Cars might look simple on the outside: they have four wheels, some doors, a roof, etc.; pretty basic. However, as I hope you would also know, they have hundreds of tiny little mechanisms and wires and other techy stuff that most people ignore and hope won’t make them fail their MOT or other safety test. There are many, many, many, many people out there who don’t have the foggiest idea about basic car maintenance and this is so worrying. A car can go from a vehicle to a fiery ball of death in about three seconds and so if you want to avoid that (which I assume you do), then you will need to keep up some very basic checks. Maintaining your car a little bit at a time will save you tonnes of cash from not having to get mechanics to fix it; it will save you lots of time because you won’t break down; and it will keep you safe from the aforementioned balls of fiery death.
So, here is my dummies guide to basic car maintenance … I should say at this point that I am not affiliated with the actual Dummies Guide people and have just decided to borrow their name … and just in case there lawyers are reading this and decide I should go to prison, I will escape in a style very similar to Andy Dufresne from Shawshank!
We’ll start with the tires as many car accidents are actually caused by people not providing their tires the proper care, love, and attention that they deserve. So as well as singing your tires the occasionally lullaby and giving them a nice massage every now and then, you should also be regularly doing the following:
- Brake dust is the name for all the gunk and grime that static electricity attracts to your brakes. It’s usually a combo of various bits of road grime and so you’ll need to wipe this off with a sponge or pressure washer every so often.
- It is recommended that you check your tire pressure every week, but who is actually going to do that? Once a month will be enough. If your tire pressure decreases it will affect how comfortable your drive is, how economical, and the handling of the car. If left for long enough, it could cause the car harm buy throwing itself off a mountain.
- Tire tread depth is … well I’m sure you already know, so just make sure that your wheels have enough tread on them otherwise you will definitely be careening off the side of a mountain … might just want to avoid mountains in general, to be honest.
(Disclaimer: Don’t actually massage your tires and sing to them as you will end up in an asylum.)
Whilst you can think of yourself as the brain of the car, the engine is the heart. It’s the muscle that’s keeping everything else running and if that’s not properly looked after then the car will react in the same way as humans do when hearts become clogged with tar and fat.
- Once you’ve actually found the little lever in your car that opens up the hood or bonnet, then you can start checking everything’s fine and dandy. The first thing you will want to be checking is the oil level. You’re driving instructor will probably teach you this anyway, but make sure you find the right section (there will be two obvious ones, one is water/coolant and one is oil and if you need help differentiating the two liquids, you really shouldn’t be driving). The car will have a dipstick, which as well as an insulting nickname for a younger sibling is also the thing you ‘dip’ into the tank to check the levels. Here’s an actual, real ‘for dummies’ guide to checking oil.
- The other thing to check in the engine … yep, you guessed it … is the water/coolant. This is the stuff that stops your car from overheating and blowing up (okay, I doubt it will blow up, but I decided to use some hyperbole to trick you into listening to me … I’d make a good politician). You should always keep a nice stock of coolant and antifreeze for when you check your car as you can top it up. This stuff can be found online or in hardware shops.
Before you do some maintenance, I just want to go over a couple of points, which hopefully you will know, already, but you might be really thick…
- Switch your battery off if you’re doing any work on the cars electrical systems (take out the negative side first, before the positive).
- Never take the coolant cap off if your car is still hot/warm as it will turn into a geyser and melt your face off like in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Don’t touch lightbulbs with bare fingers. This is true for any halogen bulbs, actually, as when you touch them you will leave small amounts of natural human grease and oil, which might heat up and smash or crack the bulb.
There you go, that’s the basic car maintenance that you should know how to do to make sure your car is as safe as possible. Make sure it’s serviced at least once a year and your car will serve you well and safely for many years to come.