Basic Car Maintenance

Throughout the rest of this website you'll find in-depth articles describing in intricate detail how everything automotive works. On this page, I've simplified all that knowledge into a series of basic car maintenance tips, subdivided by category. Some tips have simple explanations right here whilst others link back to the articles in the rest of the site. If you can't find what you're looking for, try the search button at the end of the top menu. If you still can't find what you're looking for, or have a suggestion for something else I should cover, contact me using the contact button on the top menu bar.

Can't fix it? Junk it for charity instead
Before we start, I thought it worth pointing out that if have the mechanical skill of a limp banana or otherwise have a car that you can't fix no matter how much maintenance advice you get, there is another option to just sending it to the breaker's yard. In America for example Junk-car.org is a car donation program that benefits underprivileged children. All proceeds from the junk cars are used to fund a vast array of services including mentoring, parent education, and summer camp placements. With this particular group, if you donate your car you even get free junk car removal and towing. Junk-car.org will also issue a tax-deductible receipt upon donation. It's a nice solution and better than having a redneck caron-bricks parked outside your front door. If your car is perfectly serviceable, then let’s move on to the tips:

Wheels and tyres Rotate your tyres!

Every 5,000 miles or 8,000km, rotate your tyres.

Clean brake dust off regularly

preferably replacing it every 50. Most tyres come with tread wear bars built into them now . replace your tyres.000 miles. Check your tread depth Bald. the combination of road grime. Rubber perishes. Bad tyre pressures can affect fuel economy very noticeably. See the Fuel and Engine bible for information on interference engines and why checking your timing belts are a necessity. If you leave it too long. not a luxury: Fuel Economy Check your tyre pressures regularly . Bad tyre pressures can affect fuel economy. It's easy to do and there is no excuse not to. Get your timing belt and accessory drive belt checked every 25.once a week is ideal. Four new tyres might seem expensive but they're cheaper than a fine or an accident. moisture and heat from your brakes will bake it on to your wheels. Checking your oil level .000 miles. driving everything from the alternator to the a/c compressor. more so in extreme conditions like those found in an operating engine bay. examine it and if your tread is too low. handling and comfort. Check your tyre pressures Check your tyre pressures regularly . slick tyres might be good for motor racing but they're no good on the road. It's easy to do and there is no excuse not to. Brake dust normally clings to wheels with static electricity so a damp sponge and clean cold water is the best way to get it off.find one.Brake dust contains all sorts of nasty stuff. Engine Check your belts At the front of your engine there will be a series of rubber drive belts that loop around various pulleys.once a week is ideal.

To check the oil. Why not just read the level first time around? The first time you pull the dipstick out. Check the level of the oil. The coolant is the other thing your engine cannot go without. That's why you need to wipe it on a rag to get a clean dipstick. and then locate the dipstick. park on level ground and wait until the engine has cooled down after driving. then push it all the way back in until the top of it is seated properly in the dip tube again. it will have oil all over it and it will be difficult to tell where the level is. If the coolant system is still hot then it is still under pressure and the pressure release will burn you. you're fine. (If it's too low. Wait a moment then pull it out again. an "H" and "L" or a shaded area on the dipstick. If the oil is too high or too low.) The high and low marks can be denoted by two dots. Do not take the radiator cap off to check coolant levels. and be a white semitransparent bottle. something everyone can do. then dip it back into the oil to get a good reading.it's quick and easy and it'll tell you if your engine needs oil. The photos below show a Honda dipstick which has the two dots. Every engine is different but if you check your handbook you should find where the coolant reservoir is. If it's between the high and low marks. it can cause trouble for your engine.This is something everyone can do . add a little. Pull it out and wipe it clean.the outside should have 'low' and 'high' markings on it and the level of coolant inside should be between the two. It will normally be bolted to one side of the engine bay or the other. Fuel / gas . More information on why you should check your oil level is here Checking your coolant level Again. Wait until your engine is cool and take a look at it .

