If you’re anything like most people, you want to take the very best care of your car that you can. And, if you’re like most people, you’re also taking the car to the mechanic when you should but not doing much else between those visits. With so many vehicles now requiring service just every 6 months instead of three months like it was for decades, the required maintenance that should be done at home because even more important.
This article is written as part of my partnership with iFixit, the DIY community dedicated to helping anyone fix anything. iFixit is home to the largest collection of repair guides on the internet, including guides for auto repair. All opinions are my own.
Check Your Engine Oil
If you’ve never opened the hood of your car, then checking your oil or other fluids might be intimidating, but it’s actually one of the simplest things you can do. Checking your engine oil will take you less than five minutes and give you an invaluable baseline for how things should look under there. Bonus points: it’s super simple to do, and better yet, you’re likely to save lots of money by catching problems before they spiral.
All you need to check your engine oil is a clean rag. Make sure your car is parked on a level surface, and grab a clean rag, because that’s really all you need to check your engine oil. Most manufacturers recommend checking your engine oil while the engine is cold, so check it first thing in the morning before driving or four hours ish after last turning on your car. Check your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific instructions.
@mechanicshopfemme Checking you engine oil regularly gives you a baseline for what things under your hood should look like. So if you notice that there’s blue powder around your battery that wasn’t there before, the consistency of your oil has change significantly, or something else looks wrong, this gives you a chance to give the car looked at before it becomes a bigger problem. Dress gifted by @curvysensedoll #curvysensedoll #engineoil #subaruforester #womeninauto #quickycartip #oillevelcheck #carmaintenance #carsforregularpeople #tattoos ♬ original sound – Chaya Milchtein
Open the hood and locate the dipstick, which is usually labeled with the words “engine oil.” Pull the dipstick out and disregard the initial reading, instead, wipe the oil off it with the rag, and reinsert. The second level indicates what the oil level actually is. The oil should be between the two markings on the lower end of the dipstick. If the oil is low, add engine oil (you can find the correct type and viscosity in your owner’s manual). If there’s no oil on the dipstick, then add oil until it’s below the lowest mark and take the car to your mechanic.
While you’re under the hood, just take a quick peek at everything else. Remember the color of the oil, any residue on the battery, etc. Now, every month when you check your engine oil, look around. If anything seems off, get it checked out and hopefully prevent the problem from escalating.
You’ll want to check it at least once a month if your car has less than 100K miles or twice a month if you have an oil consumption problem, or if your car has over 100k miles.
Maintain your tires
Tires are wildly expensive, but you can increase how many miles you drive on them by taking care of them. If that wasn’t enough, tires are what keep you driving (and stopping) safely on the road. Improperly inflated tires cause uneven tread wear, increase your gas bill, and they’re flat-out dangerous.
There are three ways to maintain your tires.
- Check your tire pressure
- Rotate your tires
- And get an alignment
Let’s focus on checking your tire pressure, which can easily be checked and adjusted yourself in just a few minutes. You’ll need a tire pressure gauge, and if your tire pressure needs to be adjusted, then you’ll also need an inflator (or a local gas station).
Before you check your tire pressure, open your driver’s side door and look at the label on your door jam. It will tell you a lot of information about your tires, including tire pressure, size, and more. While you might have been told to find the proper tire pressure on the side of the tire, that’s a myth. The side of the tire has the maximum tire pressure – which is usually far greater than it should be.
Much like engine oil, your tire pressure should be checked when your car hasn’t been driven in a few hours since the air in the tires expands when they are heated, so combining this with your engine oil check is super convenient. If your tires are underinflated, use your inflator to adjust the air pressure to the optimal pressure.
Replace Your Wiper Blades and Top Off your Washer Fluid
Most people never think about their wiper blades until they’re in a storm with the rain beating on their windshield and worn wiper blades that aren’t cutting it. But you know better, don’t you? Wiper blades should be replaced every 6 – 12 months, and it’s super easy to do! You’ll need to find the size of your wiper blades (most cars have wiper blades that are two different lengths) and a towel, and you’re in business.
If you’re buying the wiper blades online, just input the year, make, and model of your car, and the lengths should work. In the parts store, you may find a booklet dangling from the wiper blade display or a QR code to scan, where you can find the size.
Once you get home, lift the wiper arms and lay the towel down on the windshield. This will prevent you from smashing it by mistake after you remove the blade from the wiper arm. Most wiper blades are installed with a simple hook, allowing you to slide them off and install the new ones. (If you have the wiper insert version, here’s an iFixit guide on it.)
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Now, we just have one more thing to discuss on the subject of visibility. Washer fluid. It’s seriously a piece of cake to top off and takes barely a few minutes. You know how you’re checking the oil every month? While you’re at it, take a peek at your washer fluid. And yes, I said washer fluid, not water. Water freezes in the cold, which will damage the plastic washer fluid reservoir. Also, washer fluid is designed to clean dirt, bugs, grease, etc, from your windshield.
If you don’t have a steady hand, use a funnel or the top half of a 2-liter soda bottle.
Replace Your Car’s Bulbs
Did you know that most of your car’s bulbs are super easy to change? While you might not think much of a burnt-out brake light or headlight, it’s certainly a safety hazard. These lights help the driver’s around you know your next step, which helps you avoid getting in each other’s way by mistake. And you might save yourself from a ticket while you’re at it. On some vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, you won’t need any tools, but on most cars, a Phillips screwdriver and perhaps a pry tool will do the trick.
If you’re a visual person, take a look at iFixit’s repair guides, like this one on replacing a headlight bulb. The one thing to know about bulbs is unlike wiper blades, air filters, or any other parts, most of the time, you have to actually match the bulb up instead of finding the part number. So that means you might have to put the bulb out, find the number on it, and then run to the part store to get the matching bulb.
Maintain and Replace Your Battery
If you open the hood of your car and notice some white or blue powder on your battery, that means your battery is leaking acid. It’s not bad just yet, but at some point soon, you’ll likely need a batter. In the meantime, you’re going to want to clean that acid off your battery, which, you’re in luck, is quite easy to do. Put on some gloves (you don’t want to be touching that, it can burn your skin) and use a wire brush to clean it off. When it’s time to replace your battery, check out this iFixit guide for detailed instructions.
Car Care Kit Giveaway
Here’s the good news, iFixit is also partnering with me to give away nearly everything you need to do the tasks outlined in this article! Two lucky winners will win a bundle of car care products, including a jump starter that can also charge your phone, and act as a flashlight/emergency light, a tire inflator that can be set to easily inflate your tires to the proper PSI without checking a million times, a digital tire pressure gauge which you can use to check your tire pressure, as well a funnel and battery terminal cleaning kit.
If that wasn’t enough, you’re getting the iFixit Repair Business Toolkit, the ultimate DIY kit, which has a few things in it for changing bulbs, batteries, etc., as well as a whole lot of things that will help you repair your phone, laptop, and other electronics.
Enter the giveaway below or click here.