There’s more to good car care than just taking your vehicle in for a 6-monthly service. How you look after your car in between services will make a big difference for your daily enjoyment of driving, your car’s long terms health, and how much you need to pay when service time rolls around.
Here are five essential ways to treat your car right, from everyday conscientiousness to DIY maintenance jobs.
1. Petrol Station Multi-Tasking
Putting petrol in your car is unavoidable, so utilise this time to carry out some car care. Here is the ABC of multitasking at a petrol station.
a. Clean Your Windshields
A dirty windscreen looks nasty and it also interferes with visibility while driving. The spray and wipe function of your windscreen wipers can only do so much to help, especially after a long drive. So, if you’re filling up and you notice your front or rear windshield is particularly dirty, give it a proper clean. Almost all petrol stations will have squeegees and cleaning fluid you can use for free.
First, soak the whole windshield in the cleaning fluid with the spongy part of the squeegee. Then, use the other side to clean the glass from the centre out to each edge and then from top to bottom. Don’t forget to give your headlights some love if they’re looking dirty.
b. Check Your Tyre Pressure
Underinflated or overinflated tyres are problematic. Either way, your car won’t handle or stops as well and your tread will wear unevenly. Underinflated tyres, in particular, also increase your risk of a blow-out, as the extra friction can overheat your tyres.
Every time you fill your tank (or every other time, at least) you should check your tyre pressure and add air if needed. Whether you check the tyre pressure at home or at the petrol station will depend on how far you need to drive to get there. Driving around will affect tyre pressure, so an accurate pressure reading requires that your tyres be ‘cold’ or close to it.
If there is a petrol station within a 1.5-kilometre radius of your home, use their equipment. If it’s further, check your tyre pressure before you go and fill up. If you’ve been driving around and want to check your pressure, let the tyres rest for four hours before you do. Once you’re ready, here’s what you do:
- Make sure you know the recommended PSI for your tyres. You can find this out from your driver’s manual or from the handy panel on the inside of your driver’s side door.
- If you’re at home, you’ll need a tyre pressure gauge and an air pump with pressure reading. At the servo, these will be one unit.
- Check the tyre pressure before you put any air in to avoid accidentally overinflating.
- If the pressure is too low, just fill it to the right level. Most petrol stations have digital systems that allow you to input the pressure you want, but some places (and most portable air pumps) have analogue meters that require a little more care.
c. Check and Top up Oil Level
Oil is as important to your car as sap is to trees, water is to fish, or beer is to Fridays. Without enough oil, the moving parts in your car’s engine won’t be lubricated properly. If oil levels get too low, your car will simply stop working. Make filling up your oil the last thing you do at the petrol station as your car needs 5-10 minutes to cool down before you can get an accurate oil level measurement. Once your car has cooled down, all you need to do is:
- Open the hood and find your engine’s dipstick. It’s usually located within easy reaching distance and features a picture of an oil can or simply the word ‘oil’.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with paper towel or a rag.
- Push the dipstick all the way back down then remove it again, being careful to keep it vertical so the oil doesn’t run up toward the handle.
- The oil level should sit somewhere in between the two lines representing ‘empty’ and ‘full’ on the dipstick. If it is on or below the bottom line, top the oil up.
- Never put in too much oil, just under a litre at most; too much oil isn’t good either.
It’s normal for a little bit of oil to be lost as you drive your car, but it shouldn’t be too much. You should only need to top up your oil every 1,600 kilometres or so. If you’re doing it more regularly, you probably have a leak and should get your engine checked by a professional.
2. Car Maintenance You Can Do at Home
A lot of maintenance tasks and repairs now require specialised tools and training. But, there are certain car fundamentals that haven’t changed and that means there is still value in caring for your vehicle yourself. Here are three things that every driver should try for themselves.
a. Fresh Oil for Your Car
Oil is the lifeblood of your car and, over time, it gets dirty and needs to be changed. Consult your user manual to find out how often you’ll need to change your oil. Most cars can travel about 8,000 kilometres between changes, but some don’t need fresh oil until after almost 20,000 kilometres! You may need to get this job done by a mechanic to meet warranty conditions, but if not you can do it at home. Here’s how:
- Drain the oil – first, run your car for 2-3 minutes to warm the oil. Then kill the engine and find your oil drain plug (you’ll probably need to jack your car up). Wearing rubber gloves, use a socket wrench to loosen the drain plug and then unscrew it by hand and let the oil drain into a pan. Bear in mind you’ll need a way to dispose of or store this oil.
- Next, change the oil filter. Simply unscrew the old one, lubricate the rim of the new filter, and screw it in place.