Electrical Disconnecting and reconnecting your battery . See octane and power for more information. Sportier cars have higher compression engines which generate more power and require higher octane fuel to prevent detonation. use regular.Will higher octane or premium fuel give me better gas mileage and/or more power? No. If your handbook says "regular". That's where the myth of "premium = more power" came from.

By disconnecting the negative first. and the negative second .it's nothing to worry about. you're cutting off the return path for the current. Reconnecting your battery. the negative side is still connected to the entire car. and for the same reasons. If you need to take the battery out.there's no continuous path for the electrical current. you'll have an electrical short. you can now take off the positive connector. If you drop a tool and it lands on the positive battery terminal and touches anything else on the car. Make sure the terminal caps are done up nice and tight. it doesn't matter if it touches part of the chassis or not . If your battery terminals or contacts aren't clean. disconnect the battery first. loosen the connector for the negative/ground terminal first. you're making it more difficult for the current to pass around the electrical system. Remove the terminal caps as described above and clean each contact post with a wire brush to get a nice clean metal contact surface. and wiggle the terminal cap off. then reattach them as described above? .If you're going to do any work on your car involving the electrical system. When you slip the negative connector on. To do this. Use a wire-tie or similar to tie the cable back out of the way. Connect the positive terminal first. Don't be afraid of this . Why negative then positive? If you disconnect the positive side of the battery first. there will be a spark as it gets close and makes contact with the negative battery terminal. Do the same to the terminal caps. if a tool drops on to either of the battery terminals.the reverse of removal. Check your battery terminals Most modern cars run on a 12 volt negative ground electrical system. Now.

When changing headlight bulbs. it means one of the bulbs has blown. only hold the metal bulb holder at the base. or make sure you're wearing rubber surgical / mechanic's gloves (clean ones) if you're touching the glass. If you pick the bulb up by the glass with your fingers. that area of the glass will get hotter than the rest and it will eventually cause the bulb to crack.Lights One indicator or blinker is flashing faster than the other When you indicate one way and the blinker flashes quicker than when you indicate the other way. . When the bulb is used. An auto parts store will be able to tell you what sort of bulb you need to replace it with and your manual should show you how to get at the indicator bulbs they're different on every car. Don't touch the glass when changing headlight bulbs Most headlight bulbs now are filled with halogen and have special coatings on the outside of the glass. you will leave trace amounts of oil and grease on the glass.

Dash / instrument warning lights .

on a lot of cars. P0440 OBD-II code.The check engine light. it can mean many things. engine. Some garages will charge you just for plugging the device in and reading the code. These tools can read out the fault code and/or reset the system to contain no codes. Codes are subdivided into B-codes (body). If you've filled up with petrol and not twisted the gas cap until it clicks. If tightening the gas cap didn't do it. walk away. if a P0440 code is logged. The one thing it covers that you can check is your gas cap (petrol cap). Note: even if the light does go off. fuel and emissions system. whilst the active codes are things that are a problem right now. This is the most common code you'll find and it's the first thing you should check. It wasn't the gas cap. . When the check engine light comes on. Most new cars have a pressurised fuel system and vapour recovery loop. P0440 is the code for Evaporative Emission Control System Malfunction which covers a multitude of sins. and active. So if you get a check engine light. The historical codes are lists of things that have been detected in the past but are no longer an issue. It won't pressurise and the OBD2 system will log a P0440 code. Every new car now comes with OBD-II . C-codes (chassis) and the biggest list of all . you've not sealed the fuel system. In the Honda Element.On Board Diagnostics 2. Codes are split into two categories historical/inactive. This is a fault-registering system connected to sensors all over the car. check the gas cap first and see if the light goes off. There are something like 4. the dash scrolls "CHECK GAS CAP" across the odometer display. that code is so common they'll actually have some way of telling you to check the gas cap. for example.Pcodes (power train).000 unique OBD2 codes that can be stored. the code will likely still be stored in the OBD system and will show up next time it is checked. In fact. Handheld OBD2 diagnostic tools can be plugged in to the OBD2 port which is normally under the dash on the driver's side. If they do. you'll need to find someone with an OBD2 diagnostics tool or reader.

