Despite being an ardent lover of cars, I am not well-versed in working on them myself. But I am a pro at knowing how often and who to take my car to keep it running smoothly. Point being, you don’t need to know how to change your oil, but you have to know that it needs to be changed. My 60-year-old aunt drove from Florida to North Carolina with smoke coming out of her engine the whole way, and when she arrived my father asked her, “Did you check the oil before the trip?” To which she replied, “How do I open the hood?”
Don’t be that person. (But in case you are: look for a lever inside the car [generally on the left under the steering wheel] that pulls toward you and has a picture of a hood.) If you want your car to take care of you, you have to take care of it. Here are my top four car maintenance tips to get you started.
1. ) KNOW YOUR WARRANTY:
Whether your car is new or used, find out if there is a warranty and everything that it entails. Most likely you’ll have free maintenance and oil changes for the duration, possibly a free or cheap loaner car while it’s being worked on, and drive/powertrain warranties guarantee fixes of the engine (this is not accident coverage) that can save your life when there’s a weird sound or smell that you can’t identify coming from underneath your hood. You also probably have separate warranties for your tires—don’t assume these are just your standard rotation. Reading through mine I discovered that if I’m ever stranded, my warranty gives me a free tow to a local dealership. Take that, AAA fees.
2.) OIL & FLUIDS:
Get your oil changed every three months or 3,000 miles. Furthermore, when you take it in for an oil change, they check all your levels on coolants, fluids, and, if you go to your dealer, your tire tread, brake lining, and do an overall health check on the car. Think of it as a routine physical for your car that keeps your engine from blowing up, stranding you on the side of the road, and being axe-murdered while waiting for a tow. Caveat—you should also CHECK your oil every time you fuel your car. I don’t care if you have a handy gauge that says your oil is fine, check it anyway. Axe-murderers, remember? Don’t know how? That’s what YouTube is for.
Remember seeing your dad kick your tires before each trip? Well it wasn’t just because he was trying to look manly. Invest (it can be less than $5 at your gas station) in a tire gauge and check your tires before all major trips. Not sure how much air should be in each? Open up the driver side door and it will tell you the exact PSI. If your tires are low, stop at a gas station and use their air pumps. It’s as simple as unscrewing the valve cap, adding air, checking the levels, and repeating until correct (TIP: Never do this when your tires are hot—you’ll get a faulty reading). Low air in your tires can lead to blowouts, poor handling, and can again leave you stranded and on the hook for very expensive repairs. Keep in mind: If you have all-wheel drive, if you blow one tire, you have to replace every single tire so that the rotation tread is equal. Do you have a spare thousand bucks lying around? No, me neither. Check your tires (this really detailed video from Firestone will show you how).
4.) WASH YOUR CAR:
I know this seems stupid and more a vanity than a must-have, but if you want to keep that car going for a long time, you need it to not turn into a rust bucket. A regular washing (and wax) gets rid of the dirt and sediment that build-up on the paint and wears away at it, thus leading to rust eating your car. This is particularly true during the winter months or if you’ve been to the beach. The salt and sand they spread for snow is terrible for your car. Take it to the car wash once a month—even in February.
Next time I’ll be bringing you some handy tips on preparing your car for the cooler months. Have suggestions for it? Tweet me @litdarling
Safety Tip: If you’re on the highway anywhere in the continental U.S. and need to reach the State Police, hit #77 on your phone.[divider] [/divider]