There are many things that a vehicle owner can do on their own that will reduce the need for their vehicle to be in a repair shop.
None of these things are difficult and they don’t require specialized training yet the effects they can have on the “health” of your vehicle is significant.
No one likes spending money on costly repairs. While we can’t tell you that following these tips and suggestions below will eliminate you from ever having to have your vehicle repaired professionally, we can tell you that these things will make a big difference in the frequency in which you encounter problems.
We have listed these 8 important ways that you can reduce your automotive repair bills and extend the life of your vehicle’s engine, other components and even the body of your vehicle. These are tips that will apply to any vehicle you own.
Before you get started with any of these suggestions, take the time to read the owner’s manual for your particular vehicle. Inside this manual is the regular maintenance schedule that the manufacturer recommends. It will tell you how often to change the oil, the filters, and even what kind of gas and oil you should be using.
It may not sound like fun to read this manual, but by doing so, you will know a lot more about your vehicle and that will translate into you taking better care of it. Another important reason to read this manual is to prevent yourself from voiding your warranty, if you have one, by not following the maintenance schedule or by using the wrong products in your vehicle.
1. Give Your Vehicle an Inspection Periodically
This basic step is very important since it gives you the chance to give your vehicle a once over on a regular basis. This inspection should include checking to make sure all your lights are in working order (headlights, taillights, turn signals, license plate bulb, etc) It’s easy to miss a burned out taillight until you are stopped by an officer.
You will also listen for any strange sounds that may be coming from the vehicle, inside and out. You can even run a diagnostic on it if you have a diagnostic tool. This will tell you if anything is wrong mechanically. You also want to check the body of your vehicle. Paint can be chipped or the vehicle can get small dents without your knowledge very easily, so this inspection can alert you to anything out of the ordinary.
2. Check Battery and Clean Terminals Once a Year
Once a year, unless your owner’s manual suggests more often, you should check the connections on your battery and clean the terminals. This may sound technical, but it is actually very easy.
Battery terminals can get corroded and cause connection problems, so taking a wire brush, removing the battery cables and cleaning the terminals will go a long way towards keeping a strong connection between the battery and the cables. This is very easy to do and should be done with the vehicle off.
You can also clean the terminals with a baking soda and water mixture and a toothbrush. Don’t forget to reattach the battery cables when you are done. A very helpful piece of equipment to have in the event your battery doesn’t start unexpectedly is a jump starter. Unless the battery is completely dead, a jump starter will help get you going again until you can replace the battery.
3. Get the Oil Changed (or change it yourself) Regularly
Getting the oil changed on a regular basis is probably one of the most frequent forms of maintenance that you will do or have done on your vehicle. Your owner’s manual will tell you how often your vehicle needs to have the oil changed and what type of oil to use. This will vary according to car type and can even vary according to region.
For example, if you live in a colder region, your vehicle may require lower viscosity weight oil which means it is thinner oil. Don’t worry; your manual will have this information for you so you are sure to purchase the right oil for your specific vehicle. Don’t forget to have the oil filter changed at this time as well. The oil filter should be changed every time the oil is changed.
This may be something you can do on your own or that you can even learn to do, as it is not a particularly difficult task. Be certain that you dispose of used oil and oil filters properly. Many auto parts stores offer oil and oil filter disposal services free of charge. They will tell you how to bring the oil to them and what their requirements are.
4. Check and Replace Windshield Wipers 1-2 Yearly
Windshield wipers are used frequently on your vehicle for keeping the windshield clear when it’s raining and also to wipe the windshield off periodically when it gets dirty.
It is important that your wipers are in tiptop shape to keep your view out the windshield as clear as possible.
Changing the wipers is super easy, but if you don’t want to do it yourself or just don’t understand how to do it, your local auto parts store will take your new wipers and replace them, in most cases, free of charge. Check with your auto parts store to find out if they offer this service.
Windshield wipers will most likely have to be replaced once or twice a year due to weather-wear. You will need to be certain that you order the proper windshield wipers for your specific vehicle so they are sure to fit. This is easy to do and can be taken care of when you order your windshield wipers. You will need to know the length of the wiper and it’ll be helpful to also know the make and model of your vehicle.
The definition of the make of a vehicle will be whatever manufacturer created it such as Ford, Dodge, BMW, etc. The model refers to the type of vehicle it is such as Mustang, Tahoe, Dakota, etc.