Your handbook will tell you if this is the case. If it flashes for 10 seconds. air temperatures and other indicators of probable stress to tell you when it might be time for new oil or a service. If the cell phone is plugged into the charger.the charger . It's exactly the same in your car. You'll see it come on and go off when you start your engine as part of the car's self-test. but when you disconnect it from the charger. This warning light is different in every car but normally it looks like a picture of a battery. it normally means you're within 500 miles of needing a service. similar to the picture on the left here. the garage should reset it for you. Every car has an alternator . The electrical fault light. there's a limited amount of time before your battery runs out. Typically this light will come on when you start your car. This almost always requires a new or refurbished alternator. The longer you drive. it means the electrical charging system is no longer working properly. but if this light comes on and stays on. whilst on others it maps engine temperatures. it normally means you've exceeded a recommended service interval. If you take your car for a service. then it will not be able to do its job. This might indicate "Service". . "Service Engine" or "Maint Reqd". you can use it indefinitely.The service engine light / Maint Reqd light. the more your car will use up the remaining juice in the battery and eventually the engine will die. In most cars this can be overridden or reset by you. oil temperatures. If it stays on for 10 seconds then turns off. only bigger. and then turn off again as part of the self-check. It's an indicator that you're getting close to a scheduled maintenance interval. Think of it like a cell phone battery. On some cars it's as simple as counting miles before it comes on. the owner. If the alternator becomes faulty or the drive belt to it snaps.and a 12v battery used to supply power to the electrical system.

the same light may be used to show that the hand brake (parking brake for the Americans amongst you) is on. then you. The light can also indicate that the fluid in the master cylinder is low. it could be used for multiple purposes. It's not doing it just to please itself. Either way. blinks. flashes or in any other way draws your attention to itself. If it comes on. the brake warning light doesn't have a standard meaning. .the ABS light. check your owner's manual to find out its meaning. If it stays on. It could be something as simple as dirt in one of the sensors. It's important to note that this light normally comes on when you start the car and then switches off a few seconds later. you also have a second light .Brake warning light 1 Most cars nowadays have a brake warning light on the dash. my friend. Which is nice? Because it would be such a drag if the same indicator meant the same thing in every vehicle. Its purpose is to alert you that something is wrong in the braking system somewhere. Brake warning light 2 If you've got an ABS-equipped car. if that light is on. It means the ABS computer has diagnosed that something is amiss in the system. Each manufacturer has a different use and standard for this light. you ought to have noticed the smell of burning brake dust by now. or something as costly as an entire ABS unit replacement. If that's the case and you're driving. Unlike the single-purpose ABS warning light. If it comes on. has got 1970's brakes. For example. throbs. take note. get it seen to as soon as possible.

. It's always best to use pre-mixed coolant. and fast. Either way. Top up the system with either a pre-mixed coolant bought from a shop. Don't use tap water . or to mix your own rather than using neat water.the mineral deposits in it boil out in the cooling system and calcium gets deposited around the inside of the radiator making it less efficient (which will eventually cause it to fail).Coolant warning light This is normally the coolant level warning light. eventually your engine will die. you need to get it fixed. Low oil pressure is A Bad Thing and your engine won't thank you for leaving this problem untreated. or with distilled water. Do it when the engine is cold. a blocked oil filter or strainer in the sump or by low oil levels for example if your engine is burning oil. Low oil pressure can be caused by a failed oil pump. Low oil pressure is serious and if you continue to drive with this light on. The coolant mixture behaves as antifreeze in winter as well as a corrosion-inhibitor to stop your engine rusting from the inside out. DO NOT OPEN THE RADIATOR CAP WHEN THE ENGINE IS HOT! The coolant system is pressurised and it could easily release pressure and spray you with boiling coolant. Oil warning light Typically this light will come on if your oil pressure is too low. If this comes on it means that the level of coolant in your radiator is low and needs topping up.

