Keeping one’s car in top notch condition is no Herculean task if one knows exactly what to do and how to do it. In fact, it is nothing more complicated than keeping a few essential parameters under a close watch and knowing the right manner in which to deal with problems that tend to arise unexpected every now and then.
Now for a task that is being claimed to be so very simple, it seems quite unfair, not to mention downright pointless, if one has to give away a considerably large share of one’s hard-earned money every other month or so to a professional mechanic, especially when the expenditure has to be made to fix those problems that would never occur in the first place if only one is aware of a few simple yet important precautions that can save one the entire ordeal.
So, here are a whole bunch of Do-It-Yourself car maintenance tips that anyone can follow quite easily, and once adopted in daily routine, can surely cut down on not only the car maintenance expenses of the owner but also on their car troubles.
Wheels and Tyres
Everyday travel no doubt takes a heavy toll on every part of a car, but there are few that are affected as badly as the wheels. That’s the reason why taking proper care of tyres and wheels requires the owner to bear a number of important points in mind:
1. Defective tyres are extremely dangerous and so it becomes very important that tyres are checked regularly for defects like cracks, bulges, excessive wear, trapped objects and the likes.
2. To know if the tyres have worn out to the limit where it is necessary to replace them with a new set, all a person needs to do is check if the tyre’s tread surface has become level with the tread wear indicators that are present on every good quality tyre these days. Exclusively designed tread depth gauges, available at auto-part stores, can also be used for the purpose.
3. Maintaining proper tyre pressure (neither too low, nor too high) in all the tyres, including the spare, at all times is of vital importance not only for the tyres’ health but also for obtaining the best results in the fields of fuel-economy, braking, handling, comforts and road grip. The easiest way to do that is by keeping a tyre pressure gauge at hand at all times, taking pressure readings every week without fail, tallying them with the ideal readings specified in the car’s user manual and getting the tyres inflated accordingly.
4. It should always be borne in mind that pressure readings tend to get faulty if tyre temperature is high. That’s why it is advised that readings should always be taken only when the tyres are cold. Particularly for those regions where temperature changes are too frequent or where high temperatures are very common, it is better if pressure readings are taken more often.
5. If inspite of maintaining proper inflation uneven wear is detected in tyres during the regular check, wheel alignment or other wheel parts might have a problem which should be checked and corrected only by an expert.
6. Other than cases involving uneven wear, getting the wheel alignment checked is advised in situations where the steering feels stiff, the car tends to pull to one side, new wheels are installed, or the car has covered a distance of 48,000km or whatever distance is specified in the owner’s manual.
7. An essential measure that every car owner needs to take to prolong the lifetime of their car’s tyres is to rotate them in the right pattern at the right time so that the wear can be distributed uniformly among all four of them. To know the correct time and pattern of rotation, either the owner’s manual or a professional mechanic must be consulted.
8. The nasty combination of brake dust, road grime, dirt and moisture that keeps on accumulating on the wheels and brakes of a car as time passes is not very easy to remove, especially if one uses the same cleaning agents that are meant for the car body. To get rid of this tough mix of damaging agents properly, it is very important to make use of a proper cleaning solution meant particularly for the wheels. Amongst those too, there are different varieties of cleaning products available in the market for the different types of wheels to be chosen from like those for chrome-coated wheels, for steel wheels, for clear-coated wheels etc. Making the perfect choice here is the key to an easy and complete cleaning.
Engine is the heart of every machine. For the machine to function properly, it is very important for the heart to function properly. Following are some pointers that can help car owners a lot in keeping the engine of their car fit and fine:
1. There are several rubber drive belts present under the hood of a car that tend to get worn due to continuous use, giving rise to various technical problems. To avoid such situations, auto-experts strongly recommend check-up of these belts after every 40,000km and complete replacement after every 80,000km or so.
2. To keep the car’s engine working efficiently, it is necessary to keep track of the engine oil level. Every 5,000kms or after every three-six months, the oil level must be checked and the tank must be refilled if required. To check the oil level, all that needs to be done is to park the car on level ground, turn the engine off, allow it to cool for a few minutes, remove the dipstick from its socket, wipe it clean, insert it back, leave for a minute and pull it out again. If the oil mark on the dipstick is not within the acceptable range, the oil level needs to be adjusted immediately.
3. Ensuring that the engine coolant/antifreeze remains within the acceptable limits at all times is another important factor for keeping car troubles at a minimum. The owner’s manual can easily point out the coolant reservoir for those who do not know what it looks like, and checking the level of coolant is a simple matter of observing the fluid through the translucent container to see whether or not it lies between the ‘high’ and ‘low’ markings etched on the container. A check after every 40,000km is usually recommended. All the observer needs to bear in mind is never to perform the check when the engine is hot.
