If you’ve just bought a car for the first time, chances are, you’re riding high. You love your car, it works great for you, and you enjoy driving it. But if you want your car to age gracefully, you need to take care of it. The good news is that there are a few basic maintenance tasks that even the least experienced car owner can handle. Here are seven car maintenance tips to help beginners drive safely:
1. Watch Your Warning Lights
Warning lights were not invented for the exclusive purpose of irritating you. They’re your car’s way of waving a red flag in your face to get something fixed before the whole car is in trouble. As such, it’s important to know what the various warning lights mean.
For example, the check engine light and the service engine light are easy to confuse. The check engine light indicates there’s an issue with one of your engine components, while the service engine light tells you you’re nearing time for scheduled maintenance.
Other lights to learn include:
- ABS warning light
- Brake warning light
- Coolant warning light
- Electrical fault light
- Oil warning light
If the ABS (anti-lock braking system) or brake warning lights come on, head to your nearest repair shop ASAP.
If the coolant warning light goes on, it’s a warning sign that your engine is overheating. Immediately pull over, open the hood, and allow your engine to cool BEFORE you even think about touching the radiator.
If your oil warning light comes on, it usually means your oil is low. Do not try to drive your car until you’ve resolved this, as it can seriously damage your engine.
2. Check Your Fluids
And speaking of oil, you should always be sure to check your engine fluids.
Oil is the most important, as it reduces heat in the moving parts and aids in dispersing heat. However, you should also pay attention to your coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid.
As a rule, you should check your oil each month and change it as directed by your owner’s manual. This won’t be exceedingly pleasant, as you’ll have to get underneath the car and drain out all of the old oil. Of course, you could take your car to a mechanic to have the oil changed.
Around the time you check your oil, you should also check the various other fluids. However, don’t try to change your transmission fluid yourself. The transmission is one of the most complex parts of the whole engine, and any maintenance related to it should be left to the pros.
3. Clean Your Wipers and Windshield
Wipers are one of the more under-appreciated components of the car. And that’s a real shame, considering they allow you to see through your windshield so you don’t crash into other cars.
Cleaning your windshield is fairly easy–a hose and a bucket of soapy water should do the trick nicely. But don’t forget to clean your wipers, too.
If you notice your wipers aren’t working as well as they used to, don’t try to replace them yourself as a newbie. Being able to see is too important. Head to a professional to make sure it’s done right.
4. Replace Your Headlights
Your car’s headlights allow you to see the road (and objects on or near the road) in the dark, and they also allow other drivers and pedestrians to see you. So if they’re not working or you notice that they’re dim, replace them as soon as possible.
Fortunately, this is a pretty easy fix, as most cars today use headlights held in place with thin wire clips or retainers. All you really need to do is pop the bulb out from the headlight housing, unplug the wiring, and swap it out for a new, working bulb.
Your owner’s manual will tell you which model bulb to use for your vehicle. If you’ve lost the manual but know your car’s make, model, and year, you can consult with a counter person at your local auto parts shop.
To remove the bulb, all you usually need to do is open the hood and remove the lamp connections at the back of the housing. However, some tricky models require you to remove other parts (splash shields, air cleaners, etc.), so wear a pair of latex gloves and keep a flathead screwdriver, pliers, and sockets at hand.
5. Check Your Tire Pressure
Did you know that your tire pressure actually has a huge effect on your fuel economy? In fact, under-inflated tires can lower your gas mileage by 0.2% for every 1 psi drop in the average pressure of all tires. Plus, under- or over-inflated tires affect the relative ease of handling in your vehicle. So, when it comes to tire pressure, you want a Goldilocks scenario–not too much, not too little.
Your owner’s manual will tell you the recommended pressure for your tires. Some cars have tire-pressure monitors installed at the factory, but there are also gadgets that allow you to check tire pressure with your smartphone. Either way, it’s a good idea to check your tire pressure at least weekly. If you know you’re likely to forget, it can’t hurt to make it part of your daily routine.
6. Check Tread Depth
While you’re checking your tire pressure, make sure to check your tread depth. Much like the treads on a pair of shoes, the treads on your tires allow your car to maintain traction in all sorts of weather conditions. And unlike a race car, you don’t have a pit crew to switch out your tires when conditions change.
Whenever you check your tires, take a look at your tread depth. The good news is that many modern manufacturers incorporate tread wear bars into their designs to remove the guesswork. If you don’t have tires with a wear bar and don’t know how to spot worn-out treads, now might be the time to invest in new tires.
7. Maintain Your Battery
Finally, whatever you do, don’t neglect your car battery. And just to be clear: you’re not off the hook if your battery is labeled maintenance-free. At a minimum, check your battery terminals for signs of grime buildup or corrosion. If your terminals are looking nasty, get a brush designed for battery terminals and clean them.
If you don’t already have one, get a battery tester and jump starter just in case. Better still, you could get a spare battery. That said, if you don’t know how to properly install a battery, stick with a jump starter and get your car to a mechanic ASAP.
Need More Car Maintenance Tips?
If you need more car maintenance tips (or you need more complex repairs) don’t hesitate to ask for help.
We’re experienced auto repair professionals who know our way around both common and specialized repairs. If something in your car needs attention give us a call (and don’t forget to check out our specials!)