10 Basic Car Maintenance Skills Everyone Should Have to Keep Your Car in Top Shape

Owning a car is a great convenience, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. You need to take good care of your car to ensure its safety, performance, and longevity.

However, you don’t need to be a mechanic or spend a fortune on professional services to maintain your car. There are some basic car maintenance skills that everyone should have, and they can save you time, money, and trouble in the long run.

In this article, we will show you 10 basic car maintenance skills that you can easily learn and do yourself.

1. Check and Change Your Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of your car’s engine. It lubricates, cools, and cleans the moving parts of your engine, preventing friction, overheating, and wear and tear.

However, oil gets dirty and loses its effectiveness over time, so you need to check and change it regularly. To check your oil level, park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and wait for a few minutes.

Then, pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean, and insert it back into the oil reservoir. Pull it out again and look at the oil level and colour. The oil level should be between the two marks on the dipstick, and the oil colour should be amber or light brown.

If the oil level is low or the oil colour is dark or black, you need to add or change your oil. To change your oil, you will need a wrench, a drain pan, a funnel, a new oil filter, and new oil.

Follow these steps:

  • Locate the oil drain plug under your car and place the drain pan under it.
  • Use the wrench to loosen and remove the plug, and let the oil drain out completely.
  • Replace the plug and tighten it securely.
  • Locate the oil filter and use the wrench to unscrew and remove it. Be careful, as it may be hot and full of oil.
  • Wipe the filter housing with a rag and apply some new oil to the rubber seal of the new filter.
  • Screw the new filter into place and tighten it by hand.
  • Remove the oil cap on top of your engine and use the funnel to pour the new oil into the oil reservoir. Check the owner’s manual for the recommended amount and type of oil for your car.
  • Replace the oil cap and start the engine. Let it run for a few minutes and check for any leaks.
  • Turn off the engine and check the oil level again with the dipstick. Add more oil if needed.

You should check your oil level every month and change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on your driving habits and conditions.

2. Check and Replace Your Air Filter

Your air filter is responsible for filtering the air that enters your engine, preventing dust, dirt, and debris from damaging your engine.

A dirty or clogged air filter can reduce your engine’s performance, fuel efficiency, and emissions. To check your air filter, locate the air filter box under the hood of your car and open it.

Remove the air filter and inspect it for any signs of damage, dirt, or clogging. If the air filter is dirty or damaged, you need to replace it with a new one.

To replace your air filter, follow these steps:

  • Buy a new air filter that matches the size and shape of your old one. You can find the right air filter for your car by checking the owner’s manual or asking a salesperson at an auto parts store.
  • Open the air filter box and remove the old air filter.
  • Insert the new air filter into the box and make sure it fits snugly and securely.
  • Close the air filter box and latch it.

You should check your air filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles and replace it every 30,000 miles, or more often if you drive in dusty or polluted areas.

3. Check and Refill Your Fluids

Your car has several fluids that are essential for its proper functioning, such as coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and windshield washer fluid.

These fluids need to be checked and refilled regularly to prevent your car from overheating, losing power, or breaking down. To check and refill your fluids, you will need a rag, a funnel, and the appropriate fluids for your car.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and open the hood.
  • Locate the fluid reservoirs under the hood. They are usually transparent plastic containers with labels and markings on them.
  • Check the fluid levels and colors of each reservoir. The fluid levels should be between the minimum and maximum marks on the reservoirs, and the fluid colors should be clear or bright. If the fluid levels are low or the fluid colors are dark or cloudy, you need to add or change the fluids.
  • To add or change the fluids, unscrew the caps of the reservoirs and use the funnel to pour the fluids into the reservoirs. Do not overfill the reservoirs, as this can cause leaks or damage. Use the rag to wipe any spills or drips.
  • Screw the caps back on the reservoirs and close the hood.

You should check your fluids every month and change them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, which you can find in the owner’s manual or online.

4. Check and Adjust Your Tire Pressure

Your tire pressure is the amount of air in your tires, measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Your tire pressure affects your car’s handling, braking, traction, fuel economy, and tire wear.

Underinflated tires can cause your car to lose grip, overheat, and wear out faster, while overinflated tires can cause your car to bounce, skid, and burst.

To check and adjust your tire pressure, you will need a tire pressure gauge, an air pump, and a valve stem cap remover.

