Julia Pannett

Car Insurance

03 Jun 2015

First Car Guide: Maintenance for First Car Owners

Car Maintenance for Dummies. How to save $'000s in Repairs

Whether you are new to driving and just took delivery of your first car, or you are an older and more skilled driver who has had some bad experiences with costly repairs and ongoing maintenance bills, the following tips will definitely help save you a heap of money and ultimately, time.

Although we talk about repairs and maintenance as one and the same, the fact is, regular maintenance to your vehicle is how to avoid having to get your car repaired, and avoid expensive repair bills. So its important to arm yourself with some basic car maintenance skills.

1. Tyre Maintenance: Changing a Flat Tyre – Jacking Your Car Up

Probably the most common fault that almost all drivers experience at some point is the dreaded punctured tyre. Being able to jack your car up and successfully change a tyre is not only a fundamental skill for any driver, it will also provide you with the skills needed to perform the majority of other repairs and maintenance related tasks.

Most jacks come with instructions showing you where to place them, but for the sake of ease (and safety) I’ve listed the basic process, including some big Do’s and Don’ts of changing a tyre.

*Never change a tyre in the breakdown lane of a freeway or where there is not enough room or adequate lighting to work safely.

  • Park the car on level ground and make sure the handbrake is firmly on.
  • Place the jack under the vehicle – about 3 to 5 inches (or 7.6 – 12.7 centimeters) behind the front wheel. (if you look underneath the car you will see a section of the undercarriage that has been flattened specifically to take the jack).
  • Make sure you loosen the wheel nuts slightly before jacking up the car (or you will simply turn the entire wheel when you try to loosen the nuts).
  • Before you jack the car up make sure at least one of the other wheels has a block under it to prevent the car rolling if the handbrake fails.
  • Jack up the car and finish removing the nuts.
  • Swap the wheel out for the spare.
  • Reverse the process. Simple.

Most tyre manufacturers will recommend a minimum tyre pressure and it is recommended that you always add 1 to 5 Psi of pressure more than this minimum pressure. This will help with acceleration and braking as well as having a positive impact on your car’s fuel economy.


2. Check Fluids and Keep your Car Refreshed at all Times

Not keeping the fluids in your car topped up is probably the number one reason for car repairers staying in business. Understanding what fluids your car needs, where you can check the levels, and how to top them up is vital if you want to save thousands in repair bills. It’s also at the very heart of good car maintenance.

The main fluids you need to familiarise yourself with are:

  • Radiator Coolant
  • Transmission Fluid
  • Engine Oil
  • Brake Fluid
  • Power Steering Fluid; and
  • Windshield washer bottle (water).

If you’re not sure where you can check these fluids in your car, ask your mechanic to show you where these fluids are located and how to top them up. Take note of how often you need to check them and have a schedule to help keep yourself on top of it.

Engine Oil, for example should be replaced every 10,000 km at most, although I recommend changing it after 5,000 km, whereas Power Steering Fluid only needs to be checked every 10,000 km and changed every 20,000 km or so. Keeping on top of this will ultimately increase the life of your engine and reduce overall wear and tear on other engine components.

Keeping all fluids topped up and regularly checking them is usually enough to keep your car running smoothly for years to come, and if you combine this practice with good driving habits, there is no reason why your car will ever stop working at all.

3. Exterior – Windows and Lights

Checking your windows, mirrors, doors, and exterior lights not only keeps you safe (and your vehicle legal), it is also good practice for regular car maintenance. If you don’t have anyone to help you, you can use the windows at the front of your house or perhaps a shop window at night so you can check all your lights– or just ask a friend to do a walk-around. Make sure windscreen wipers and other external features are all in good working order.

4. Brakes

Apart from checking and maintaining adequate levels of brake fluid, there is not too much that can be done to further care for your car’s brakes. If you notice even the slightest problem with them, it’s a good idea to take your car to a mechanic/professional immediately to have your brakes checked. Changing brake calipers is a long and tricky process that we do not recommend attempting yourself.

There you have it, 4 key steps to help you maintain your vehicle and keep it in tip-top working order. Not only does regular maintenance save you money in running costs and repairs, it also serves to keep you safer while on the road and make the roads a safer place for your fellow motorists.


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