A Guide to Home Car Maintenance

Written by James Swift

Cars require ongoing maintenance to keep them running efficiently. A number of systems work together as a car runs, and it is important to monitor these systems regularly to ensure that they continue to operate correctly. For example, the engine, transmission, cooling, and braking systems work simultaneously while a car is running. If one or more systems malfunctions, this can impact the entire vehicle, which can lead to more significant problems. While a professional mechanic may need to perform some types of maintenance, a car owner can take care of many aspects of car maintenance at home in the garage or the driveway. Changing the oil, adding fluids, checking the tires, and keeping the car clean are just a few ways to keep a car in good condition.

Car manufacturers recommend a specific schedule for oil changes based on mileage to keep cars running smoothly. Your car may have a special light that illuminates when it's time for an oil change. To maintain a car correctly, follow the manufacturer's recommendation for the timing of oil changes. Changing your own oil is a basic process, requiring just a little time and a few items. Consult the owner's manual to learn the recommended oil filter and oil type and weight, and purchase these items. To change the oil, place a plastic tarp under the car, and park the car on a level surface. The tools you will need to change the oil include a box-end wrench, a filter wrench, and a drain pan. Raise the car and position jack stands at the jacking points to hold it in place. Remove the drain plug from the oil pan and drain out the old oil into the drain pan. Remove the old filter. Prepare the new filter by lubricating the gasket with new oil. Put the new filter in place, tightening it by hand only. Replace the drain plug, and tighten it snugly with the box-end wrench. Pour the new oil into the fill hole under the hood. Add only the recommended amount of oil to fill the reservoir to capacity.

A number of vehicle systems require fluids to operate correctly. Aside from the engine needing oil, the transmission also needs fluid to operate. While transmission fluid does not usually run low, it does need replacing according to manufacturer recommendations. The cooling system also needs fluid to keep the radiator from overheating. When the engine is cool and not running, you can add coolant to the radiator. Follow instructions on the package for diluting engine coolant, and add enough fluid to fill the reservoir to the capacity line. Brake fluid keeps the brakes lubricated. The brake fluid reservoir should remain filled with fluid to the correct level. Add more brake fluid if needed to keep the reservoir full. A reservoir under the hood contains window washer fluid, which you can squirt onto the windshield to keep it clear while driving. Keep this reservoir filled to the capacity line.

Keeping the tires properly inflated helps maintain safety, and it also conserves gas and prevents excessive tire wear. Information about proper tire pressure for a vehicle will be in the owner's manual. You can check the tire pressure with a tire gauge. For optimal results, always check the tire pressure when the vehicle is cold or has been driven for less than a mile. You also need a source of air to add to the tires, if necessary. Remove the stem cap, and place the tire gauge onto the valve, pushing it down gently and evenly. Check the gauge to see the reading, and compare this to the manufacturer recommendations. When you must add air, push the nozzle of the air hose onto the tire stem firmly. Add a small amount of air, and then recheck the pressure with the tire gauge. Continue adding air and rechecking until you reach the recommended tire pressure. Replace the stem cap on the tire stem.

Both the exterior and interior of a car need regular cleaning to maintain the vehicle. Use a mild soap with water and a soft sponge to wash the outside of the car. Start at the top, working your way down to wash all parts of the vehicle. Rinse the soap off completely. Dry the car, and apply a wax to help maintain a glossy exterior. Keeping the interior of a car clean requires some detail work. Vacuum the upholstery, carpet, and all crannies to remove dirt and debris. Use an old toothbrush to dislodge dirt caught in small corners. Follow manufacturer recommendations for cleaning hard surfaces inside the car. Do not use harsh or abrasive cleansers, in order to avoid damaging the vehicle's interior. Use a glass cleaner and paper towels to clean the insides of windows.

Learn more about car maintenance you can perform at home by visiting these resources:

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