You don’t need to know what a piston ring is or what a crankshaft does in order to be a responsible car owner.
Earlier this month, we gave you ten general tips on car maintenance. Now we’re giving you specifics—the things everyone who owns and drives their own car needs to get into the habit of doing to keep from wasting time, money, and stress caused by unwanted stalling or breakdowns.
BEFORE STARTING YOUR CAR, POP THE HOOD.
Maintaining a health and happy vehicle doesn’t start on the road. It starts even before you put your key in the ignition. Pop the hood and do the following checks before setting out for the day:
Check the water.
Most cars have their radiators located in front, near the bumper. Your radiator helps cool your engine, keeps your car running, and prevents overheating. Open the radiator cap and fill it with clean, distilled water. If your radiator has coolant, check the instructions first before topping up; most coolants will require water to be added periodically as well.
Fill up the reservoir with distilled water until the line or indicator. Don’t overfill—this can do more harm than good!
It’s brake, not break!
The brake fluid reservoir is usually located near one side of the car or near the driver. This has minimum and maximum levels, so be sure to put in enough brake fluid to go in between these lines. Maintaining optimal brake fluid levels ensure you will brake when you want to.
You need proper lubrication.
Pull out the oil indicator and check your oil level. The engine oil keeps the moving metal parts inside your engine lubricated to reduce friction and heat buildup. It should be at least halfway full. Any lower than that merits a trip to the shop for an oil change.
Your car battery is the small box with the clamps. It gives power when you start your car, your lights (interior and exterior), and your other electrical components. Always keep in mind that you have a warranty for this should it stop working, but try to get it replaced at least a month before the warranty expires.
Honk that horn.
Check to make sure your car horn works. It's likely you'll get honked at when you’re driving, so make sure it’s loud and clear so you can return the favor!
While they're not exactly under the hood, checking your tires should always be part of your pre-drive check. Keeping a standard pressure for all your tires reduces uneven wear and brake loss, and it saves fuel! Depending on your vehicle and personal preference, keep the pressure in between 28 and 31. Go to your nearest gas station to have your tires pressurized. Don’t forget the spare!
BEFORE LEAVING, CHECK IF ALL IS IN ORDER.
So you’ve put the hood back down, climbed into your car, and are about to turn the key in the ignition. But wait! Do these things first:
Properly adjust your rearview and side mirrors.
These help minimize your blindspots, certain areas of your car that you cannot see unless you turn your head (very dangerous on the road!). It’s recommended to get clip-on extended rearview mirrors. They help loads!
Check if you have your license.
That traffic cop who pulled you over will be more susceptible to your charms when you have this little plastic card with you, trust us. Plus, if you're pulled over for an infraction, driving without a license will only pile another offense—and penalty—on top of it.
Lock your doors and roll up the windows.
Safety first! Crazies or potential carjackers have been known to simply wrench open an unlocked car door—even when you’re right on the road. Or, in a more mundane yet still potentially dangerous scenario, you or a passenger may pull on the car door handle without meaning to—and open the door right in moving traffic!
PRACTICE GOOD DRIVING ETIQUETTE
Now you’re off, driving toward wherever it is you want to go. Here are some good habits to be religious about observing:
Be aware of your surroundings.
A quick glance at your rearview and side mirrors will give you a fairly accurate idea of the vehicles around you. Always keep your eyes on the road. Your makeup can be applied before or after you leave—not when you’re at a stoplight or stuck in traffic (things could start moving at any moment). Use your phone only when necessary—in some cities, using your phone while driving is a punishable offense (that the traffic police love to enforce). While this may seem a bit extreme, for all intents and purposes, your judgment and reflexes are just as impaired when you’re distracted by your honey’s “I <3 U” SMS as you are when driving drunk or stoned.
Use your signal lights.
When switching lanes, we often neglect to use our signal lights to let the drivers beside and behind us know what we’re about to do. To avoid accidents and just to practice plain old road etiquette, indicate your intention of turning or switching into another lane, wait a moment, then do your thing.
Maintain a decent speed.
Going too fast may leave you and the drivers around you with too little time to react when something unexpected happens—which can lead to accidents. Going too slow along the highway can be just as dangerous as going too fast because other drivers will be forced to avoid you by changing lanes in a hurry, which could also cause an accident. Keep a happy medium: finding a speed you can maintain with the traffic you’re currently in will also help you save gas, since more gas is expended when accelerating or decelerating than when cruising along at a consistent KPH.
VISIT YOUR FRIENDLY MECHANIC EVERY THREE TO FOUR MONTHS.
Tune-ups are done by mechanics to ensure your car is running smoothly. They also replace your engine oil for you as well as check and replace worn or damaged parts. Remember to ask them to check your spark plugs, timing belts, brake pads (and have them replaced if necessary), your transmission oil or automatic transmission fluid (ATF), your air conditioning, and your lights!
Going to your car brand’s manufacturer (or casa) for a tune-up can be expensive, so ask your friends where they have their cars maintained, and make sure to develop a good relationship with the car shops you like—sukis may give you better service and better prices. Having a reliable shop can be a lifesaver!
Daily and periodic car maintenance ensures your car is running in tip-top shape and gives you more mileage on your car parts. Responsible driving won’t earn you points from other motorists, but it’ll go a long way toward avoiding accidents and having a great time behind the wheel!
(Photo source: Jamie Harris, via sxc.hu)