Routine Vehicle Maintenance: Understanding the Basics
We get behind the wheel of our vehicle every day, but probably give very little thought to what actually makes our vehicle go from Point A to Point B with ease. Knowing simple basic principles of auto performance and maintenance can actually give us a feeling of security and empowerment, while also prolonging the life of our favorite rides.
The radiator, which comes with a cap on the top, is located directly behind the grille.
The purpose of the radiator is to keep your vehicle from overheating by circulating the fluid in the cooling system through a series of fluid channels.
Check the fluid levels in the anti-freeze/coolant reservoir tank routinely. The fluid level should be up to the fill line and the coolant should be nice and clear. Fill to the level marking with 50/50 solution of antifreeze and water or purchase a product that has already been diluted for you.
Remember not to remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot. If you notice the fluid seems dark or has small bits floating around, it needs to be changed.
While you’re checking the fluid levels, check the hoses connected to the radiator to make sure there are no cracks, holes or leaks. If you notice any of these tell-tale signs of trouble, hoses need to be replaced immediately.
2. Fan Belt
The fan belt (or serpentine belt) connects the fan and the alternator. When the ignition is turned on, the engine kicks over and starts turning the fan. The fan propels the fan belt, which runs the alternator, which generates the electricity needed to run the electrical system in the vehicle.
If the fan belt goes out or it’s about ready to, you’ll know it by hearing a high pitched squeal coming from under the hood and you won’t have much time to replace it, so it’s a good idea to check the fan belt every 2000 miles or so, just to make sure there are no frays, cracks, rips or worn areas.
Remember that the fan belt is an important component which powers the electrical system and allows your vehicle to move, so when the belt breaks, you’ll lose functions such your battery, air conditioning and power steering, which can be real trouble – especially when you’re driving on a busy street and your vehicle lurches to a sudden (and very dead) stop.
To learn how to replace a fan belt, see this Cars for Girls article: What is a Serpentine Belt?
3. Transmission Fluid
Transmission fluid should be checked routinely; approximately every 4 to 6 weeks should do it.
Make sure the engine is running and be certain to set the parking brake. Shift the vehicle into the “Drive” position, and then back into “Park.” Remove the dipstick, wipe it off, re-insert, remove and note the fluid level. If you need to add transmission fluid, remember not to overfill.
Oil keeps moving parts lubricated, cool and running smoothly. Without oil or enough oil – everything dries up and eventually can bring on disastrous results. Think of oil much the same as body lotion; it keeps our skin smooth and supple as long as we use it regularly, but if we stop using it, over time our skin will begin to dry out, crack and show signs of aging.
Oil should be checked regularly by letting the engine cool down, removing the dipstick, wiping it off, inserting it back into the reservoir and removing it again to get an accurate reading. You’ll see two lines; one indicating Add while the other will indicate Full. If the oil on the dipstick is at the Add line, you will need to add oil. You can do this easily by removing the cap on the top of the engine and pouring in fresh oil a half a quart at a time.
5. Air Filter
You should routinely check the air filter every 4 to 6 weeks.
The air filter will need to be replaced when it’s dirty. Simply unscrew the top part, remove the filter and replace with a clean one. Depending on your vehicle, the air filter may be located in a rectangular box. Simply remove the old filter and replace.
6. Brake Fluid
Brake fluid can be checked at the same time you check your transmission fluid.
Simply pry off the clip with a screwdriver and unscrew or remove the lid. Add brake fluid up to the proper level noted on the reservoir.
7. Windshield Wiper Fluid
Keeping the washer fluid reservoir filled is easy. Pop open the top and add to the line. In colder climates or winter months, it’s a good idea to use a fluid that can withstand freezing temperatures, such as a de-icer fluid.
The vehicle battery is a square box, located under the hood in the front-side, which is filled with water and battery acid. The function of the battery is to store electricity, which is generated via the alternator and fan or serpentine belt and sent out to every facet of the vehicle which requires electricity, such as your power steering, water pump, radio, headlights, and air conditioning, among many other things.
Most of us know when our battery is no longer working when we attempt to turn over the ignition and the vehicle refuses to start. We can also tell our battery is going out when the vehicle eventually turns over after a few twists of the ignition, or when our headlights begin to dim or our power windows go up more slowly than usual. In cold climates or during winter weather, it’s important to use a battery which will turn the vehicle over in below freezing temperatures and doesn’t suffer from battery drain.
9. Power Steering Fluid
Power steering fluid can be checked at the same time you check transmission and brake fluid levels.
Remove the reservoir dipstick and add fluid if needed.
That’s about it as far as basic maintenance goes. Get to know your car a bit better, you never know when something will go wrong with it. And the more familiar you are with your car, the easier it will be to fix, or explain to someone what is wrong. And with proper care maintenance, your car will last longer and run smoother.