It is every owner’s duty to properly maintain his or her vehicle. Lack of proper maintenance, resulting in a collision (e.g., from bad brakes or a tire blowout), could lead to owner liability for damages. One of the best ways to save money and avoid legal trouble is to learn a few basic maintenance skills.
Checking Tire Pressure
The correct tire inflation is crucial to maintaining control of a vehicle. Tires that are too flat or overinflated could expose the driver to hazards such as blowouts or increased wear and tear. Your vehicle owner’s manual will tell you the correct tire pressure in pounds per square inch (PSI). If you replace your new vehicle’s tires with aftermarket ones, ask the maintenance shop the proper PSI rating or look it up on Google.
Visually check your tires before every drive. They should sit correctly on the ground, without appearing too deflated. Test tire pressure manually at most gas stations and any auto parts store. You may also purchase a portable tire pressure gauge to check on the go. If your tires are too low, fill them to the proper PSI with air pumps at gas stations.
An underinflated tire could decrease the life of a tire, leading to a risk of a blowout. It also decreases the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. If you overinflate the tire, it will become stiff and rigid. This will prevent it from properly gripping the road, and could increase the risk of losing control of the vehicle. It could also put you at risk of the tire exploding.
A vehicle’s engine fluids are critical to safe and efficient operation. Engine oil, radiator fluid, windshield wiper fluid, and others should always remain clean and at the correct levels for optimal engine operation. Owners should get into the habit of checking the following fluids themselves at least once per month, or more often for frequent drivers:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Power steering fluid
- Windshield wiper fluid
Most car fluid reservoirs have symbols depicting where they are under the hood. Open the reservoir and check the dipstick for fluid levels. Never try to open a radiator cap when the vehicle is hot. This could spray hot fluids in your face. Check your owner’s manual for the correct way to check and refill fluids.
Replacing Windshield Wiper Blades
Your windshield wipers allow you to see the road if there’s rain, snow, sleet, or hail. They also enable you to clean your windshield of bugs, dirt, grime, and debris. Most windshield wipers will not fail abruptly. Instead, they will begin to show signs of wear over time. They may not clean your windshield as they should. This is a sign that it’s time for wiper blade replacement. Doing this maintenance task yourself can save money.
Purchase replacement blades at the nearest auto parts store. Lift the existing wiper arm away from the windshield, and press the small tab that allows you to pull the blade off. Put the new wiper blade on the arm and push until the tab clicks. If you need assistance, most auto part store employees are willing to help for no charge.
Testing The Battery
Your vehicle’s battery has a lifespan – usually three to five years. At the end of its life, it will not hold a charge as long, and may die completely. If you make a mistake such as leaving one of your interior lights on overnight, this could also drain the battery – either to the point of recharge or replacement. One way to avoid getting stranded in a parking lot with a dead battery is learning how to test the charge yourself.
Purchase a multimeter to test your battery. Follow the tool’s instructions for checking the charge, with your ignition off. You will typically have to remove your battery’s terminal covers, connect the multimeter’s leads to the correct terminals, and then read the voltage. Batteries with full charges should read at or above 12.66. Anything less may need recharging or replacement. You can purchase a battery charger yourself, or go to a mechanic’s shop or AutoZone for assistance.
Jumpstarting A Battery
If your battery does die, learn how to handle a quick jumpstart. Jumpstarting your vehicle involves using another car’s working battery to charge yours enough to start your car. You will need to purchase jumper cables and keep them in your vehicle. If your battery dies, find someone willing to help you with a jump. Position the vehicles with the hoods close together. Note that you cannot jumpstart an electronic vehicle or one that uses alternative fuel.
Put both vehicles in park and shut off both ignitions. Attach one of the red clips of your jumper cables to the positive terminal of your car’s battery. The positive terminal will say “POS” or “+.” Attach the other red clip to the positive terminal of the other person’s battery. Attach one black clip to the negative terminal on the other person’s battery. Then, attach the last black clip on an unpainted metal service on your vehicle (not near the battery). Start up the working vehicle and let it run for a few minutes. Then, start your vehicle.
Changing A Flat Tire
Flat tires can come at the worst time – like in the middle of your commute. Knowing how to change a flat tire yourself could save you time, stress, and money. Keep a spare tire in or on your vehicle at all times. If you pop your tire on the go, pull over at a safe location, such as the shoulder of the road as far from traffic as possible. Limit how much you drive on a flat tire, as this can damage your rims. Turn on your emergency lights and set the parking brake.
Remove your hubcap from the flat tire. Use a lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts. Then, position the car jack beneath the vehicle, near the pinch flange. Use the jack to carefully raise the wheel. Take off the flat tire, replace it with the spare, and tighten the lug nuts loosely by hand. Use the jack to lower the tire to the ground, then the wrench to finish tightening the bolts. Replace the hubcap, store your flat tire, and get back on the road.