Car Advice

Car maintenance basics explained… School Holiday Tips

With the school holidays here, don’t just rely on your car’s scheduled services to keep it running. Follow our car maintenance advice.

STICKERS ON THE WINDSCREEN. Reminder text messages or email alerts. There’s almost no way you can forget to get your car serviced these days. But you can’t just rely on your scheduled services to keep your car in tip-top condition. That’s why we’ve compiled this car maintenance basics checklist.

Modern cars are becoming more and more reliable and there are less and less parts you need to touch. But, if you don’t look after your car, then your car won’t look after you… unless it’s an old Rover 3500 in which case it’ll leave you broken down by the side of the road on a 40-degree day, eh Dad. To be fair, that was only partly my old man’s fault… he’d bought the car sure but it was the Rover’s Lucas electrics that let us down… ah, the Dark Prince.

Okay, so, on the surface it doesn’t seem like there’s that much to do on a modern car, but there’s plenty of routine stuff you can keep an eye on.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

Your car’s tyres… they’re the difference between grip and slip

Tyres are the best place to start, because in less time than it takes to read this sentence you can whip around your car and check out all four tyres with a visual inspection. Your tyres are your connection with the road and at any one time there’s generally a palm-sized contact patch (meaning the amount of tyre that touches the road). Worn tyres, therefore, provide less grip increasing your chance of having an accident, especially in wet and slippery conditions.

Get into a habit of checking your tyres once a week – you want to keep an eye out for uneven wear as it could mean your wheels are out of alignment. And while you’re giving them all a quick once-over it would be a great idea to check the tyre pressures, so, go and buy a tyre pressure gauge today. See, an under-inflated tyre on the road can cause all manner of problems. For a start, it can cause unnecessary wear, create drag (increasing fuel consumption) and will provide less than ideal grip when cornering or braking.

Lighting the road ahead

Like checking your tyres, it’s a cinch to make sure all your car’s lights are working, both inside and out. Ask someone to help with this, especially when you’re checking the tail-lights. If you’ve got a broken head-light or tail-light lens get it fixed straight away, not only is it dangerous to leave it broken, but it’s also a criminal offence.

On the topic of lights, if you think yours aren’t quite bright enough, don’t start trawling forums and fit higher wattage bulbs – you’ll void your warranty and in extreme cases risk melting the surrounds due to the higher heat.

Top Tips: Quick guide to replacing headlight globes

Tools and equipment:

  • Protective gloves: and
  • Replacement globe(s).
  1. Removing the old globe:Open the bonnet and locate the rear of the affected light where there will be one or more covers for the light globes. Remove the cover that provides access to the globe you need to replace. Once the cover has been removed there will be direct access to the cradle that holds the globe. It will twist out or have a pinch clip holding it. Take note of how it secures itself to the head light assembly, as you will need to reverse this process later when it goes back on. Take your time and don’t exert too much pressure on any parts. Once the cradle is out the globe can be removed.
  2. Putting the new globe in:Halogen bulbs generate high amounts of heat and can blow if there are any residual oils on the glass, so now is the time to put on gloves that will provide protection from the oils in your hand making contact with the new light globe. Always handle the new globe by its base and never the bulb. Remove the globe from its packaging and place into the cradle, it should pop into place and not feel loose. With the globe firmly seated, place the cradle back into the headlight assembly in reverse order of how it came out. It’s important the cradle feels tight and not loose once back in place. With everything secured, the cover can be put back on. Try to make sure that no dust or dirt falls into the headlight assembly. If it does, simple vacuum out before putting the cover back on.
  3. Check all lights again and first drive:With everything back in place it’s time to check the lights are working. It’s possible a different light than the one replaced was moved, so check all lights before taking off. With everything working you’re ready to hit the road.

Make sure your car is clean

Another easy one, although not always so if you’ve got young children. Keeping the inside of your car clean and tidy (try and vacuum the interior and give all surfaces a wipe over weekly) will help keep it in good condition, and that’ll bode well for you when it comes to sell the car, either privately or to a dealer. Most people will use the condition of your car’s interior as an indicator as to how well the car’s been looked after. And don’t just think one big clean right before selling the thing will do the trick. It won’t.

One gentle reminder … if you do use a commercial dash cleaner (which will probably have something slippery like silicon in the concoction) be very careful not to get it on the gear lever, steering wheel or pedals. Sure, they’ll look nice and shiny, but they’ll also be incredibly slippery and potentially dangerous.