Follow these steps:

  • Find the recommended tire pressure for your car by checking the sticker on the driver’s door jamb, the owner’s manual, or the tire manufacturer’s website.
  • Park your car on a level surface and turn off the engine.
  • Remove the valve stem caps from your tires and keep them in a safe place.
  • Use the tire pressure gauge to measure the current tire pressure of each tire. Press the gauge firmly onto the valve stem and read the PSI on the gauge.
  • Compare the current tire pressure with the recommended tire pressure. If the current tire pressure is lower than the recommended tire pressure, you need to inflate your tires. If the current tire pressure is higher than the recommended tire pressure, you need to deflate your tires.
  • To inflate your tires, attach the air pump to the valve stem and pump air into the tire until it reaches the recommended tire pressure. Check the tire pressure again with the gauge and adjust accordingly.
  • To deflate your tires, press the tip of the valve stem cap remover or a small screwdriver onto the valve stem and release some air from the tire until it reaches the recommended tire pressure. Check the tire pressure again with the gauge and adjust accordingly.
  • Replace the valve stem caps on your tires and store the tire pressure gauge, the air pump, and the valve stem cap remover in your car.

You should check and adjust your tire pressure every month and before long trips, or more often if you drive in extreme temperatures or altitudes.

5. Check and Rotate Your Tires

Your tires are the only part of your car that touches the road, so they need to be in good condition and evenly worn. Uneven tire wear can cause your car to vibrate, pull, or lose traction, and can also reduce your fuel efficiency and tire life.

To check and rotate your tires, you will need a jack, a lug wrench, a torque wrench, and a tire tread depth gauge.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and engage the parking brake.
  • Use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts on your tires, but do not remove them yet.
  • Use the jack to lift one wheel off the ground and place a jack stand under the car for support. Repeat for the other wheels.
  • Remove the lug nuts and the tires from the car and set them aside.
  • Use the tire tread depth gauge to measure the tread depth of each tire. The tread depth should be at least 1/16 of an inch, or 1.6 millimetres, for safe driving. If the tread depth is less than that, you need to replace your tires. You can also use the penny test to check your tread depth. Insert a penny into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is too low and you need to replace your tires.
  • Inspect the tires for any signs of damage, such as cracks, bulges, cuts, or punctures. If you find any damage, you need to repair or replace your tires.
  • Rotate your tires according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, which you can find in the owner’s manual or online. Usually, you need to move the front tires to the rear and the rear tires to the front, and switch the sides as well. This will ensure even wear and extend your tire life.
  • Put the tires back on the car and tighten the lug nuts by hand. Lower the car from the jack and remove the jack stand. Use the torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the specified torque, which you can find in the owner’s manual or online. Do not over-tighten or under-tighten the lug nuts, as this can cause damage or instability.
  • Replace the valve stem caps on your tires and store the tire tread depth gauge, the jack, the lug wrench, the torque wrench, and the valve stem cap remover in your car.

You should check and rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, or more often if you drive in harsh or uneven terrain.

6. Check and Replace Your Wiper Blades

Your wiper blades are responsible for clearing your windshield of rain, snow, dust, and dirt, improving your visibility and safety on the road.

However, wiper blades can wear out, crack, or tear over time, causing streaks, smears, or scratches on your windshield. To check and replace your wiper blades, you will need a tape measure, a rag, and new wiper blades.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and lift the wiper arms away from the windshield.
  • Use the tape measure to measure the length of your wiper blades. You will need to buy new wiper blades that match the length of your old ones. You can also check the owner’s manual or the packaging of the new wiper blades for the correct size for your car.
  • Use the rag to wipe the dirt and debris from your wiper blades and arms.
  • Locate the clips or tabs that hold the wiper blades to the wiper arms. Press the clips or tabs and slide the wiper blades off the wiper arms.
  • Attach the new wiper blades to the wiper arms by sliding them into place until they click or lock. Make sure they are secure and aligned with the windshield.
  • Lower the wiper arms back to the windshield and test the wiper blades by turning them on. Check for any noise, vibration, or skipping.

You should check your wiper blades every six months and replace them every year, or sooner if they show signs of wear or damage.

7. Check and Replace Your Spark Plugs

Your spark plugs are responsible for igniting the fuel and air mixture in your engine’s cylinders, creating the power that moves your car.

However, spark plugs can get dirty, corroded, or worn out over time, causing your engine to misfire, lose power, or consume more fuel.