4. Checking the transmission fluid level after every 40,000km and always keeping it in the recommended range is just as important for a car’s health as the other oils and fluids. After locating the ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) reservoir with the help of the owner’s manual, the same inspection process as that of engine oil needs to be adopted, only with the engine turned on this time.
5. A clean engine not only reduces heat generation under the bonnet but also makes detection of faults, leaks and disconnections extremely easy. That’s the reason why a thorough cleanup of a car’s engine every year or so is recommended by auto-experts, but only after protecting the sensitive parts, such as the air intake and the distributor, properly with plastic sheets. This cleanup can either be done using simple tools and cleaning agents like a dishwashing liquid and a bristle brush, or with the help of special engine-cleaning products, or even by professionals using a steam cleaning technique.
6. To avoid sudden engine overheating and problems like sudden breakdown, a monthly check of the engine hoses is very important. Disconnections, breakages, excessive hardening or softening of hose walls, leakages and deformations - everything calls either for a repair or a replacement altogether.
7. Although modern engine technology permits much longer gaps between consecutive oil changes than earlier, the fact remains that frequent oil changes help maintain a cleaner and hence a healthier engine. For those who wish to keep their car’s engine fit and fine, the best option is to follow the oil change timings mentioned in the ‘severe conditions’ category of their owner’s manual.
8. Keeping the various filters that work in conjunction with a car’s engine clean and getting them replaced at the correct time is vital for extracting optimised performance from the car. According to auto-experts, for the engine’s health it is very important to change the oil filter at every other oil change, to change the transmission fluid filter after the first 8,000km and at every transmission fluid change afterwards, and to check the air filter every two months, blow through it with compressed air to keep it clean for longer durations and replace it when it gets exceedingly dirty.
9. Depending on the recommendations in the car’s user’s manual, spark plugs must be changed on time to keep the performance and fuel-efficiency up to the mark.
Next to the engine, it is the battery of a car that serves as the most important component of the car’s power-supply chain, and that’s why it is extremely important to ensure that the battery works fine. Although most of the modern-day batteries are maintenance-free by nature, do not require a daily check-up and can go on without a fault for years on end, following are a few points that every car owner must consider to extend the life of their battery as far as possible:
1. If not a daily check, then definitely a monthly one is necessary to avoid any unexpected battery hassles for every car owner. Presence of excessive dirt on the battery’s case and terminals calls for a proper clean-up while the presence of defects like cracks and bulges calls for a complete replacement.
2. Keeping the battery’s case and terminals clean helps maintain an easy flow of charge in the mechanical system and helps in deriving maximum efficiency from the battery. Before cleaning the battery, however, it is very important to disconnect either both (negative terminal first) or at least the negative terminal to avoid any chances of electric shocks. Similarly, after cleaning, it is very important to reconnect the positive terminal first (if both terminals had been disconnected prior to the cleaning) and make sure the connections are nice and tight.
3. For cleaning the case and terminals of the battery, all that is needed is a wet rag, a brass wire battery brush and a solution of water either with baking soda or a mild detergent.
4. In case a car has a battery that needs water, the electrolyte level needs to be checked regularly and a refill with distilled water, and not plain tap water, needs to be done whenever needed. For those who are not very comfortable with the entire procedure, taking the help of a professional is better.
Brakes and Shock Absorbers
Keeping an eye on the brakes and shock absorbers of a car is not only important for a safe and comfortable ride but also very easy to do. Here is what needs to be done:
1. It is good to check the brake fluid level in the car every month and refill the reservoir to the recommended mark as and when required. For refill purposes, only that type of brake fluid should be used that is suggested by the manufacturer, and it should be ensured that the fluid is not taken from a previously opened container as brake fluid tends to get contaminated after exposure to air and moisture.
2. Extreme care must be taken during the process to keep the brake fluid away from the face as it is extremely toxic. Also, the brake fluid should not be allowed to spill on the car paint as it can damage it.
3. In case one notices that the brake fluid reservoir is being needed to be refilled more frequently than it should, the brake system might have a problem and a professional needs to be consulted in such situations.
4. The brake system being such a complex and vital part of every car, it is advised that the brake system should be checked by a professional after every 16,000km.
5. Faults in the braking system can be easily detected by keeping an eye out for certain signs during braking like lack of firmness in the brake pedal, a squealing sound emanating from the brake pedal, vibration in the brake pedal or steering wheel and a grinding sound of metal-on-metal contact emanating from the brake pedal. A thorough check-up is necessary in such cases.
6. To check whether a car’s shock absorbers are in good working condition or not, the car needs to be pushed down on each corner, released and then watched carefully to observe whether it takes just one or two bounces or more for it to return to its normal position. If more than two are required, then the shock absorbers might need replacement.