they do tend to be a bit optimistic. Follow these tips and you should be able to improve your mpg . I've found over the past 6 to 8 years that on-board mpg displays tend to over-read by about 7%. It's painful to your wallet. There's three things.improving your fuel economy They used to say that you could only rely on two things in life . So bear with me .a lot of cars nowadays have an mpg readout that you can select from their onboard computer. So consider this page your guide to making the best of a bad situation.Get better gas mileage . death and the cost of petrol spiralling forever upwards.miles per gallon. So . . You need to start with a full tank and always fill your tank to the point where the pump cuts off. Taxes. Not much but enough to give you a skewed view of reality. Fuel economy is a total mystery to them.taxes and death. but it's the best chance you have. First things first: measuring your gas mileage It seems obvious but a lot of people just don't know how to measure their average gas mileage. especially at today's prices.I realise to a lot of you this is the age-old adage of teaching you to suck eggs. So how do you measure your average mpg? It's easy. Whilst these are useful. Better fuel economy = more money in your bank account. Not true.

Your right foot .com ten tips for better gas mileage: 1.fill up. In order of ease-of-attainability then. make a note of the number of litres or gallons you put in. again fill the tank to the pump cut-off and importantly.the initial outlay to swap cars will likely be huge. Better fuel economy will mean that the day-to-day running expenses will be less once you've got the new car. calculating your mpg or litres per km each time. but if you let the pump cut off on its own each time.com. is buying a new car . Each time you fill up. Below is the ongoing tracker for my current vehicle. and make a note of the amount that went in and the trip counter reading. Once you have four or five calculations. the carbibles. So then you're left with the other option . fill it to the pump cut-off. you can start to figure out your running average using some simple maths.So first . But be careful . But think about it .you have to do your homework here. Next time you fill up.a more fuel-efficient one or even a hybrid. Take into account how much you could sell your existing car for and how much you're going to pay for the new one. Zero the trip counter again and keep a note of the mpg calculation.com ortrackyourgasmileage. I say full because each car has a different amount of dead space at the top of the tank and in the fuel filler neck.getting better mpg out of your existing car. Divide one by the other and you get either miles per gallon (mpg) or km per litre.you'll end up losing money unless you keep the new car for 5 years or more. New car or something else? One of the first things that people think of once they think they're getting bad gas mileage. It's important because generally speaking. going this route will normally result in a net loss . or an online mileage tracker like mymilemarker. Fill your car to the point where the pump cuts off and zero your trip counter. and the trip counter reading. Now you know you're starting from a 'full' tank. it will generally fill to around the same level each time.

Here's the thing . but money saving at least.So simple anyone can do it.your gas mileage can drop off as much as 15% between driving at or below 65mph and driving above 65mph. Why? Because once you get over about 65mph. 3. but driving slower absolutely will improve your mpg. Now I love speed as much as the next person but you have to be realistic here . you're wasting petrol. you're wasting petrol and your mpg will be down. Not an improvement in fuel economy per se. If you can see the next set of lights ahead of you are red. Try to moderate your speed a little if you can do it safely. which means consuming more petrol to do it. you have absolutely no need for highoctane petrol. If you're endurance racing at 80mph on the motorway. it will improve your mpg. So if you can do this. That's because it takes more energy to get you going from a complete stop than it does from a slow roll. it means it. 2. Why? Unless you have a high-compression engine which could be prone to detonation (pinking / pinging). If you're caning it away from the traffic lights. Change octane if you can Too many people drive around with medium or premium gas in their tank when they just don't need to. you're doing OK. don't race up to them and come to a complete stop. In high-performance cars with high-compression engines that means allowing the engine management system to work at peak efficiency but for probably 75% of you. If your owner's manual says "regular".do you want better fuel economy or to get there marginally quicker? I sound like a total wet blanket telling you this of course. Putting mid-grade or premium in is just wasting money. your car will quite happily run on the cheapest petrol you can put in it. If you can get there as they turn green and the traffic in front begins to move. Use the internet . you're using more engine power to overcome drag. What about when you're not on the motorway? Well consider a little less braking if you can. The only thing that higher octane gives you is less probability of detonation.

