While we definitely think that expert mechanics should handle in-depth car maintenance, there are some things that you can do on your own to keep your vehicle running smoothly while saving on minor repairs. We’ve put together a list of some basic car repair tips to help your car stay in good working order for longer.
- Know the Lights on your Dash: Having a light show up suddenly on your dash can be unnerving, but it could just mean a simple fix. By learning what each of the lights means, you can often fix the problem yourself. (Plus, it’s just good to know these things as a responsible car owner.)
a. Check Engine: Your check engine light is one of those things that is just ambiguous enough to make you wonder if the problem is bad enough to take it in right away or if you can leave it until next paycheck. It either says “Check Engine” or has a little outline of an engine, and there are literally hundreds of codes that could show a problem with your vehicle. So what can you do about it? Most auto repair shops will check your engine codes for free, or you can purchase a code reader to keep in your vehicle. They’re fairly inexpensive, and they can help you figure out which maintenance you need and how quickly you should get it corrected.
b. Tire Pressure: The tire pressure light looks like a cut-through view of a deflated tire, and when it comes on, you should stop right away and check the pressure. Temperature and season changes influence your tire pressure, and driving on over or under-inflated tires can be dangerous. Luckily, tire pressure is something you can usually fix on your own by adding or letting out a little bit of air.
c. Engine Temperature Warning: This light looks like a thermometer with wavy lines coming off of it, and it means that your engine is too hot. Usually that just means that you need to put some coolant in there, but if it comes on frequently, there may be a bigger problem that a mechanic needs to correct.
d. Oil Pressure: The oil pressure light looks like a little genie lamp, and when it’s illuminated, it means that your oil is low. Oil is the lubricating master behind your whole vehicle, so you should pay attention to that light right away. If you can’t change the oil yourself, at least check the dipstick for the level. If it’s lower than it should be, add some oil, and head over to an oil change place as soon as possible.
e. Battery Alert: If your vehicle is giving you a battery alert (it looks like a little battery with a positive and negative terminal), you should pop the hood and check things out. Make sure the car is off, and then scrub off any corrosion using a stiff wire brush. Turn the car back on, and if the light goes away, you’re probably good for now; however, if you know that your battery is old, you might look into replacing it entirely.
f. Low Fuel: This light might say “low fuel” or have a picture of a gas fill-up station, and when it goes on, it usually means you have about two and a half gallons of fuel left. Depending on where you live and how many miles per gallon you get, that might not get you very far, so try to keep your tank a quarter-full or more at all times.
g. Washer Fluid Levels: This light looks kind of like a windshield is filled with water and has sprung a leak. It’s not life-threatening, but you should always try to keep it topped off so that you stay safe when you need your windshield wipers.
- Oil Change: Oil changes are relatively easy to do on your own if you have the right equipment. You’ll need oil, a way to lift your car off of the ground (whether it be by using a hand-crank jack or renting out a hydraulic jack from a mechanic), a catch pan, new oil filter, and a wrench to loosen the plug. There are plenty of how-to videos on Youtube that show how to complete the process step by step.
- Bulbs: Bulbs can be a little difficult because they can be hard to get to. Read through your owner’s manual to see where your lights are located, and watch a video or read a tutorial on how to access the light. There are plenty of vehicle-specific forums and informational posts on how to change the bulbs for your particular vehicle.
- Tires: Your tires are the only thing that touch the road, so they need to be in excellent working condition at all times. They influence your gas mileage as well as how well you steer and brake. Check your tire pressure using a gauge at least once a month when your tires are cold (meaning, you haven’t driven on them for at least 4 hours). Your vehicle’s preferred tire inflation psi is located on a label inside of the driver’s door, so go off of that instead of the number written on the sidewall of the tire.
You should also make sure that your tires have enough tread and that they’re wearing evenly. If they have less than 3/32” (to the top of Lincoln’s head on a penny) or you notice threads or wires poking out, come see us at one of our 12 tire stores in Bountiful, Cottonwood, Farmington, Park City and other cities along the Wasatch Front.
- Preventative Maintenance
a. Clean battery terminals: We mentioned this a little bit earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. If, when you pop your hood, you notice that your battery has a lot of corrosion on the terminals, take a moment to scrub it off using a wire brush. Not only is the corrosion unsightly, but it can break down the wires and impede the electrical signal as well.
b. Coolant: You should change your vehicle’s coolant every 24,000-100,000 miles depending on the type you use. Test it by putting the positive probe of a digital voltmeter that’s on the lowest DC setting into your coolant. Then put the negative probe on the negative terminal of your battery and rev your engine to 2,000 rpm. If the voltmeter shows less than 0.4 volts, you’re probably ok, but once you hit 0.4 volts, you need to replace the coolant as soon as possible. Make sure that you know what kind of coolant to use before you add any because mixing them could prove disastrous and costly.
c. Windshield Wipers: Your windshield wipers are super easy to replace, so when you notice that they’re skipping or smearing, head on over to Walmart or your auto repair shop to get a new set. Be sure to measure your wipers before you purchase because some vehicles use the same sized wiper for both arms and others use different sized wipers. Once you have them, it’s usually as simple as lifting a level, taking off the old wipers, and snapping in the new.
- Headlights: Cloudy headlights don’t look very nice, and they don’t shine as brightly as they could. To fix that, look for a highlight cleaning kit. It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but the result is well worth it.
- Defroster kit: You know those little grid lines on the window of your vehicle? Those are probably your defroster lines, and when they get damaged, it can make it difficult for your vehicle to clear away the ice or snow in a timely manner. Luckily, defroster repair kits are inexpensive and easy to use.
You don’t have to be an ASE certified mechanic to take care of the little stuff that’s affecting your car. And when it comes to the big stuff, stop by one of our auto repair shops where you’ll get quick, affordable and competent service with the personal touch of our family-owned business.