Now to the outside. The reason you should wash your car regularly is two-fold. See, washing your car not only gets rid of stuff like road grime, bird droppings and tree sap (which can really play havoc with your paint if left), but it also helps (if you also apply a wax, which you should) provide a sacrificial layer, or a barrier between your paint and the weather. Oh, and make sure you’ve got two sponges, one for cleaning the bodywork and one for the wheels, and maybe even a second bucket too, because you don’t want bits of brake dust getting into the water you’re washing your car with.

Giving the windscreen, paintwork and wipers the once over

There’s no better time to give the exterior of your car a good look over than when you’re washing it. You want to keep a close eye on any chips out of the paint, because they can lead to rust if left unattended. Similarly, you want to have a good look at the windscreen and check for chips or cracks. No matter how minor the damage might look now, it only takes a heavy frost or even a hard jolt while driving, or even another rock to crack your windscreen completely.

And, if you’ve got one, don’t forget to check your sunroof, because they can and sometimes do shatter – it happened to me on a car launch. No idea why it happened, but I’ve mentioned it as a definite reminder that it can happen… Don’t forget to check your windscreen wipers, too, don’t wait for them to get streaky and scratchy; check the rubber, replacing them is easy but always try and match the blade to your make and model of vehicle; in some cases you’ll need a mechanic to order specific wiper blades to suit your vehicle.

Top Tips: How to replace windscreen wiper blades

Tools and equipment:

  • Pliers; and
  • Scissors.
  1. Choose the right blades

With the correct year, make and model of your car you will usually be able to find blades that fit straight in and won’t require any cutting. At most car part stores, there will be a directory to find the correct part number or, ask an assistant.

  1. Removal of old blades

Armed with some new blades it’s time to remove the old ones, and we’ll replace one at a time. Pop up the wiper and clean the windscreen of any debris and dirt, then flip the wiper around so that the blade is facing upwards and is easier to work on.

At one end of the wiper is a tab that holds the blade into the metal arm. Using pliers, gentle pull at the tab so the wiper blade slides out of the arm. Do not twists or try to open the metal tabs to remove the blade, doing so will damage or break them.

  1. Inserting new blade

The new blade should look almost identical to the blade you’re replacing and will slide into the metal arm where the old blade came out. There are two metal blades that hold the rubber in place and they can pop out, just put them back in and make sure they fit snug into the blade.

With the wiper facing the correct direction (same as the old blade, upwards), slide the blade through the metal tabs. When the tab on the wiper blade reaches the end, it will pop into place. Ensure it clicks in and feels secure.

At this stage, if you bought blades that are the correct fit for your car, you’ll probably be finished with blade number one and can move onto replacing the other wiper. If the blade is too long, follow step four.

  1. Cutting the blade

The wiper blade is made up of two metal guides and one rubber blade – the trick to making a clean cut is to not cut them all at once.

First, separate the metal and rubber parts at the end. The two metal strips will need to be cut a minimum of 25mm after the last metal tab. The best method is to either break a clean snap if the metal is already scored, or cut it cleanly with sharp pliers.

Once the metal strips have been cut, next cut the rubber blade with scissors at a minimum of 10mm past the metal ends.

Place the metal strips back into the rubber.

Fluids

Even if you never change the oil in your car (leaving that to the mechanic), or the power steering fluid and coolant (surely you’ll top up the windscreen washer fluid), it pays to know how to check the levels. Most engines have brightly coloured screw tops, or lids indicating what they hope the likes of you and me will keep a regular check on.

Most of the time it’s possible to see the fluid level inside the reservoir, but where you can’t then check the dipstick; most will have a notch indicating optimum level. If you’re fluid level is below that then top it up (after reading to the owner’s manual to make sure you use the right stuff).

It’s also a good idea to check your oil, not just for level but also for the ‘look’ of the stuff. See, your engine’s oil is, ahem, like a window to its soul. It should be nice and clean and shiny; if it’s not, if it looks murky or gluggy then take your car straight to your local mechanic and get them to check it.

Disposables

I’ve already mentioned windscreen wipers, they’re a pretty simple job to change. The same goes for the cabin air filter (check your owner’s manual for location and lifecycle); most auto shops will carry spares and swapping them is usually as simple as pulling one out, slipping the other one in and closing the lid. The same goes for the engine air filter; it’s easy to change but just how easy will depend on the type of car you own. Again, check your owner’s manual for details on how regularly the thing should be replaced, although this is usually something your mechanic will do at a scheduled service.

