how often should you
service your car
Every month, you should look at the following aspects of your car: Make sure the check engine light is off. Clean the interior and exterior. Make sure the lights are working. Check the tyre condition, specifically the inflation and tread. Check your windshield washer fluid. It should only take you a few minutes to check all these things. Unless you notice any issues, you shouldn’t need to spend any money at all!
Every three months (or 5000kms), you’ll want to get a little more in-depth and check these other elements, in addition to the ones listed above: Transmission fluid. Cables and battery. Belt condition. Engine oil and filter. Exhaust. Fuel filter. Hoses. Power steering fluid. A mechanic will probably need to handle some of these checks for you, but they’re fairly simple and won’t take a lot of time or money.
Every six months (or once every 10,000km), you’ll need to add the following to your inspection list: Chassis lubrication. Engine air filter. Windshield wiper blades. It doesn’t take a lot of time to check any of these elements, but you’ll definitely appreciate the peace of mind they bring you.
Every 12 Months/20,000km. Finally, you’ll want to have these elements looked at once a year (or every 20,000km): Cabin air filter. Power steering fluid. Coolant (antifreeze). Steering and suspension. This list might seem like a lot. However, most of these checks take very little time and repairs when they’re caught early.
happy car, happy you!
Vehicle care tips to consider
The Internet is brimming with testimonials from people who claim they upped their mileage simply by inflating their tyres to the maximum pressure listed on the sidewall. What they don’t tell you about is the rougher ride, premature tyre wear, longer stopping distances and increased repair costs due to worn-out suspension components.
The recommended tyre pressure for your car is listed on a placard inside the driver’s door frame and it’s based on vehicle weight along with the best possible handling. Inflating your tyres to the maximum pressure listed on the tyre is okay if you’re hauling a very heavy load. But you must reduce the tyre pressure to the recommended pressure once you remove the load. Driving a normal load on over-inflated tyres reduces rolling resistance and that can increase your mileage slightly. That means you have less rubber in contact with the road, which reduces traction. Over-inflation increases stopping distances, causes the tyres to slip and hydroplane on wet roads and reduces the life of the tyre. The much harder tyres also absorb less impact vibration so they transmit more road shock to your suspension system, causing a rougher ride. Worse yet, the additional tyre bounce wears out your car’s struts, strut mounts, shocks, springs, ball joints and control arms much faster. Any mileage gains you get from decreased rolling resistance are more than offset by decreased safety factors and increased suspension repair costs.
Whether you do your own cooling system flushes or are just topping off your cooling system after a repair, using the right coolant is critical to the life of your car’s engine and all cooling system components.
The recommended coolant for your car is listed in your owner’s manual. If you use the wrong coolant or mix two different types of coolant you can actually cause early water pump, radiator, heater pipes and heater core failure. That’s because corrosion inhibitors are designed to be compatible with the specific metals used in the engine and cooling system. Each inhibitor package also has to be compatible with the types of plastic and rubber used in seals, gaskets and tubes used in your particular engine. If you mix coolants, the corrosion inhibitors in one type of coolant can be incompatible with the additive package of the coolant already in your car. The inhibitors in the added coolant can reduce the effectiveness or even cancel out the performance of the corrosion inhibitors of the old coolant. Worse yet, topping off or flushing with the wrong coolant can damage the plastic and rubber seals and gaskets used in late model engines.
The damage may not show until you’ve racked up 8,000 or more kilometres. But when those parts fail, you probably won’t connect the dots and realise they failed because you used the wrong coolant.
If you can’t find the exact coolant for your engine at an auto parts store, buy it at the dealer. You may spend more than you would for the “universal” coolant stocked at the auto parts store, but at least you’ll get the right coolant for your car. That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Changing coolant prevents premature radiator and heater core.
A bottle of power steering fluid looks almost like a bottle of brake fluid. That’s why so many DIYers mix them up (it happens more often than you think). If you add the wrong fluid to either your power steering or brake system, the repair will be costly. Power steering fluid swells the seals in a brake system, causing total brake failure.