To check and replace your spark plugs, you will need a spark plug socket, a ratchet, an extension, a gap gauge, and new spark plugs.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and open the hood.
  • Locate the spark plugs under the hood. They are usually attached to thick wires that run from the distributor cap or coil pack to the engine. There should be one spark plug for each cylinder in your engine.
  • Remove the wire from the first spark plug by pulling it gently by the boot, not by the wire. Be careful not to damage the wire or the boot.
  • Use the spark plug socket, the ratchet, and the extension to loosen and remove the spark plug from the engine. Be careful not to drop or damage the spark plug.
  • Inspect the spark plug for any signs of wear, damage, or fouling. The spark plug should have a light tan or gray color and a clean electrode. If the spark plug is black, oily, wet, or damaged, you need to replace it with a new one.
  • Use the gap gauge to measure the gap between the electrode and the metal arm of the spark plug. The gap should match the specification for your car, which you can find in the owner’s manual or online. If the gap is too wide or too narrow, you need to adjust it by bending the metal arm slightly with the gap gauge or a pair of pliers. Do not force or damage the electrode or the arm.
  • Insert the new or adjusted spark plug into the engine and tighten it with the spark plug socket, the ratchet, and the extension. Do not over-tighten or under-tighten the spark plug, as this can cause damage or leakage.
  • Reattach the wire to the spark plug and make sure it is secure and snug.
  • Repeat the steps for the other spark plugs, one at a time.

You should check your spark plugs every 30,000 miles and replace them every 60,000 miles, or more often if you notice any problems with your engine.

8. Check and Replace Your Battery

Your battery is responsible for storing and supplying the electrical power that starts your car and runs your lights, radio, and other accessories.

However, batteries can lose their charge, corrode, or leak over time, causing your car to fail to start, dim your lights, or drain your power. To check and replace your battery, you will need a voltmeter, a wrench, a rag, baking soda, water, a wire brush, and a new battery.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and open the hood.
  • Locate the battery under the hood. It is usually a rectangular box with two terminals, one positive (+) and one negative (-).
  • Use the voltmeter to measure the voltage of your battery. Attach the red lead of the voltmeter to the positive terminal and the black lead to the negative terminal. Read the voltage on the voltmeter. A fully charged battery should have a voltage of 12.6 volts or higher. If the voltage is lower than 12.4 volts, you need to charge or replace your battery.
  • Use the wrench to loosen and remove the cables from the battery terminals, starting with the negative cable. Be careful not to touch the metal parts of the wrench to the battery or the car, as this can cause sparks or shocks. Use the rag to wrap the cables and keep them away from the battery.
  • Inspect the battery for any signs of corrosion, leakage, or damage. Corrosion is a white or green powdery substance that forms on the battery terminals or cables. Leakage is a wet or oily substance that drips from the battery case or vents. Damage is any cracks, bulges, or holes in the battery case or terminals. If you find any corrosion, leakage, or damage, you need to replace your battery with a new one.
  • To clean the corrosion from the battery terminals or cables, make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the affected areas. Use the wire brush to scrub the corrosion off and rinse with water. Dry the terminals and cables with a rag.
  • To replace your battery, use the wrench to loosen and remove the bolts or straps that hold the battery in place. Lift the battery out of the car and dispose of it properly. Do not throw it in the trash or the regular recycling bin, as batteries contain hazardous materials. Take it to an auto parts store or a recycling center that accepts batteries.
  • Place the new battery in the car and secure it with the bolts or straps. Make sure the battery is stable and aligned with the terminals.
  • Reattach the cables to the battery terminals, starting with the positive cable. Tighten the cables with the wrench and make sure they are secure and snug.
  • Start the car and test the battery by turning on the lights, radio, and other accessories. Check for any warning lights or messages on the dashboard.

You should check your battery every six months and replace it every three to five years, or sooner if it shows signs of wear or failure.

9. Check and Replace Your Brake Pads

Your brake pads are responsible for creating the friction that slows down and stops your car when you press the brake pedal.