Read the owner’s manual

Everything mentioned so far is super-simple to incorporate as a part of your everyday, or once-a-week routine. One thing you also shouldn’t neglect to do is leaf through your car’s owner’s manual. I’m not suggesting you need to sit it beside the bed and read a chapter each night before going to sleep – that would be insane. But you should have a good look through it to see things like, what type of oil the manufacturer recommends, and when it suggests it should be changed (although this will most likely be included as part of your service schedule – it’s not hard to change your car’s oil yourself), what type of air filters and any drive or timing belts. The latter is particularly important if you’ve purchased a used car.

If you think we’ve missed something out, then drop us a line or a comment below. See you in the comments.


12 Comments

  1. October 30, 2014 at 10:48 pm — Reply

    Wiper checking is also must. Some may find difficulty with the wipers at the time a long distance drive.

  2. 1250
    August 16, 2015 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    yes most people don’t bother, because they are to scared to open the bonnet, personally driver,s today are not very maintenance minded !! ,so sorry to say if you are under 35 then they just don’t bother, over that age people have been bought up on simpler cars and don’t find them a challenge,now doing the Basie things !!! you try to teach you kids, and tell them they are saving money, doing it them self,s .
    but they are too bissy, until the car stop,s and who do they call ”dad” talk about banging your head against a wall ???

    • August 17, 2015 at 6:16 am — Reply

      Absolutely. My old man made sure I knew what was what, and even showed me how to ‘dodgy’ up an accelerator cable out of some rope and his belt after the cable in his old Falcon snapped. Very cool and kind of funny watching him drive the thing with his belt hanging out the window attached to a bit of rope heading under the bonnet… worked though.

      • Tim Wilson
        December 5, 2016 at 1:47 pm — Reply

        i’ve heard of panty hose as a fan belt I think but never a belt as a throttle cable.

    • Corey
      March 13, 2018 at 8:48 am — Reply

      That’s not exactly true I’m 15. I’ve rebuilt a motor. Changes tires and oil. Replaced an inter cooler.l and various others things

      • March 13, 2018 at 9:13 am — Reply

        You are the exception rather than the rule, Corey. Top work, though. – Isaac

      • 1250
        March 13, 2018 at 10:35 am — Reply

        Well old son 👍🏻👍🏻 I take my hat off to you , and good luck in all your new uprojects , but stay on older cars as every new one today ,you knead a science degree to open the bonnet ,l maintains bikes and cars as a keen young bloke , but not now ,to tecnecale ,ABS, chime,s F/injection ARRR ?? All the best from Perth WA 😋😋👍🏻🏍

  3. AUSDAVIDZ
    August 16, 2015 at 7:51 pm — Reply

    I just changed the oil and filter in wifeys car, did not spill 1 drop of oil on the driveway 🙂
    The bloody filter while easy too get to was tight as, had to tap with the hammer to get loose
    Me being me I had to also jack up the opposite side to the sump drain plug so every drop of oil is drained:-)

    • August 17, 2015 at 6:15 am — Reply

      Nice one. We like to hear stories of people getting their hands dirty on their cars. It tried to get rid of some scratches on my car and failed to do anything other than give the thing a good buff… will keep experimenting with ‘scratch’ repair gumption.

      • AUSDAVIDZ
        August 17, 2015 at 9:15 am — Reply

        Ok, do share, ours has some paint issues too.

        and NEVER buy black, her idea, needs to be washed often

  4. Delighted
    April 9, 2016 at 6:01 pm — Reply

    some good points here, but also a couple of ‘dubious’ ones. ..unless you have plenty of experience with rebuilding and setting up engines, then I strongly suggest you do not attempt changing a timing belt. This takes considerable experience to do correctly, and if done incorrectly, can seriously damage the engine….take it to a qualified mechanic. ..Another small point is about oil changes. While technically not challenging, (at least after the first couple of attempts), it can be a physical challenge for some, (in a lot of cars involves jacking the car up and getting underneath the front end, on your back, and being able to manipulate various tools, while sometimes un-sighted, thus by feel, while being rained on by old oil). Also, the jacking of the car must be done with care….level, stable, firm ground always, hand brake on, with care taken in regards to the jacking points used under the car….you can’t just shove a trolley jack under the front bar or radiator and start jacking…car handbook may show ‘jacking’ points that can be used…if not, then jack under the suspension, where the control arm/wishbone joins the chassis rail. .The point being that the chassis rail is a strongpoint, while attachments may not be…Better still, if you haven’t done it before, then either have someone with you who has, or go to your local workshop.

    • April 9, 2016 at 8:43 pm — Reply

      Good points, and thanks Delighted. While all of the above can be done by a capable DIYer, I should have pointed out that some should only be attempted of you are able to. Thanks Isaac

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.