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How to maintain your car

Maintenance isn't just about having your oil changed every 15,000 km or so, it's about small, but important checks that will help to keep your car running smoothly and reliably, and safely.



  • Establish a checking routine as soon as you take possession of your car and stick to it. Pick a day of the week and allocate a few minutes to go over a few essential things.


  • Take the time to read the Owner's Manual to familiarise yourself with the systems and features on your car.


  • Familiarise yourself with the location of the engine oil dipstick, automatic transmission fluid dipstick, windscreen washer reservoir and cooling system reservoir and how to check the levels and replenish the fluids when needed. Checking these once a week will take no more than five minutes, and may save you thousands of dollars by preventing a breakdown.


  • Also familiarise yourself with the tyre inflation pressures which should be checked weekly and reset as necessary. The recommended inflation pressures can be found in the Owner's Manual and on a sticker attached to the body. It's usually on the passenger's side door pillar, but it may be located elsewhere. It's location is detailed in the Owner's Manual. When checking the tyre pressures don't forget the spare tyre, there's nothing more frustrating than suffering a puncture and finding that the spare is flat.


  • While checking your tyres inspect them for damage that could end in a blow-out. Particularly look for bumps and bruises on the sidewalls front being driven into or over kerbs etc., and check the tread for cuts, splits and nails.


  • It's also worth familiarising yourself with the jack and how to change a wheel in the event of a flat. That way you won't be stuck by the side of the road trying to work out how to use the jack while the traffic is thundering past a metre or so away.


  • Familiarise yourself with your car's warning lights and what they are telling you when they light up on the dash. The lights should all light up when you turn the ignition on as a way of checking they're working. If any don't come on during that ignition-on phase then have them checked because a faulty warning light may cost you thousands of dollars in repair bills if you miss aren't aware of a fault.


  • If a warning light comes on while driving, check it out. Don't keep driving and assume it will go out. It's worth taking a few minutes to investigate and assess the potential danger before driving on. Have a mechanic check the reason the warning light is illuminated.


  • Once a month check your lights to ensure they'll all in working order, including headlights, high and low beam, tail lights, reversing lights, front, rear and side turn signals, and brake lights. It's a good way of involving the kids by having them tell you each light is working as you switch them on. If any are not working check the bulbs and replace any that have blown.


  • There are no accepted checks that should be made annually, but it's worth having the air-conditioning system checked annually for leaks and gas level.


  • Re-gas the system as needed and repair leaks as various system components use the gas for lubrication and running low on gas can result in damage to components like the compressor.


  • It's also a good time to inspect things like seat belts and child seats for wear and tear that might affect the operation in an emergency situation. Check the belt webbing for signs of fraying and replace the belt if it looks worn.


  • The Owners Manual contains details of the manufacturers recommended servicing. Read it and understand when you need to have your car serviced. Car makers specify service intervals in kilometres which applies to the vast majority of owners, or months to cover those owners who do little driving.


  • Follow the recommendations and have your car serviced accordingly. Missing services is a recipe for disaster.


  • While car makers like you to return the car to one of their dealers for servicing you are not obliged to do so. You can take your car to another independent service outlet, which is often cheaper, but it's important to establish that they are able to service according to the manufacturer's recommendation.


  • By using a service agent other than one approved by the manufacturer you are leaving yourself open to a problem in the event of a failure which affects your warranty. Potentially you could find yourself in the middle of a frustrating and time consuming wrangle between the manufacturer and the service agent.


  • If you choose to use an independent service agent check to see if they use genuine factory parts or generic aftermarket components which might affect the reliability of your car.


  • Before you embark on a long trip it's worth an extra check to make sure all is well with your car.


  • If you're towing a heavy trailer or caravan with a car with an automatic transmission it's worth checking the transmission fluid, and consider having it changed.


  • Check radiator hoses for leakage and replace if they show signs of a leak.


  • Also check engine drive belts for condition and tension. If they appear worn or damaged have them replaced, if they appear loose have them checked and adjusted.


  • Take particular attention to the condition of your tyres. Check the inflation pressures and reset them to the recommended pressures, which might mean setting them higher if you're loaded up with holiday gear or towing a trailer.


  • If you're towing a trailer or caravan check that the lights on the towed vehicle are working correctly. If they're not fix them.
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