and shun the expensive ones. that's what counts here. but it is saving you money. It's not improving your mpg. Buy from the cheap ones. here's a couple of examples. UK petrol prices. and in the long term. For others. To get you going. So make sure they're up to manufacturer recommended values (at the very least) and watch your mpg get a little better. 4b. Vote with your money. 4a. All motoring sites and magazines tell you the same thing and that's for a reason. my gas mileage dropped by about 1mpg due simply to the change in tread pattern of the tyres.your gas mileage will be down. Get low rolling-resistance tyres You might never have considered this. This means that there's less effort required to roll the tyre along the road surface. no matter where you live. If your tyre pressures are low. Less effort means fewer loads on your engine. Less load means better mpg. Check your tyre pressures regularly .Again . Get rid of the roof rack . but manufacturers do make tyres designed for low rolling resistance. Check your tyre pressures This is a total no-brainer.make it part of your sunday routine or something. When I went for aftermarket alloy wheels and tyres on my Honda Element. you will be increasing the rolling resistance of the tyre on the road and that will be robbing your fuel efficiency . US petrol prices. there will be one or more internet sites that can provide you with petrol prices in your area. 5.not so much about improving your mpg as saving money. Apathy in this area is what the petrol companies rely on. use your favourite search engine.

To compensate for the reduced airflow. much like the bag of a vacuum cleaner. Mpg. that empty roof rack is adding aerodynamic drag to your car. So why am I guilty of this? At the time of writing I change the three-year-old filter in my car and my mpg jumped by 2. Hey . you're ensuring that your engine is keeping its 'fresh blood'. the engine management system will richen up the mixture. they look silly. out of mind. Great.if you're not using it. Same goes for those 'aerodynamic' roof boxes . Replace your air filter once a year and you'll guarantee better gas mileage. Take it off when you're not using it. change them. It's all to do with money. your engine has a harder time sucking air through it.I know it means getting up and doing something rather than just routinely getting in your car and driving off but we're talking about gas mileage here. 8. Fuel economy. Ultrasonic cleaning for your fuel injectors . 9. Fresh plugs that aren't covered in carbon deposits will certainly help you in your quest to become a fuel miser. Change your oil and oil filter Whilst you won't see any massive improvement by changing your oil and filter. using more petrol to keep the engine running smoothly. Be lazy? Or save money? 6. I'm guilty of this. Get new spark plugs Spark plugs work in an incredibly hostile environment. Once it clogs up. Duh! 7. it will clog up.You go biking or skiing at the weekends. Change your air filter Out of sight. dirt and crap in the air. If you've got more than 30. Yes they look aerodynamic but the fact of the matter is they do induce drag. And to be honest. get rid of it. If it's doing its job well. which means worse mpg. On my car that equated to a 13% improvement for an outlay of $14.5 overnight.000 miles on yours. More drag means more power to overcome it. When you're commuting to work. Your air filter is what protects your engine from ingesting all the dust.

And so on and so on. In my case about $400 a year.The only sure-fire way to clean your fuel injectors is to have them removed and given an ultrasonic bath. if you religiously stick to the above points (from a regime of previously doing nothing special). chipping or remapping your engine management computer would normally be done to improve performance. use the European map. I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen. 10. Of course you didn't get that idea from here :-) What does all this add up to? Realistically. send me your ideas. Basically it's a small tub filled with detergent solution that is hit with ultra high frequency vibrations or sound waves. consider getting the professionally cleaned. Not a lot of places are advertising this yet but as the price of petrol continues to spiral. Happy motoring and I hope you see some improvements in your fuel economy.and if you're interested.chipping and tuning Expensive one this. For the most part. but it might be worth investigating. A 15% improvement in gas mileage correlates to a 15% decrease in outlay to fill my car. It's a bit dodgy because it means those vehicles won't pass the emissions tests. 5 weeks grocery shopping.000 miles on them. a few tuning houses in America have seen some interesting results from flashing European engine maps into US vehicles. For example. these simple steps really will help. you could get a dual-map system. but if you're serious about getting better gas mileage. It is possible however to go the other way . . Last year I spent around $2600 on petrol throughout the year. It won't be cheap but it's cheaper than a new car (by a huge margin) and it will help your mpg.trade off some performance in exchange for better gas mileage. Remapping your ECU . or you've got more than 60. I had some good ones come back straight away so on page 2 you'll find the expanding list of reader-submitted tips. but if you're serious. This is like those jewellery cleaners you might have seen. leave it in "US" mode. If your injectors have never been done. How useful is that? It's a round trip to Vegas (no hotel). which will contribute to improved gas mileage. Oh . For the inspection and emissions. Clean injectors give a more even fuel-air mix which results in a more predictable burn in the cylinder. After my initial blog post. The net effect is that any carbon deposits are shaken off the fuel injectors. So you can keep wasting money if you like. you should expect to see a mpg improvement of about 15%. For everyday driving. Doesn't sound like a lot? Let me put a number on it. 6 months car insurance.

