DIY Car Maintenance – What to Check and When

Everyone who owns a car should have a car maintenance routine. Keeping your car in good condition and doing a few regular routine tasks can help prolong the life of you car, reduce wear and tear and help you to avoid costly breakdowns. Many tasks like changing the oil are relatively simple, but do require some equipment and a little bit of time. If you aren’t technically minded or just hate doing these sort of things then once a year you should take your car in to a mechanic to get a yearly service – they can change the oil and oil filter and spark plugs and readjust the timing belt and a few other bits and bobs. However, that isn’t to say you can just ignore your car for the rest of the year.

I like to break down the tasks I do into weekly, quarterly, half yearly and yearly. I have a little schedule printed out and put up on my refrigerator and I just mark off as I go along. It helps because I don’t have to think too much about when I last checked the spark plugs (for example) if I have it written down. Following a maintenance schedule needn’t take a lot of time – I usually do it first thing on a Sunday morning and it takes no more than about 10 minutes.

My weekly car check up usually includes a quick visual inspection of the tires to make sure they all look ok – no bulges or sudden loss of air that could indicate a problem with tire inners. I also make sure none of the body work has come loose and there are no chips in the windscreen. Then I’ll check the lights all work – front, rear, fog lights, indicators, break and reverse lights. Sometimes it helps to have someone run through the various car lights switching them on and off for you so you can walk around the car and inspect them, but if you don’t, parking your car close to a wall on another car can give you a handy reflective surface that you can use to check your lights.

I check and top up my oil and make sure that there is enough fluid in the radiator and enough battery acid in the battery. Also check the brake fluid level and power steering fluid. Remember to do these checks when the engine is cold so you don’t burn yourself…and never open your radiator top up cap with a warm engine – there is a huge build up of pressure when the radiator fluid is running around the system and it can be fairly dangerous. Also check that the windscreen wiper fluid is topped up and that the wipers are well attached and the wiper fluid pumps are working. Then I’ll check my tire pressure with a pressure guage – you don’t need to go to a service station for this, just buy yourself a small tire pressure guage – they aren’t expensive – and keep it in the glove compartment.

Half Yearly
This is a good time to physically check the tire tread depth with a tread depth guage. Check your tread wear – if it is not even then you may have a wheel alignment problem. A quick look at the breaks to make sure there is enough on the break pads, and give your spark plugs a glance to make sure they are still in reasonable condition. Change your windscreen wiper blades. Push down on each corner of the car and check that it bounces up nicely again – this is a very basic check on the condition of your suspension.

As above, but also check the timing belt and give the battery terminals a clean if they need it. Remember, if you disconnect your battery, you might have to re-enter your radio code to unlock it, so it’s a good idea to know it before hand. A yearly service at a local mechanic should do all of the above for you and should change your oil and oil filter and replace your spark plugs, top up your battery fluid and wiper fluid as well as check your handbrake and hanbrake cable. Check with them beforehand what is and isn’t included and get a quote upfront.

If you find any problems, then you can correct them yourself if you feel competent enough – obviously topping up oil and fluid levels is fairly straight forward, but you could consider doing oil changes and replacing break pads yourself as long as you have right sort of tools – a good jack and some stilts to keep your car on while working on it are essential. Changing the spark plugs is also fairly straight forward with the correct spanner. a good tip is to put some bricks in front of and behind any wheels that remain on the ground to help stop the car rolling anywhere if all other safety devices fail.

Remember that oil changes should be done roughly every 5000 miles or six months.

If you find any problems in your regular car checks and you can’t fix them yourself then take them to your mechanic and get them sorted out quickly before they become more serious. Sorting out the small problems that crop up can stop them becoming larger more expensive problems, saving lots of money. Also, keeping your car in tip top running order will increase your fuel efficiency, saving you even more. Keep your car in good condition and it will reward you with many years of trouble free driving!