To fix the mistake, the shop has to rebuild or replace the master cylinder, calipers, wheel cylinders and proportioning valve. Sometimes they even have to replace expensive ABS components. Pouring brake fluid into your power steering reservoir is just as damaging because brake fluid isn’t a lubricant, so it causes pump and steering gear failure. Always double check before you refill your brake or power steering fluid reservoirs.
Several fluid manufacturers claim their “universal” power steering and transmission fluids work in all car makes and models. The car makers disagree and their arguments against using universal fluids are based on incompatible specifications, not greed. For example, there’s simply no way a single transmission or power steering fluid can meet the many different (and mutually exclusive) viscosity and additive requirements for every transmission and power steering system in use today. In fact, European, Japanese and domestic car makers have differing transmission and power steering fluid requirements from model to model and even year to year. The recommended fluid for your car’s transmission and power steering system is listed in your owner’s manual. If the auto parts don’t stock the exact fluid, try a different store or buy it at the dealer. It’s simply not worth the risk to use a non-approved fluid in expensive components like your transmission or power steering
Many years ago, you could disconnect a battery cable while the engine was running to test the alternator in your car. If the engine continued to run, that proved the alternator was working. But it’s a test you should never try on a modern car or truck equipped with computers and electronics. That’s because disconnecting a battery cable while the engine is running causes the alternator to spike a 25-125-volt surge within 40ms after cable removal. That voltage spike can’t damage anything in an old non-computerized car, but it can instantly fry the many computers and expensive electronics used on all late model cars. Repairing the damage can cost a small fortune. If your car or truck was built after the early 1970s, chances are it has at least one computer. So, forget this old trick left over from the “old days” and test your car alternator with a volt meter. Or, take your car to an auto parts store that offers a free charging system diagnostic test.
All cars have a “low oil pressure” warning light. If the light comes on while you’re driving, it can mean that your car is dangerously low or completely out of oil. Or it can mean that your car has a serious leak that’s causing a pressure drop, a clogged oil passage that’s causing oil starvation, or the oil pump has failed or is failing. Whatever the cause, when the light comes on, pull off the road immediately and shut off the engine. Then pop the hood and check the oil level using the dipstick. If the dipstick shows you’re out of oil or dangerously low, you must add more oil before restarting. Driving a car when it’s dangerously low or completely out of oil will destroy your engine in just a few minutes, and repairs will be costly. Don’t think you can drive to the nearest store to get more! It’s not worth the risk. Instead, the things you should do are, call a friend or family member and ask them to bring the oil to your location (the recommended type and viscosity is listed in your owner’s manual). Add it to the filler port and check the dipstick to make sure it’s full. Do not overfill.
However, if the dipstick shows you’ve got oil, then the problem is even more serious and must be checked out by a mechanic. There’s really nothing you can do while you’re on the side of the road. If the dipstick shows the engine is full, or you can’t reach a friend to drop off more oil, call a tow truck! If you can’t afford a tow, then you surely can’t afford a new engine.
The electric fuel pump is located inside the fuel tank on just about every fuel-injected car and truck. Car makers put it there on purpose so it’s cooled and kept at a safe operating temperature by the gas in the tank. But if you consistently drive with less than a quarter tank, the low fuel level can’t always provide enough cooling for the pump, and that can cause early fuel pump failure. Overheating isn’t the only issue, though. Consistently driving with a low fuel level causes the pump to suck in debris from the bottom of the tank. That debris can pass through the “sock” filter in the tank and the particles can wear out the pump impeller, causing a low fuel pressure situation. This warning doesn’t mean you have to rush to a gas station the instant you hit a quarter tank on the gauge. The fuel pump can easily handle occasional low fuel level operation, but not consistently as chances of early fuel pump failure can happen resulting in a big repair bill.