get rid of the glass in the rear side windows and replace them with perspex / lexan. this has the added bonus of giving you more useable power because you're reducing the unsprung weight. Go too low in the higher and the engine will labour and suck petrol badly. can you reduce the weight of your wheels? Alloy wheels can weigh less than steel wheels if you choose carefully. block gear changing is much easier than it ever used to be. ditch the factory hood and replace it with a carbon-fibre one instead. If you've got a manual. . remove them and keep them in the garage. or too low down in the upper gear. Clear the junk out of your car. If your car or van has removable seats that you never use.. it's the norm. Weight is everything . If you're careful (and this requires some experimenting). The key is to make sure that you don't go too high up in the rev range in the lower gear.if the car feels a bit sportier you might be inclined to drive a bit sportier and that goes against tip 1 on the previous page. Following the 'lighter is better' theme. If you're into modding. If you're feeling brave you could get rid of the spare tyre and jack and replace it with a can of tyresealing goop. This is where you don't necessarily go from 1st to 2nd to 3rd etc.your wheels. Be careful though . go on a diet.. Go to high in the lower gear and you're burning petrol for no reason. As well as increasing your fuel economy. That means the engine is wasting less energy just turning the wheels. Weight is everything when it comes to fuel economy. 13-5-6. For that matter. 12.and 7-speed boxes. But you can eak out a few more mpg by block gear changing. With newer cars with 6. and for a lot of motorcyclists (I included). you can go from 1st to 3rd to 5th and so on. 11b.11. Always think lighter. Block gear changing. Weight is everything. your right foot is directly connected to your mpg.. you likely already are getting better gas mileage than someone in the equivalent car with an automatic. Every extra kilo you carry will adversely affect your gas mileage. If you're über serious.

If you put it in neutral. fuel-line magnetisers. Fit a thermatic fan instead of a belt-driven one. they don't work. . Aftermarket remedies and in-the-tank products just don't. Fitting an electric (aftermarket) thermatic fan to replace the engine driven fan/viscous coupling fan could help improve gas mileage. powders. For the most part. you'll get better fuel economy coasting downhill (for example) in gear. but eliminating the drag caused by the extra belt or viscous coupling and the fan can only help. Pills. the engine consumes enough petrol to keep it ticking over. stickers. Ok so most modern cars are equipped with electric fans as standard now but it could benefit older makes or those still being manufactured with belt driven cooling fans. 14. ie. Remember the old adage: if it seems too good to be true. don't fall for it. airflow disruptors. If you need to coast while you're driving. Coast in gear. I've reviewed some of them on my product reviews page and in some cases the fuel economy actually went down with the product in use. 15. Since the dawn of time it seems that there have been aftermarket products that claim massive increases in power and gas mileage. ie. when Uberjuice Industries tells you that you'll get 50% more mpg by simply pouring their food colouring into your tank. Most cars nowadays will shut off the fuel supply to the engine completely if you coast in gear. not in neutral.13. it probably is. It'll be slight it's arguable whether you'd even be able to measure it. don't slip the car into neutral but let it coast in a high gear.

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