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Seven Car Checks You Can Do Yourself

Kevin V

These car jobs are not as tricky as you think!

It’s a busy life we lead isn’t it? We’ve got work to get too, small people and other humans to keep track of, and then there’s all of the household jobs too.

But you know deep down that your car needs a bit more love and I hope that’s why you’re reading this today.

So if I added a few quick jobs to your To-do list, but promised it would help you save money, and give you a warm feeling inside that you’ve taken a little control of your vehicle, could I persuade you to take on just a little bit more?

It’s time for you take action but here’s a task list that should take no more than 10-15 minutes, tops!

Job number 1

Check your oil

Check your engine oil regularly

It doesn’t matter how young or old your car is, you need to be checking the engine oil level on a regular basis. How regular is regular? Well if this was my mechanic husband writing to you, he’d be telling you every time you fill up with petrol. For me, I’m going to tell you every week or at least every 1000kms travelled.

Why so frequently? Well even some relatively new cars will use up oil as they drive – some can use a litre of oil for every 1000-1500kms travelled.

The purpose of your engine oil is to keep vital parts of the engine lubricated but as engines age, they will require more oil to keep them running. If your vehicle runs low on oil, it could be as serious as it needing a new engine – and that’s going to cost you thousands of dollars.

If I’ve learned anything from running The Garage Woodend, it is that you cannot rely on your car to tell you when it needs oil, yet drivers don’t know that if an oil light comes on, then it could be too late. Or you may not get a low oil light on at all, then it really is game over.

So how do you check your car’s oil?

Follow these easy steps – and remember, your local mechanic will be happy to check your oil level for you and show you how to do it for yourself.

A woman in overalls checks her oil dipstick

Checking the engine oil should be a regular task

For best results, check your oil cold. Make sure your car is on the level and not parked on an incline.

  • Grab a rag and pop the bonnet of your car. The bonnet catch is most likely below your steering wheel towards the right. If it isn’t there, it may be under your glovebox on the other side of the car. If you can’t find it, have a look in your handbook.
  • Some bonnets will be held up automatically, while some will have a bonnet stay that needs to be slotted into a hole on the underside of the bonnet. Make sure to secure this properly.

Locate your engine oil dipstick

It may have a coloured handle to help you locate it and is probably somewhere close to the oil filler cap. That has a picture of Aladdin’s lamp on it.

  • Pull the dipstick out and wipe the end of it on the cloth. Take a look at the end of the dipstick, it will have two lines on it, a min and max level marker.
  • Put the dipstick all the way back into the tube and pull it out again. Hold the end of the dipstick against the cloth, to save it dripping. Take a look at the measurement. If it is between min and max, then your level is fine. Below minimum and you’ll need to top up the oil. Add around 500ml initially and then recheck the level before adding any more.

A long way below and you’ll need to top it up and make a booking with your mechanic. It’s either time for service, or your car is using too much oil which needs to be investigated.

If your oil level is above maximum, then you’ll also want to head to the mechanic. When some diesel cars are running their regeneration (a process that cleans out the soot and carbon that accumulates in engines), they will flood the system with diesel, which can get added into the oil system, adding to the capacity and requiring the oil level to be reduced.

**One Lady Owner Tip**

As well as having a look at the level, it’s worth checking the condition of the oil too. If it is black, or dark and thick then it’s time for a service. Remember, oil needs to be good quality to keep all the parts of engine lubricated sufficiently. If your engine is running smoothly, you’ll be saving money too, as it won’t be running hard and using more fuel than needed.

Once you’ve tackled your oil level, it’s time for some other under-the-bonnet checks.

Job number 2

Fill the washer bottle

One Lady Owner windscreen washer fluid

Top up your windscreen washer fluid

Don’t wait for your washer bottle to run out of water. If you do, then you could cause damage to your wiper blades, and even your scratch your windscreen

Fill a small watering can or bottle with clean water and add a splash of windscreen fluid (I use Armor All Windscreen Wash diluted to the instructions on the bottle). If you use a can with a small nozzle, you’ll find it much easier to fill with no splashes.

Remove the cap from the washer bottle, fill the bottle all the way to the top, and then replace the cap. Simple.

If your washers don’t work after you’ve filled the reservoir then your jets or hoses could be blocked with dirt, or the washer pump may be faulty. Washer pumps are typically inexpensive to replace, so don’t fret too much about getting it checked out at your mechanic, you don’t want to get caught out when bad weather hits.

Job number 3

Check your coolant level (always when cold)!

One Lady Owner coolant

Make sure your coolant is the correct colour before refilling

Coolant (also known as anti-freeze) runs through your car’s radiator and coolant system to keep your engine from overheating.

Like your engine oil system, your car will have a minimum and maximum marker but it’s easier to check coolant than oil.