Car makers have had to up their game on engine design to meet higher mileage standards. The newer engines are built to more exacting tolerances and include high-tech mechanisms like variable valve timing (VVT) and turbochargers to squeeze more power and kilometres out of every gallon of gas. VVT systems work by pulsing pressurized oil into hydraulic passages to advance or retard the camshaft. The pulse timing and associated camshaft movement is based on the oil type and viscosity listed in your owner’s manual. The computer varies the pulse rate based on engine temperature and driver inputs from the accelerator pedal. It all works great if you use the right oil and it gets messed up if you use the wrong oil. In fact, using the wrong viscosity oil can actually set a trouble code and light the “check engine” light on your dash.
The right oil is just as critical for proper turbocharger operation. A modern turbocharger can spin at rates as high as 240,000 RPM which means the bearings must be constantly lubricated and cooled by the oil. If you substitute a different oil type or viscosity, you can change the flow rate, causing bearing overheating and early turbo failure. Turbo replacement is expensive.
So, ignore the advice from your buddies or online “oil experts” and stick with the car maker’s oil recommendation. They designed the engine and they’re in the best position to know what fluids it needs.
Since liquids expand when they freeze, you could be in for a big mess if you leave beverages in your vehicle for extended periods of time when temperature dip below freezing. Don’t forget to take bottled water, juice, soda and beer inside after your trip to the grocery store.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you shouldn’t smoke around a petrol station. This should be obvious, but never ignite lighters or light matches anywhere near a petrol pump.
Many drivers might be guilty of this, says Richard Reina, product training director at the aftermarket auto retailer CAid.com. It’s not necessarily the least safe thing you can do behind the wheel, but it still isn’t a good idea. “For instance, you might need to brake very hard suddenly and find yourself unable to apply the proper force with a bare or socked foot as you would with a shoe on,” Reina says. “Additionally, if you need to step out of the car in an emergency, you run the risk of injuring your feet or wasting precious time putting shoes back on.”
Dishwashing detergent is designed to aggressively attack and break down dried on food, oil and grease. That’s great for dishes—not so great for car paint. Car paint, clear coat and car wax contain oils and resins that maintain the paint’s integrity and filter out harmful UV rays. When you wash your car with dishwashing detergent, you actually strip off the wax and pull some of those critical oils out of the paint and paint sealants, leaving it bare and exposed to the elements. If you immediately wax your car with a high-quality wax, you can restore some of the UV protection. If you don’t wax your car after washing with dishwashing detergent, you lose important sun protection. If you regularly wash your car with dishwashing detergent, you’ll degrade the paint and clear coat enough over its life to cause premature fading and even early paint failure.
Car wash soap, on the other hand, is designed to remove dirt and grease without removing the surface wax and oils from the paint. It’s also biodegradable, so the wash water runoff is safer for the environment. Find car wash soap at any auto parts store or in the automotive aisle at most big box stores. It’s cheap and it’s better for your car’s finish.
The oil change intervals listed in your owner’s manual are based on the car maker’s assumption that you’ll not only use the recommended oil, but that you’ll also check the oil on a regular basis and top it off when it’s low. All engines use some oil between oil changes; even some new engines can burn as much as a quart every 2,500 to 5,000 kilometres. If you never check your dipstick, you’ll never know that you need to add more oil. Worse yet, if you don’t top off your oil, you stress the remaining oil, dramatically reducing its useful life. Here’s an example: Let’s assume the recommended oil change interval for your car is every 12,000 kilometres. If you burn one quart of oil in the first 5,000 kilometres and don’t replenish it, you deplete the anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives in the remaining oil by about 25 per cent. If you burn no more oil (which is unlikely), your oil will be worn out when you reach 9,000 kilometres instead of the normal 12,000 kilometres. If you continue to drive on that depleted oil until you reach the 12,000 kilometre mark, your engine can experience premature wear and develop sludge deposits.