Owning a car is like any other relationship, the more you put into it the healthier it will be. A neglected vehicle (like a jilted lover) knows exactly when and where to hit you where it hurts. It will rebel against your inattention at the worst possible time and place, and preferably in the worst weather conditions imaginable. Show your automobile a bit of TLC by learning these few simple maintenance techniques. Not only will they prevent problems, they’ll also extend the life of the vehicle and save you money on mechanics.

Tuning Into Your Tires


Image via Flickr by USAG-Humphries

The most basic car care is to keep taps on your tire pressure. Not only is a low tire more likely to cause you a blowout, but it also reduces your fuel mileage, costing you at the pump. To find out what the optimal tire pressure for your vehicle is, open your driver’s door and look at the sticker on the edge of the door panel, near the door handle. This sticker tells you the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. Check tire pressures at least once per week.

When you’re checking tire pressure, pay attention to the tread. Most auto parts stores carry tread measurement tools, but it’s pretty obvious when the tread starts to wear down. Remember, treads are most important when it rains. Treads are where the water goes to keep you from hydroplaning.

Check your spare tire when you check the others. A flat or bald spare is no good if another tire blows. Also, make sure your tire tool and jack are easily accessible at all times. Rotate and balance your tires according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, or at least every 3,000-7,000 miles.

Engaging With Your Engine

While you’re waiting to fill up with gas is a good time to peek under the hood. Examine the belts for signs of wear, and replace them if they look frayed or cracked. Read your owner’s manual to find your fluid reservoirs, including oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, engine coolant (antifreeze), and windshield washing fluid. Even if the oil and other fluids are full, check for dark, thick fluids, which indicate it’s time for a change even if levels are okay.

While you’re in there, check the battery. Look for signs of corrosion, especially around the terminals used to connect the jumper cables. If you’re in doubt about the condition of your battery, most auto parts stores will check the charge for free.

Loving Those Lights

It’s difficult for the driver to tell when some lights go out, so check these at least once per month. Ideally, you’ll have an extra person to watch while you test the high and low beams, blinkers, brake lights, reverse signals, and hazard lights. If not, pull the car up to a plate-glass window and use the reflection to test the lights. Then turn the car around and check the back lights in the rearview mirror.

Never Ignore Those Warning Indicators

Indicator lights, such as the check oil or check engine lights, should never be ignored. As soon as these lights come on, stop and check the fluids or engine or find a qualified repair shop immediately. Running an engine without oil, even for a brief time, can cause serious (and very expensive) damage.

If it’s been awhile since you read your owner’s manual, review it again. These manuals are full of helpful hints and useful advice for keeping your car at peak operating condition for many years.