For most drivers, the skills involved in proper car maintenance and repair feel out of reach. They rely on mechanics to take care of problems that arise. But while these mechanics are usually the best choice for in-depth maintenance and repairs, car owners can learn important basics for keeping their cars running well. Where to start? We crowdsourced a panel of car buffs to get their ideas.
John 'JB' Burkhauser
Involved in the maintenance
Everyone is equipped with tools that they use every day, which can help them be more involved in the maintenance and care of their vehicle. I am talking about the five senses – sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Well, maybe not taste! I do not recommend that you taste anything that comes from your vehicle!
Of the four remaining senses, sight will be the one that you most depend on to watch over your vehicle. Consider this, when was the last time you actually looked at the passenger side of the car you drive? Most people just look to the driver’s side, but just by walking around your vehicle on a regular basis and getting to know it, you will develop a familiarity with how things should [look].
Make it a habit to look at your tires as you walk around your car. This [check] has saved me from a couple of roadside tire changes over my driving career since I spotted an object in my tire before the air totally leaked out, causing a flat.
Pop the hood and look around under it on a regular basis. Get to know all of the different fluid types and colors. You do not need to be a technician to look at the coolant tank and see that the level of fluid is below the minimum fill line. Looking under the hood, especially during the fall, can save you some headaches. As the weather gets cooler, critters look for a nice warm place to build a nest. The top of the engine is a pretty good place except for all those wires that are in the way. They are no problem for the critters, though. They love chewing right through the offending wires.
Also, using the sense of smell while under the hood can help you locate an issue before it becomes a bigger problem. Leaking antifreeze will give off a sweet scent when it hits hot components. An oil leak dripping onto a hot exhaust manifold will give off an acrid burning smell. Certain issues with the battery and charging system can give off a rotten egg smell too. You should never smell raw gasoline under the hood in any vehicle made in the last couple of decades. If you do, you have a problem.
It is safe to say that using the sense of touch is NOT something you should use under the hood unless you really know what you are doing. There are too many hot things and spinning [parts] under there that can hurt you, but you can depend on your sense of feeling as you drive your car. It is your car. You get used to its normal vibrations and feel. You are in tune with it. So, when something does not feel right, you should get it looked at. Try to determine exactly what your car [does] to make this vibration or feeling occur so that you can show a mechanic exactly what your concern is.
Your sense of hearing is also another tool to use to keep tabs on the condition of your ride. Do you hear any unusual rattle or squeak that was not there before? Does the noise increase with vehicle speed or by turning the vehicle?
You do not need to know much about how your vehicle runs, but by familiarizing yourself with your car or truck using your senses, you can possibly see and address any issues before they become bad enough to either leave you on the side of the road or with a large repair bill.
Get yourself a set of tools
Cars are designed to be maintained quite easily. You are not rebuilding a wristwatch. As mileage [increases], different services are required. Oil changes and fluid checks, along with tire pressure and wipers, are the main money savers that you can do [on your own]. When it comes to timing belts and fuel injectors, it is best to get help.
Get yourself a set of tools to match your vehicle. Most cars are metric, even American cars. Check to be sure. A tire inflator with automatic shutoff is great to have not only for yourself but to help others. A flashlight is a must. If you can’t see it, you can’t fix it.
As far as doing the work, YouTube is a great help on any procedure you are not comfortable with.
Online resources can be a great help
Working on a car is more than just training, it is about having experiences and learning from them. I think that online resources can be a great way to learn car maintenance. Messing around in the front of a car is not a good idea without some guidance, and YouTube and other sources can be a great way to learn. You have to be willing to learn the basics before you do anything, otherwise you could end up with a broken car.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Owner’s Manual
Each vehicle has its own manual. You can find the owner’s handbook in the glove box. The book will help you learn how to properly care for your vehicle and when maintenance is necessary. Follow the recommendations and your engine will keep running smoothly.
This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.