My husband was a firm believer that if you were going to drive a car, you needed to know some basic mechanics and be able to do self maintenance checks. He didn’t expect me to fix any mechanical problems, but he did expect me to have a fair idea of the problem, or at least be able to explain it better than saying, “It’s a clunky noise.”
I grew up around a bunch of hot rod, shade tree mechanics, so working on cars was something I just naturally picked up. I am not saying everyone is the type to get all greasy fixing their own cars, but every auto driver should be able to perform a few basic self maintenance checks on their vehicle.
1. Read those Gauges: Some cars have what is termed as “idiot lights” on the dashboard. Lights will come on to tell you there is a problem. You will have an oil light, a temperature light, a check engine light and a low fuel light, to name a few.
Do not continue to drive if one of these comes on. (I know someone who locked up the engine because the oil light came on and they didn’t know what it meant, so they just continued to drive for a couple of days.) Hmmm, the ticking noise should have been a hint!
If your automobile is equipped with gauges, familiarize yourself with them. You should know which one is the oil pressure, the temperature and the battery. Check these gauges when you start the car and frequently while you are driving. You should know what the gauge is supposed to read. If the gauge drops or rises, it is a sign that there is a problem.
Temperature gauges are important. If it rises suddenly, that is a sign that the engine is getting hot. It could be as simple as being low on water, or it could mean a bad hose or a bad water pump. Pull the car over and shut it off as quickly and safely as you can to prevent further damage.
2. Check Tire Pressure: The correct tire pressure not only helps how the car steers and handles, it will save wear and tear on the tires. Correct tire pressure also helps your gas mileage. Check the sidewall of the tires to find the correct amount of air that is supposed to be in them.
Carry a small air pressure gauge in your glove box. If the tire looks low, simply remove the valve stem cap, place the tire gauge on it and the end will pop-out and tell you how much air is in the tire. You can also purchase a tire gauge that has a digital read out, but these cost a little more. Check all four tires frequently to make sure they are properly inflated.
3. Fluid Levels: Cars need the fluids in them to perform at their optimum level. Fluids such as brake fluid, power steering fluid, oil, water, transmission fluid and wind shield washer fluid should be checked on a regular basis, even if you have someone else perform a scheduled maintenance for you.
It doesn’t take long to open the hood and check these things out. This is especially important if you are about to take a trip, or if you do a lot of stop and go city driving. Look to see where these things are located, or ask someone to show you. All of these fluid levels can be checked and filled, even if you are not mechanically inclined.
These 3 things might seem very small for those of you who know how to check them. If you have never checked your fluid levels or tire pressure, it may seem huge. It is really quite easy once you learn how and get into the habit of routinely checking them.
It will give you a feeling of independence, knowing you do not have to wait for someone else to do it for you. It can also save you some money. These fluids are very reasonably priced at a discount auto store, and it is just a matter of popping the hood and filling them yourself. Just be sure someone shows you how to do it the first time.