You don't have to be a mechanic to know when something isn't right with your vehicle. Whether it's a weird smell or a wobbling steering wheel, your car has ways of letting you know when it needs service. But what if you could identify these problems before they even arise?
Routine upkeep is the first step to preventing automotive issues, and, fortunately, you can tackle several DIY car maintenance tasks at home. With the help of your owner's manual, you'll be an expert in caring for and diagnosing your vehicle and knowing when to call the professionals.
Low tire pressure can make your tires feel softer or spongier, and you might notice a U-shaped symbol with an exclamation point on the dashboard. It's time to check your tire pressure, or PSI, with a tire pressure gauge.
Getting a reading is as straightforward as placing the meter on an open tire valve and comparing that number to the recommended PSI on the tire's sidewall. If the pressure is too low, fill up at the gas station. Poorly inflated tires can lead to blowouts and lower gas mileage, so if they keep deflating even when you're filling them up, head for a tire shop.
Most cars come with a car jack, a tire iron, and a spare donut tire underneath a panel in the trunk. If you know what you're doing, you can change a tire in less than a half hour. For emergencies, keep a can of Fix-a-Flat. The aerosol spray inflates tires and seals minor punctures in minutes — just be sure to visit a tire shop within 3 days or 100 miles.
Safety first, though: stay inside your car if you get a flat tire on the freeway or late at night. Call a tow truck for assistance and wait for the professionals.
Brake pads have a life span of about 40,000 miles, but it's a good idea to check them every six months. If you can see the brake pads through the wheels, conduct a visual inspection with the ignition turned off and the car safely parked. The brake pads should be at least 1/4" thick.
Do you hear a metallic scraping noise or notice vibrations in the pedal and steering wheel when you apply the brakes? They probably need replacing. You can easily change them yourself, but if these issues persist, it may be time for a service appointment.
Avoid significant wear and tear on your vehicle by keeping your automotive fluids clean and at the proper levels. Wait until your car is cool before opening the hood, and keep the owner's manual nearby. Measure the engine oil, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid levels using the dipsticks and following the manufacturer's instructions.
Engine coolant, or antifreeze, is in a separate reservoir or radiator, while the brake fluid reservoir is in the engine bay. All solutions should be clean — not cloudy — and filled up to the indicated levels.
You'll need to get underneath your vehicle to change the engine oil and coolant, but both jobs are straightforward and get easier with practice. Empty used fluids into a drain pan and refill with a product that meets or exceeds your car's requirements. Practice safety by wearing gloves and disposing of used oil and coolant at an approved facility.
Don't hesitate to visit your dealership if you notice your fluids are consistently low. This could indicate a leak, which would cause significant damage to hoses and various engine components which — no surprise — is problematic.
The engine air filter protects engine performance and fuel economy by capturing impurities before they enter the motor. You'll find it in a rectangular plastic box at the front of the engine bay. If the filter is grey or discolored, it's ready for replacement.
Similarly, replacing your cabin air filter keeps your car's interior smelling fresh and prevents the heating and cooling system from working overtime. You'll likely find this filter in the glove compartment.
Are you having issues getting your car to start when you turn the ignition? Your vehicle's spark plugs might be the culprit. Lucky for you, changing them is easy and saves you a lot of money on labor. First, disconnect the negative terminal on your battery. Locate the spark plugs at the top of the engine block and disconnect the plug wires. Then, switch out the old spark plugs for new ones, and reattach the plug wires.
Head for your mechanic if the check engine light comes on or flashes.
Corrosion around your battery posts is inevitable, but regularly cleaning the terminals keeps it manageable and maintains power to your alternator. Before getting started, inspect the battery to ensure the corrosion isn't hiding an acid leak — if it is, take your battery to a mechanic or auto supply store for inspection.
Otherwise, disconnect the cable clamps and remove the white and green powdery buildup with a wire brush. Use a battery cleaning solution for heavier buildup, and minimize corrosion with felt battery washers and protective grease.
An engine that doesn't start. Headlights that go dark. A stereo that suddenly stops working. When any electrical component in your vehicle refuses to function, the first step is to check the fuse for that circuit. Consult your owner's manual and locate the fuse box under the hood or inside the cabin.
Then, pull the fuse using the removal tool inside and inspect the thin metal conductor. If the fuse has blown, it will be in two pieces. You might find spare fuses in the box, but if this happens more than once or twice, you should visit your mechanic to diagnose the underlying problem.
Get rid of scratches, chips, and scuff marks while you save up for a professional paint job. For the cost of automotive paint, spot sanding tools, professional applicators, and paint syringes, an at-home touch-up prevents your paint job from rusting.
Shop online or visit your dealership for your car's exact color, then follow the manufacturer's instructions for application. Follow up with a clear coat, and get into the habit of regularly waxing your vehicle. Waxing at the start of every season protects your paint and keeps it looking shiny.