Oil change on a Honda.

10 basic things every car owner should know – plus one more

In Vehicle Maintenance by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Here are a few basic things every car owner should know:

Check your oil

1. Learn how to check your engine oil on your own. Oil being the simplest thing you can do for your car to ensure that the motor is taken care of. Check your dipstick to make sure you have the correct amount of oil in the engine. Even though you can go several months between your oil changes, do not solely rely on your car to tell you when it needs something. The use of synthetic oil will lengthen the time between oil changes. Call and schedule an appointment with us to show you how to check your own oil (free of charge).

Spare tire
2. Familiarize yourself with where your jack and spare tire are located. The spare tire for your vehicle can be located underneath the car, inside the trunk or inside the trunk panel. Make sure the spare is inflated! There is nothing worse than going to fix a flat tire and realizing your spare is flat as well.

Maintenance service schedule
3. Car maintenance schedules can vary. Looking at things like: batteries, oil, brakes, belts and transmission fluid, just to name a few, should be part of your car’s regular “checkup”. A good place to start is with your vehicle’s owner’s manual. This manual will give the recommended service intervals for your vehicle. Following these recommendations will allow you to maximize the life of your car. Some fluids should be changed as early as 15k miles depending on the operation of the vehicle, the average is about 30k miles.

Vehicle owner’s manual
4. While it may not be your number one choice in reading material, always look over your owner’s manual in its entirety. In doing so, it becomes easier to determine what the lights mean when they come on in your dashboard. For many cars you can also find the owner’s manual online.

Windshield wiper blades
5. Check the condition of your windshield wiper blades periodically. When wipers become torn or cracked your vision can be impaired. Wipers will start to deteriorate even if not used extensively due to exposure to sunlight, pollution and related factors. Check your wiper fluid reservoir and make sure you always have plenty of wiper fluid. Never use just water unless it’s an emergency, as during cold weather it will freeze and crack the reservoir.

Battery and jumper cables
6. Know where your battery is, you should always carry jumper cables in your vehicle just in case you leave your lights on and it drains the battery. There are also portable jump start devices that you can keep in your vehicle in case this situation should arise. Always remember, “Red is hot and black is not” The red is the positive and black is the negative where the jumper cables go.

Shocks and struts
7. If you come to a stop and your car feels like it is rocking back and forth most likely, your shocks and struts are worn and not doing their job, dampening the movement of your vehicle. When driving an older vehicle, even rattling going over bumps can be a good sign that the shocks and struts have seen better days. Many drivers don’t notice their shocks and struts going bad because it happens over time.

Brakes and rotors
8. If you press your brake pedal and feel the steering wheel shake while you are applying the brakes and/or feel the brake pedal move back and forth that is a sign that your brake disc rotors have excessive run-out or what is referred to as pulsation. This can actually affect the ABS (anti-lock braking system) and the stability control system.

Engine air filter
9. One of the simplest and most important things you can do is to change your engine air filter. Doing so helps your engine last longer and improves your fuel economy. Change your engine filter at least once a year around the Washington DC area. In our region, air filters get dirty with fine particles not necessarily large leaves.

Flashing check engine light
10. If the check engine light flashes, get your vehicle looked at as soon as possible. A flashing light indicates that there is something seriously wrong and should not be ignored and driven. When the light is flashing it means there is some kind of misfire and this can cause catalytic converter damage.

Non-flashing check engine light 
+1. A check engine light that comes on but does not flash can mean anything. This is just a symptom, but without diagnostics you cannot find the cause of it. Much like developing a fever, you know you have a fever but don’t know where the infection is coming from. Your check engine light should be diagnosed, don’t just go throwing parts into your car, or self-diagnosing, you may be wasting your money by guessing, just as you would not self-diagnose an illness.