Basic car maintenance saves you money and helps reduce the risk of a breakdown.
These basic safety checks are easy to do and only take a few minutes each week.
Basic safety checks
- Check all exterior lights are working. This can be easily done in the garage by checking their reflection against the walls.
- Check that glass surfaces (including the mirrors) are clean and free from chips, cracks, and scratches.
- Check that the windscreen wipers and washers operate efficiently.
- Make sure the horn works.
- Test the handbrake to ensure it 'holds' the car on steep hills.
- Check the condition of the seat belts. Make sure the webbing is not worn, damaged or sun bleached. Test the mechanism by giving the belt a sharp tug to make sure it locks.
- Check tyre pressures, condition, and tread wear and depth.
- Watch for oil or coolant spots on the garage floor. These could indicate an emerging problem.
Why should I service my car?
Only 52% of Queenslanders service their cars at six or 12 month intervals according to RACQ figures. So what happens to the remaining 48% who don't service their car regularly? In this episode of RACQ TV, we take a look at just what can happen to your car if you don't service it regularly. You'll see how it's not only dangerous to drive a car that's not mechanically sound but how it's also a financial burden to fix. You'll be left with no doubt that regular car servicing and maintenance can prevent unnecessary wear and tear; keep it running in optimal condition and out of the car graveyard.
Fluid level checks
Check your engine oil weekly when the car is warm and on level ground. Stop the engine and wait a few minutes for the oil to settle, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Push the dipstick all the way in, wait a second, and then withdraw it and check the level. The oil should be between the two marks. Remember to push the dipstick fully in when refitting.
If your vehicle has a transmission dipstick (check your owner's handbook for its location), check the fluid weekly in accordance with the instructions in the owner's manual.
If more fluid is required, add the recommended fluid through the dipstick tube. Allow about a minute for the oil to stabilise before re-testing the level with the dipstick.
Manual transmissions and automatic transmissions not equipped with a dipstick are more difficult to check. Your mechanic should perform fluid level checks on these transmissions.
Check the coolant level at least weekly. If your car is fitted with an expansion / recovery tank check that the coolant level is at or slightly above the 'minimum' mark when the engine is cold, or somewhere between the half and 'maximum' marks with the engine at operating temperature. It's also essential to regularly check the coolant level at the radiator when the engine is cold. It should be full.
If your car doesn’t have an expansion tank, check that the water is within about 25mm of the top of the radiator filler neck when the engine is cold. Never open the cooling system when the engine is hot as you could receive serious burns.
If more coolant is required, add a mixture of clean water and the recommended coolant/inhibitor. Persistent coolant loss indicates a problem, which your mechanic should check immediately.
The level should be checked with the engine stopped, and after the car has been driven for a while to warm the fluid. Check the car's handbook for reservoir location, checking procedure and fluid type.
Brake and clutch fluid
On most cars you can see the brake and clutch fluid levels through the transparent plastic reservoirs. If not, remove the cap and check the level inside. The level should be maintained between the maximum and minimum marks. Only top up the reservoir with new brake fluid of the correct grade. The need for constant topping up indicates the possibility of a leak that must be checked by your mechanic.
A plastic reservoir for the washer fluid is almost always mounted in the engine compartment (check owner's manual for location). Fill the bottle with clean water and, if you want, a special windscreen detergent. Do not use household detergents for this purpose.
The fluid level inside the battery should be maintained between the marked levels, or about 5mm to 10mm above the plates. If it needs topping up, use only distilled water. Do not smoke or use naked flames near a battery. Battery acid is corrosive, so take care to wash off spills with plenty of clean water. Make sure the terminals are clean and tight, and that the battery is fixed securely.