***ALWAYS, ALWAYS ALWAYS check your coolant when cold and NEVER remove your radiator cap when hot***

Locate your coolant reservoir, also known as a header tank, under the bonnet of your car. They can be a variety of shapes and sizes but are usually a clear tank filled with either a red, green or blue fluid.

The correct coolant level should be between minimum and maximum. If it is close to low, then it should be topped up with the correct colour coolant, diluted with water. Just a little low and it can be topped up with a small amount of regular water.

Don’t mix different coloured coolants as your car needs the correct type for its engine. Any local automotive store will be able to tell you what colour you need, or check with your mechanic. Unless you’re in Alpine regions in the dead of winter, you can use a water to top up if its

If your coolant level is very low, it’s worth checking for any signs of leaks under where your car is parked. Top the coolant level up and leave the car running for 10 minutes or so. If the level drops, then you have a leak and will need to go to your mechanic to get it checked out.

I don’t expect you’ll need to be topping up the coolant level much at all, so this should just be a quick visual check to make sure the level is sitting between min and max.

Job number 4

Check for rat damage (yep)

One Lady Owner rat damage

Rats and mice love the taste of delicious wiring!

I know this one sounds a bit grotty but before you shut the bonnet, have a quick look around the engine for any signs of rodent activity (droppings or items that may have been chewed). Unfortunately, rats and mice love to hang out under the bonnet of nice warm cars, and even better, they like to gnaw on wiring and plastic components. They will even use the foam insulating material as a sweet, sweet lining for their nests. Gross but true,… and potentially expensive!

Once a week at the Garage, we see a car that’s been damaged or has evidence of mice infestation but unfortunately, the damage isn’t restricted to country cars. City vehicles can also be impacted. So have a look around and see if you can see anything. If you do, then it is wise to put some traps or poison down in your garage (out of the reach of pets and children), or secure some under the bonnet. You can buy resin blocks of rodent bait and fix it to the car with a cable tie. For a more humane option, consider an ultrasonic pest repelling system and install in your garage or car port.

If you see wiring or hoses that have been chewed, book the car into the mechanics to have the damage looked at. They will also make sure that nothing untoward may have occurred to the car.

Damage can be expensive to repair if it goes too far so have a quick look to be sure.

Job number 5

Check your tyre pressure

One Lady Owner tyre pressure check

Check your tyre pressures frequently

Checking your tyre pressures regularly is important to maintain the life of your tyres. Tyres that are too low, or filled with too much air can wear incorrectly and you’ll need to replace them more often than needed.

A few dollars will buy you a tyre pressure gauge which will let you check your pressures at home. Tyre manufacturer, Michelin has an easy to use tool that measures both tyre pressures and depth. You can find the Michelin Tyre Gauge online at Amazon for around $22.

Check the tyre placard in your vehicle to see what your tyre pressures should read. They will either be measured in PSI (Pounds per square inch) or Bar pressure. Your manufacturer may even list different pressures for whether the vehicle is mostly heavily laden, or only has two passengers so choose the number that’s best for your kind of driving.

Make sure your car hasn’t been driven. On a warm day, tyre pressures can go up if the car has been driven for an extended period.

Working around the car, unscrew the cap from the tyre and put the gauge on to measure the pressure. If it is low then you will need to head to the servo to refill the air, if it is too high then you may be able to use the gauge to lower the pressure.

Remember to replace the caps and tighten once the tyre pressures are correct.

In some cars with tyre pressure monitoring systems, you’ll need to reset the tyre pressures. To do that, follow the instructions in your car’s owner’s manual.

Job Number 6

Tyre wear

One Lady Owner tyre gauge

Use a digital tyre gauge to get an accurate reading

Tyres have wear indicators in the middle of the tread to indicate when they should be changed. Take a look at your indicators to see if they are close. You can also measure your own tread by using the Michelin tyre gauge.

The absolute minimum tread for a roadworthy tyre is 1.6mm but most tyre companies and fitters recommend you should replace your tyres no later than 2mm . That makes sure you are getting the safest performance from your rubber. Be aware however, that many tyres on modern vehicles will wear on the edges and you won’t always be able to see that from the outside of the vehicle.

Turn the steering wheel on full lock to look at your front tyres. Put on some heavy duty safety or gardening gloves (any heavyweight fabric ones should do) and rub the inside edge of the tyre gently. If it feels rough, or even worse you get snagged by metal, then it’s time to head off to the tyre shop quick sharp, as your tyres will need urgent replacement.

One Lady Owner worn tyre

A dangerously worn tyre

Job Number 7

Child car seats

One Lady Owner safe baby

Keep your precious cargo safe

We should really be checking your child car seats every time you take a journey, but we’re often in a rush and want to get the kids in the car as quickly as possible and it can sometimes be overlooked.

Check that the car seats are correctly secured in their fixings and that the seat can’t be moved. As your child grows, they may unlatch the seat belt too, so make sure to double check it is secured each trip.

And there you have it – seven easy jobs that you should be carrying out regularly to keep your car and your cargo in tip top condition.