Buying a car is the second biggest purchase most people make in a lifetime, after buying a home. After that kind of investment, it's worth putting in the effort to keep your car in good condition for as long as you can. Regular checking and maintenance will give you trouble-free travelling, as well as ensure that you enjoy your vehicle for a long time.
Remember the old days when every time you pulled into a gas station you checked oil and coolant? Well, now there's a bit more to it than that. While the various fluids are generally checked, replaced or topped up during your 5,000 km oil change, it's good to keep an eye on them by checking more frequently. Even if you don't drive a lot, fluids degrade over time, so perform these checks at least once a month:
- Oil: Look for the oil dipstick, which is usually located near the front of the car's engine. The location depends on the model of your vehicle, so you can find it by checking in your Owner's Manual. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it dry, then insert it all the way into the oil reservoir. Pull it out again and check the film of oil on the end. It should be between the upper and lower lines. Top it up if it is too low. If the oil is overfilled, you should check with a mechanic.
- Coolant/antifreeze: Antifreeze, also called coolant keeps your car cool in summer and prevents freezing in winter. In most climates, a 50/50 mix of distilled water and antifreeze works all year round. The coolant reservoir is located near the front or side of the engine and is usually fairly transparent with a bottom line labelled 'Cold' and a top line labelled 'Hot'. Never check your coolant with your engine hot! Some coolant reservoirs are under pressure, and coolant can be extremely hot. With your engine cold, open the cap and top it up until the level reaches the lower ('Cold') indicator line. Be sure to clean up any spills, as antifreeze can be deadly to animals.
- Windshield washer fluid: The reservoir for washer fluid is located at the end of a narrow tube leading from the base of the windshield wipers. It usually has a blue cap. To top it up, simply open the cap and refill the reservoir using summer or winter washer fluid depending on the season.
Other fluids, such as battery and brake fluids, are usually checked when you get your vehicle serviced. Modern vehicles also have indicator lights on the dashboard that show you if anything is wrong, so unless you see a light or feel your vehicle is not performing normally, in most cases it's not necessary to worry about them.
Your tires are vital to safe travel. Check them monthly for wear, signs of damage and air pressure. Stones, nails and other items embedded in the rubber are punctures waiting to happen - but before you pull them out, make sure your spare tire is inflated and in good shape because they may have already caused damage.
Getting your wheels rotated ahead of each season will keep them wearing evenly and is also a good time to check tire pressure and alignment.
If any of your lights aren't working, you not only increase your risk for a collision but also run the risk of getting fined by the police. On a weekly basis, test your headlights, brake lights and direction indicators to make sure everything is operating correctly. Occasionally, check the level of your headlights so you don't blind oncoming drivers unintentionally.
There's nothing worse than driving in the rain or snow and finding your windshield wipers are ineffective. Each month, check that they work properly by spraying washer fluid and checking for areas that aren't being cleared thoroughly. Replacing your windshield wipers is an easy, inexpensive process and it will ensure that your view of the road remains crystal clear - whatever the weather.
Follow the maintenance schedule in your Car Owner's Manual and you'll be able to prevent most problems from occurring. It costs far less to perform regular services and preventive maintenance than to pay for repairs after the fact. Doing so will prolong the life of your vehicle and give you many years of hassle-free driving pleasure.
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