5. Check and Change the Air Filter 1-2 Times Yearly
The air filter in your vehicle is responsible for preventing dirt, contaminants and debris from getting inside the engine. You will be able to tell if the air filter needs replacing in your vehicle if you notice the following symptoms:
- Noticeable decrease in mileage
- Possible ignition problems due to fouled spark plugs
- Will darken in color (a new air filter is white to off-white)
- Overheating engine
Changing the air filter is an easy job that you should have no problem doing on your own. Your owner’s manual will more than likely give you a replacement schedule, but if you notice the symptoms occurring before that time, you will want to check it. Dusty areas will require air filter changes more often so if you drive on a lot of dirt roads or in drier, dustier regions of the US, you may find that you need to change your air filters more than once a year.
If your vehicle is newer than 2002, check the manual to see if you have a cabin air filter as well. This filter started showing up in vehicles in 2002 and is designed to prevent dust, dirt, pollen and other pollutants from getting inside the vehicle through the heat and AC vents.
6. Check the Air Pressure and Tire Tread Monthly
Your tires have a lot of responsibility when it comes to the safety of your vehicle. It is important to check the air pressure and tire tread on a monthly basis. The correct air pressure for your tires will vary according to the vehicle you drive.
You can find the recommended air pressure amount in the owner’s manual and possibly on a sticker inside the door of the vehicle.
The PSI that you will see on the sidewall of your tire is the maximum PSI that the tire should have and is not a recommended air pressure amount. The recommended amount will typically be slightly below that max PSI.
The best time to check the air pressure and add air if needed is when the tires are cold. You should check the air pressure every month unless you notice that a tire is losing air. If there is a 10 degree or more change in temperature, you will want to make sure that the tires still have the proper amount of air as well.
If you don’t own an air compressor, you can stop at any air pump. These are typically located at various gas stations and for a small charge you can fill your tires. Purchase a tire gauge so you know what your pressure is before and after you add air.
Checking the tread is easy as well. The most common way is the penny test. Take a penny and slip it into the tire’s tread with Lincoln upside down with his face towards you. If you see all of his head, the tread is too worn and it’s time to get some new tires. If you notice that your tires are wearing oddly or unevenly, this can indicate an alignment issue and should be checked out.
Having good tires is so important, especially in any kind of inclement weather. Improper tread or air pressure can cause an accident, especially in wet or snowy weather, so it is definitely one of the most important areas to pay attention to and keep in tiptop shape.
7. Check all Your Fluids Once a Month
There are several types of fluid that your engine uses on a regular basis. It is important to check these fluids on a regular basis to ensure that the levels are where they should be. These will include your brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, oil, radiator coolant level and your windshield wiper fluid.
Some of the fluids you will be checking will have dipsticks or a marking on the reservoir that indicates where the levels fall. Most commonly, radiator coolant levels and brake fluid levels will be marked on the reservoirs and the rest may have traditional dipsticks. When checking your transmission fluid, if you notice a burned smell or the fluid is brown, you need to give some attention to what may be causing it. Transmission fluid should be burgundy in color.
They will indicate whether you are low or at the optimum level. Overfilling is never recommended so be sure to clean the dipstick, stick it back in and then look at it before you add anything. It may not seem important to have windshield wiper fluid but it is very helpful when cleaning your windshield of dirt, dust, bugs and other vision impairing debris.
8. Keep it Clean and Check for Rust
Rust is cancer to a vehicle and can cause real problems if left unattended. When you are doing your once a month inspection, check the body of your vehicle for rust spots, cracks or chips in the paint or scratches that are deep enough to go below the paint.
If you note the presence of chips or cracks, take care of them right away while they are small. You can use clear nail polish or purchase a scratch remover that deals with this problem. You will find that if it is left, the rust will set in and continue to spread.
Keeping your vehicle washed and waxed is a great way to prevent the paint from drying and cracking or other cosmetic problems from occurring. There are a lot of great waxes on the market that are designed to protect your vehicle’s paint job. It is not unrealistic to recommend washing it once every couple of weeks especially if you live in an area that has a lot of salt in the air.
Grab some absorbent, microfiber cleaning clothes and make it a regular part of your routine. The better you take care of your vehicle, the longer it will last and the fewer problems you will have. You can wash and wax the vehicle yourself or take it to a car wash and pay to have it done.
Don’t forget to take care of the roof of your vehicle, especially if it is a tall van or truck. It’s easy to overlook this area but a lot can go on up there that you may not be aware of such as branches scratching the paint and rust developing in the rain gutter.
Another important area to take care of is the interior of your vehicle, including the floorboards, dashboard and upholstery. While this won’t affect the way your vehicle runs, it will affect the longevity of your carpets and upholstery. Checking to make sure there are no rust spots in the floorboards and that the dash is protected with armor-all or some similar product will keep the inside looking as great as the outside.