your investment, but also keeping you and your family safe.
We are joined here by Daniel, qualified technician who will help us to understand why routine checks like changing your oil or checking coolant levels can help keep our cars in their best condition.
Daniel: That’s right! Doing simple and regular safety checks on your vehicle, makes sure it’s always going to run safely and efficiently. And today, we are going to help you use some simple safety checks, so you can spot any tell-tale issues.
Stage 1: General safety check
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.
Stage 2: Tyre check
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 kilometers, or whatever the manufacturer specifies.
Stage 3: Tyre pressure
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.
Stage 4: Changing a fuse
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.
Stage 5: Brake system checks
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.
Stage 6: Brake lights and indicator checks
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.
Stage 7: Coolant level checks
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.
Stage 8: Oil level checks
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.
Stage 9: Auto transmission level checks
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.
Motor tool kit
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!
Danielle: Your manufacturer has designed a maintenance schedule, found in your Owner’s Manual around the specific needs of your particular vehicle.
Follow this schedule and chances are your vehicle will deliver optimum performance.
Careful preventative maintenance will help you save time and money on more expensive replacement parts and servicing. Most of all, it will keep you and your family safer on the road.
Whether you’re new to the road or an experienced driver, knowing the basics of car maintenance will make you feel more confident as a car owner and help you look after your vehicle.
- General safety check: Take a walk around your car and look for any damage, dents or deterioration.
- Tyre check: Check your tyre’s tread and date to make sure there is not too much wear or that the tyre is not too old.
- Tyre pressure: Use a tyre pressure gauge to make sure your tyres are not over or under inflated.
- Changing a fuse: If something electrical has stopped working, check the fuse – it’s easier than you think.
- Brake system check: Don’t drive your vehicle if your brake fluid level is under the minimum mark on the reservoir.
- Brake lights and indicator check: Making sure these lights work is so important as they tell other drivers what you’re doing.
- Coolant level check: Coolant can evaporate or leak over time, so have a look if it’s been a while since your last servicing.
- Oil level check: Having too little oil can lead to premature wear and tear of your engine.
- Auto transmission level check: Speak with your mechanic or dealership if you find any leaking fluid.
What you’ll need in your roadside emergency tool kit
- Set of metric combination spanners: 8mm, 10mm, 13mm, 15mm and 17mm (older vehicles may use imperial measurement. Ask your parts retailer).
- Eight-inch adjustable spanner.
- Set of Phillips and slotted screwdrivers: in small, medium and large.
- Metric socket set with 3/8th drive (older vehicles may use imperial measurement. Ask your parts retailer).
- Pair of pliers
- Allen key set
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Small 12-volt tyre compressor
- Pressure can of emergency tyre Inflation
- Can of water dispersant (such as WD40)
- Roll of electrical/duct tape
- Work gloves
- Latex gloves
- Ground sheet
- Clean rags (for checking oil levels)
- Hand sanitiser
- Jack and tyre/wheel wrench
Read more on Learn About
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- Buying a new car? Petrol or diesel: Which is best for you?
- The future of the automotive industry
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.
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