Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you love your car or you’re at least interested to know what you can do to keep it maintained at its very best. While having your car professionally serviced at the manufacturer specified service intervals is important, these intervals may be 15,000 to 20,000 kms or 1 year apart, meaning small problems which develop in the meantime may not be noticed and rectified for many months – potentially compromising your vehicle’s condition, performance and your safety.
Luckily, there are a bunch of simple things you can do in your very own garage to ensure your vehicle receives the very best of care. Simply set aside a bit of time once a month and use our easy to follow guide below.
Check your tyre pressures
Equipment required: Tyre pressure gauge, Portable air-compressor
Tyres slowly deflate over time and it is important to have a tyre pressure gauge on hand to ensure your tyres remain properly inflated to their correct levels.
- Search for your car’s tyre placard and determine what pressures the manufacturer recommends. Placards are typically located on the driver’s door sill, passenger’s door sill, glove box or even inside the fuel filler cap. Please note: some vehicles may have different recommended pressures for front and back tyres.
- Once you know the specified pressure, grab your tyre pressure gauge and pick a tyre to check first.
- Unscrew the tyre’s valve cap and obtain an accurate reading of the pressure by holding the gauge against the valve. If in doubt, consult the instructions which came with the gauge, as the way they operate can vary.
- If the tyre pressure is lower than recommended, connect your portable air-compressor and inflate to the correct level. If your pump has a pressure gauge on it too, I would recommend over inflating by 1 or 2PSI, and then using your standalone tyre pressure gauge to bleed the pressure down to the correct level, for a more accurate reading. This can be done by holding the pressure gauge lightly against the valve until you can hear air rushing out.
- If the tyre pressure is higher than recommended, use the tyre pressure gauge to bleed off some of the pressure until the reading is at the correct level.
- Repeat steps 3 to 5 on all remaining tyres, including the spare.
Check your tyre tread depth
Equipment required: None
Tyres slowly wear out with time and usually require replacement every 20,000 – 40,000kms, depending on the size, vehicle and driving habits. Most tyres come with tread wear bars (pictured) built into them, enabling you to easily determine how tread is remaining.
- Locate the wear bars on your tyre and examine them.
- If the wear bar is located deep within the tread, your tyres still have plenty of tread remaining.
- If the wear bar is only slightly lower than the rest of the tread, your tyres are approaching the end of their life and will need to be replaced soon.
- If the wear bars are flush with the rest of the tread, your tyres have reached their minimum tread level (1.6mm) and must be replaced. Four new tyres might seem expensive but they’re cheaper than possibly receiving a fine or having an accident!
- It is also worth checking the tread levels on the inside and outside edge of the tread, as sometimes these areas may wear faster. If a car has poor wheel alignment the tyre may look like it has plenty of tread remaining, but might actually be heavily worn or bald on the inside edge.
Rotate your tyres
Equipment required: Car jack, wheel brace
The tyres on your car will all wear at different rates, depending on the vehicle. Front-wheel drive cars such as small hatchbacks will tend to use their front tyres much faster than the rears. Alternatively, rear-wheel drive performance orientated vehicles will tend to wear the rears more quickly.
Therefore, rotating your tyres is essential in order to get the maximum value out of your tyres. The easiest way to do this is swap the rear tyres to the front, and vice versa. We recommend you have your tyres rotated once a year or every 10,000kms.
Please note: this job is a bit more involved and involves an element of danger, which is why we haven’t included instructions. So if you aren’t familiar with how to do it we’d recommend heading to your local tyre shop to have this done.
Also remember, if your vehicle has a full size spare wheel you can also include it into your rotation, for a 5-tyre rotation which will give you 20% extra mileage from your set of tyres. You’ll need to buy 5 new tyres when the old ones are worn, but at least your spare is getting used rather than the rubber getting old (and dangerous) sitting in the back of your car for years on end.
Clean your wheels!
Equipment required: Bucket, sponge
Brake dust contains all sorts of nasty stuff and quickly builds up on your wheels. If your vehicle has a set of alloy wheels, we recommend you clean them once a month at least, as the combination of road grime, moisture and heat from your brakes will bake it on to your wheels. Brake dust normally clings to wheels with static electricity so a damp sponge and clean cold water is the best way to get it off.
Check your belts
Equipment required: None
Your engine has a series of rubber drive belts, looped around various pulleys, driving everything from the alternator to the air-conditioning compressor. These belts will either be located at the front of the engine bay (in larger, rear-wheel drive vehicles) or along the left side of the engine bay in smaller, front wheel vehicles.
Rubber perishes, more so in extremely hot conditions like those found in an operating engine bay. With the engine turned off, visually inspect the belts for any cracks or signs of wear, and pull on them to check their tension.
Check the engine oil
Equipment required: An old (but clean) cloth
Checking your oil in your car is easy. To check the oil, park on level ground and wait until the engine has cooled down after driving.
- Locate the dipstick – in new vehicles the end of it is bright yellow.
- Pull it out and wipe it clean, then push it all the way back in until the top of it is seated properly in the dip tube again.
- Wait for approximately 10 seconds and then pull it out again. Check the level of the oil. If it’s between the high and low marks, you’re fine.
- Take note of the oil colour itself, which should be a light brown colour. If it is jet black, it might be time for an oil change.
- If it is too low, oil will need to be added through the oil filler hole – but only if you know the exact oil which is currently in the engine.
If your oil is low and you don’t know what type your vehicle uses, we recommend booking your car in for a service as soon as possible. An engine running on low oil is not healthy at all.
Check your coolant level
Equipment required: None
The coolant is the other thing your engine cannot go without. Every engine is different but if you check your handbook you should find where the coolant reservoir is. It will normally be bolted to one side of the engine bay or the other, and be a white semi-transparent bottle.
- Wait until your engine is cool and take a look at the reservoir.
- The outside should have ‘low’ and ‘high’ markings on it and the level of coolant inside should be visible somewhere between the two.
- If the coolant level is low, you can get out of trouble by adding water through the filler hole in the top of to the reservoir – however adding proper coolant is always better.
Note: Do not take the radiator cap off to check coolant levels. If the coolant system is still hot then it is still under pressure and the pressure release will burn you. Even if the system is cold, removing the cap can still introduce a small amount of air into the system, which although minor, is never a good thing.
Equipment required: Carwash detergent (NOT dishwashing liquid). bucket, sponge etc
If you love your car or just want to keep it in good condition for future resale, keeping the paintwork in good condition is vital.
At the bare minimum, washing your car at least once a month is recommended, but this depends on how quickly the car gets dirty, or whether you park it on the street or in a garage. Note: it is also vital to remove any bird poo from your vehicle ASAP after noticing it, as it can bake on in the sun and affect your paintwork.
For those who want their car to look its absolute best, giving it a wax and polish every 3 months is highly recommend, to remove any contaminants on the paint which a regular wash may not have removed.
Check all lights on the vehicle
Equipment required: A second person to help step on the brake pedal
This is an easy check, but an extremely important one. Turn your headlights and hazard signals on and walk around the vehicle to check that all of your lights are working. It is also important to check your brake lights, which can be be done with a second person in the car applying the brakes, while you stand behind the vehicle and check.
Bulbs (especially indicator headlight and brake light bulbs) should be replaced immediately if found to be blown. If you aren’t aware of the correct bulb types your vehicle uses, or how to access them, leave it to a professional.