- Once the oil has finished draining, you’ll be ready to refill your car with new oil. Give the area around the drain hole a wipe and replace the plug, tightening it with your socket wrench. Now use a funnel to slowly pour fresh oil into the engine. You’ll need to do a little research to make sure you have the right oil type and know how much to put in. Once you’re done, run the engine for 30-60 seconds, let it cool off, and then check the level. Add more oil if necessary and repeat this process until the dipstick shows ‘full’. Drive around the block a few times, let the engine cool off, and then check a final time. If the oil level is still right, you’re all done!
b. Let Your Car Breathe
Changing your car’s air filter regularly will increase fuel efficiency, lengthen your engine’s lifespan, and reduce your car’s emission of pollutants. Your car needs to breathe to function and the cleaner the air it gets the better it works. You should change your air filter once a year or every 20,000 kilometres, whichever one comes first. Here’s what you do:
- Open your car’s hood and find the black air filter box – if you can’t locate it, check your owner’s manual.
- Unclip the metal clasps holding the box down, open it, and pull out the old air filter.
- Place your new air filter in the box, making sure it fits snugly and clasp the box shut again. That’s it – just make sure you have the right air filter for your car’s make and model.
c. Keep Your Wheels Rotated
Playing musical chairs with your tyres will equalise their wear patterns, making for longer lasting, safer, and more fuel-efficient tyres. This is a job you can do yourself with a few tools. So, check the ideal rotation schedule for your car in your owner’s manual and then get started:
- With your car in park and the handbrake on, loosen the lug nuts on your wheels about a quarter turn.
- Jack the car up, either one wheel at a time or using four jack stands to lift the whole vehicle.
- Remove the tyres and rotate them, partially tightening the lugs as you go; exactly how this works will depend on a few factors:
- For tyres with directional tread, simply switch the front left wheel for the rear left wheel, and do the same for the right.
- For non-directional tyres and front-wheel drive, switch the front right tyre for the back right tyre, and the front left tyre for the back left tyre. Then move the rear wheels straight forward. For rear-wheel drive, move the rear tyres forward diagonally and the front wheels straight back.
- Lower your car, tighten up the lugs fully and evenly, and you’re done.
3. Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness
Most cars spend a lot of their lives outside. That means they are incessantly bombarded by UV radiation, dirty city rain, pollution, dead bugs, leaf litter, salinity, and bird poop. All these factors and more have a corrosive effect on your car’s paint and if they get through that they will affect the metal underneath.
Regularly washing your car won’t just make it look better when you’re cruising down the main, it will also help to keep your car in better condition. Over time, cleaning will save you money on repainting and repairs and help your car retain more of its resale value.
How Often Should You Clean?
The time between cleans will depend largely on where you live and what the climate is like. If you live near the coast – especially if it’s an urban area with air pollution – the high salinity levels mean you should wash your car two or three times a month. The same goes for busy urban centres where pollution, grime, and general city-borne pollution will accumulate on your car. If you live inland in low-pollution areas, cleaning once a month should do the trick.
If you decide to skip the car wash and clean yourself, here are a few tips:
- Clean your car in the shade, inside the garage, or on a cool day. The sun’s heat may evaporate soapy water too quickly, leaving spots.
- Take a little extra time to get tricky areas spotless after you’ve finished your general clean.
- Choose your cleaning products carefully.
- Help your car to shine and give it extra protection by using a good quality car wax.
4. Your Car Is Not a Bin, Don’t Treat It Like One
Too many people use their car like a rubbish bin, leading to mountains of fast food wrappers, fountains of old receipts, and a general build-up of dirt, mud and other debris.
This isn’t just embarrassing; it’s also not good for your mental health and concentration. Studies have shown that excessive clutter and mess can reduce attention span and concentration, make switching between tasks more difficult. Clutter can also impair your information processing ability and make you feel unhappy in general.
Try to get out of bad habits like eating and drinking in your car or leaving things on the floor. To complement these efforts, you should also put aside a time each week to clean the inside of your car, because it’s inevitable your good habits will falter now and then. Clear out rubbish, vacuum the floors, and wipe down your dash and other areas.
5. Find a Trusted Expert for Your Car
You should also take the time to choose a good mechanic or service centre to take care of your car’s repairs and regular servicing. Don’t just go with whoever is closest or cheapest; instead look for true car professionals with these qualities:
- Great customer service skills – look at their online reviews, testimonials, and service guarantees.
- Straightforward communication skills – mechanics who communicate exclusively in jargon are bad news.
- Good diagnostic skills.
- A great work ethic.
- Up-to-date technology in-house and a policy of ongoing professional development for their team.
- Reputable certifications, affiliations, and industry endorsements are always a good sign.
It’s also a good idea to learn more about how your car works and educate yourself on the average cost of various services and parts. This will empower you to choose a fair and honest mechanic or team to take care of your car.