However, brake pads can wear out, crack, or glaze over time, causing your brakes to squeak, grind, or fail. To check and replace your brake pads, you will need a jack, a lug wrench, a C-clamp, a wrench, a hammer, a screwdriver, and new brake pads.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and engage the parking brake.
  • Use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts on your tires, but do not remove them yet.
  • Use the jack to lift one wheel off the ground and place a jack stand under the car for support. Repeat for the other wheels.
  • Remove the lug nuts and the tires from the car and set them aside.
  • Locate the brake caliper behind the wheel. It is a metal device that holds the brake pads and clamps them to the brake rotor, which is a metal disc that spins with the wheel.
  • Use the C-clamp to compress the brake caliper piston, which is a round metal part that pushes the brake pads against the brake rotor. Place the C-clamp over the brake caliper and tighten it until the piston is fully retracted. Be careful not to damage the brake caliper, the piston, or the brake hose.
  • Use the wrench to loosen and remove the bolts that hold the brake calliper to the brake calliper bracket, which is a metal frame that attaches the brake calliper to the wheel hub. Lift the brake calliper off the brake calliper bracket and hang it from the suspension or the frame with a wire or a rope. Do not let the brake calliper hang by the brake hose, as this can damage the hose or the brake system.
  • Remove the brake pads from the brake calliper bracket. They are usually held by clips, pins, or springs that you can pry off with a screwdriver or a hammer. Be careful not to damage the brake pads or the brake calliper bracket.
  • Inspect the brake pads for any signs of wear, damage, or glazing. The brake pads should have a minimum thickness of ¼ of an inch, or 6 millimetres, for safe braking. If the brake pads are thinner than that, cracked, or shiny, you need to replace them with new ones.
  • To replace your brake pads, buy new brake pads that match the size and shape of your old ones. You can find the right brake pads for your car by checking the owner’s manual or asking a salesperson at an auto parts store.
  • Insert the new brake pads into the brake calliper bracket and secure them with the clips, pins, or springs that you removed earlier. Make sure they are aligned with the brake rotor and the brake calliper.
  • Place the brake calliper over the brake calliper bracket and the brake pads and tighten the bolts that hold them together. Do not over-tighten or under-tighten the bolts, as this can cause damage or noise.
  • Put the tires back on the car and tighten the lug nuts by hand. Lower the car from the jack and remove the jack stand. Use the torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the specified torque, which you can find in the owner’s manual or online. Do not over-tighten or under-tighten the lug nuts, as this can cause damage or instability.
  • Start the car and test the brakes by driving slowly and applying the brake pedal gently. Check for any noise, vibration, or resistance. If you notice any problems, stop the car and check the brake pads and the brake calliper again.

You should check your brake pads every 12,000 miles and replace them every 25,000 miles, or sooner if they show signs of wear or damage.

10. Check and Replace Your Headlights

Your headlights are responsible for illuminating the road ahead of you and making your car visible to other drivers and pedestrians at night or in low-light conditions.

However, headlights can burn out, dim, or crack over time, reducing your visibility and safety on the road. To check and replace your headlights, you will need a screwdriver, a rag, and new headlights.

Follow these steps:

  • Park your car on a level surface, turn off the engine, and turn on the headlights.
  • Stand in front of your car and look at the headlights. They should be bright, clear, and evenly aligned. If the headlights are dim, cloudy, or misaligned, you need to replace or adjust them.
  • To replace your headlights, open the hood and locate the back of the headlights. They are usually connected to a wiring harness that plugs into a bulb socket.
  • Disconnect the wiring harness from the bulb socket and twist the bulb socket counter clockwise to remove it. Pull the bulb out of the socket and dispose of it properly. Do not touch the bulb with your bare hands, as the oil from your skin can damage the bulb or cause it to explode. Use a rag to handle the bulb or wear gloves.
  • Insert the new bulb into the socket and twist the socket clockwise to secure it. Reconnect the wiring harness to the socket and make sure it is snug and secure.
  • Close the hood and test the headlights by turning them on. Check for any flickering, dimming, or unevenness.
  • To adjust your headlights, park your car about 25 feet away from a wall or a garage door and turn on the headlights. Use a tape measure and a marker to mark the center and the height of each headlight on the wall or the door. The marks should be level and aligned with the headlights.
  • Use the screwdriver to adjust the screws or knobs on the back or the side of the headlights. Turn the screws or knobs until the beams of the headlights are aimed at the marks on the wall or the door. The beams should be slightly downward and inward, not upward or outward, to avoid blinding other drivers.
  • Test the headlights by driving at night or in low-light conditions and check for any glare, shadow, or blind spots.

You should check your headlights every six months and replace them every two years, or sooner if they show signs of wear or failure.

Conclusion

These are the 10 basic car maintenance skills that everyone should have. By learning and doing these skills yourself, you can keep your car in top shape, save money on professional services, and prevent major problems or breakdowns in the future.

However, these skills are not a substitute for regular inspections and tune-ups by a qualified mechanic. You should still take your car to a mechanic at least once a year or whenever you notice any unusual noises, smells, or symptoms.

Remember, your car is an investment and a responsibility, and you should treat it with care and respect. Happy driving.

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