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Cars are complicated pieces of machinery, but understanding their basic working mechanisms is simple if you know what you’re looking for and if you know the right people. Here are ten basic maintenance tips that will keep you up to speed in your car-ownership experience.
Get acquainted with the car manual.
The thick manual with its charts, parts diagrams, and lines upon lines of text may be intimidating, but as a car owner it is your friend. Take the time to read through it, marking the important parts—like the inspection and replacement schedules for parts and fluids—with clearly labeled tabs for easy reference.
Know all the bells, whistles, and lights.
The instrument panel in the dashboard has gauges, meters, and indicator lights, among the most important of which are the water temperature gauge, the engine check light, and the indicators for electronic nannies like the antilock braking system and traction control, if your vehicle is equipped with these. Be familiar with these, as they help you monitor your car’s condition while on the road.
Also, find out what each and every button, knob, switch, and lever in the car is for and what sets off warning beeps in the vehicle.
Find the right people.
Just as you have a trusted salon for getting your hair cut and nails done, having a suki service center is also advisable. Get suggestions from the car people among your family and friends. Also, the online forums for car clubs normally devote an entire section to car maintenance, and there is usually a thread that lists recommended service centers in each forum. Find a local car club based on the brand or model you own (meaning the group is composed of people who drive the same brand of car or the same vehicle model), join their online forum, and learn what you can.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, pay each service center a visit. See if they operate in a systematic, orderly fashion, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or voice your concerns. If the service team in any way acts in a dismissive or condescending manner, look somewhere else.
Take note of your service schedule.
The recommended service schedule in your car manual was not necessarily written with the local driving conditions in mind. What you can do is have your service center note down the maintenance schedules better suited for conditions here and stick to them dutifully.
Service intervals are based on distance traveled or time elapsed; for instance, the manual may state that the recommended engine oil change interval is every 5,000 kilometers or every six months, whichever comes first. To keep track of things, keep a logbook and write down the date and mileage every time you bring the car to the center, as well as the type of service done per visit.
Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Service centers give you a job order enumerating what exactly will be done to your car each time you bring it in. If you’re not familiar with even one of the service procedures listed, ask what sort of work it entails—especially if it involves a parts change or major repair work concerning the engine, transmission, or electrical components.
Also, if the initial price quotation seems too high, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion elsewhere.
Wash your car regularly.
Bugs and bird droppings not only make your car look like it's developed some sort of skin disease, but can leave permanent stains on your paint job if not dealt with in time. So make sure you wash your car regularly. It could mean the difference between having the original paint job on your car even years and years after you bought it and dishing out tens of thousands to get it repainted. For tips on how to wash your car properly, check out these articles from eHow.com and AutoEducation.com.
Conduct DIY inspections.
To be on the safe side, make it a habit to check your car’s pedals (if they are depressing properly), tires (for flats or lodged foreign objects), lights, and horn on a daily basis. Meanwhile, inspect the engine oil, engine coolant, windshield washer, and tire-pressure levels on a weekly basis.
Finally, do a monthly check on the condition of the windscreen wipers, all the tires (including the spare), the battery (for corrosion), and the air-conditioning system, as well as the transmission, brake, and clutch fluids. Instructions on how to do these may be found in the car manual.
Don't leave home without the basic tools.
Car tool kits for different budget ranges may be bought in hardware stores, but when it comes to wrenches and sockets, be sure to get adjustable types to fit every nut and bolt in your vehicle. Electric-powered tire pumps and jacks that can be plugged into the lighter jack are also convenient to have, but they are a bit on the pricey side.
Other must-haves are a one-gallon container filled with water, a flashlight, and rags for cleaning up.
Learn how to use the tools.
Again, your friend the car manual will have step-by-step diagrams showing how to jack up the car, change tires, jumpstart a dead battery, and the like. What you can also do is ask a person in the know—a mechanic or a family member or friend who knows his way with cars—to show you how to do this so you won’t be caught unaware in case of an emergency.
Observe proper driving habits.
Half the trick to keeping a well-maintained car is driving it properly. Not overloading your vehicle, for instance, is one way to go about it, so don’t volunteer to be the sole driver during a barkada shopping spree that will inevitably end with the trunk piled high with purchases. This not only puts too much stress on the suspension, but it also overworks the engine.
Another simple way to take care of your car is to avoid hard acceleration and braking. Doing so prolongs the life of the transmission and the brakes and dramatically improves fuel consumption.
Have a pit-stop strategy.
It helps to make a note of the auto shops and gasoline stations on your route to and from work and other usual destinations, just in case an emergency situation prevents you from making it all the way to your usual service center. It will be much faster than calling for help and waiting alone, especially after dark.
As you take on the roads every day, you will encounter many bumps, ruts, and roadblocks, but with a properly working vehicle, you will be able to maneuver around these safely and confidently.