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I’ve never been one to do things myself when it comes to car maintenance. I’ve always preferred to take my car into the shop; after all, that’s what they get paid to do. When Travis came along I saw how much love he gave his car and how easy it was to take care of certain maintenance items at home. I quickly hopped on board with DIY car maintenance, especially since it saves money and time.
My son turns 17 today. You know what that means; I have a teen driver. As a condition of using our vehicles, we are in the process of teaching him about DIY car care and maintenance.
Since Nicholas (my son) is home for the Summer and has a job, we’re trying to work out a car schedule so we can both get to work. That means my car will be driven twice as much and needs twice the love; not to mention summer vacation is in the plans.
With the money we save doing a few things to our cars ourselves, we’ll get a better vacation out of it. With that, I’d love to share what I’ve learned about DIY car maintenance (thanks to Travis) and what we’re teaching my teenage son.
Cleaning Under the Hood
One of the most overlooked things on a car is cleaning under the hood. I’ll admit, it’s not something I’ve ever done, but now that I have an ageing car (a 10-year old Kia Spectra that has around 70,000 miles on it) and no desire to have another car payment, taking care of my car from top to bottom is important.
I dare you to open the hood of your car and take a look! Have you ever cleaned it by hand?
Travis and my work-Dad Ralph (coincidentally, also my Dad’s name) do NOT recommended hosing it down at all. There are too many components under the hood that could be damaged by pressurized water such as the alternator, engine computer, engine air filter and especially if the engine is still warm. A water-soluble degreaser and an old toothbrush should work just fine.¹
If you don’t know your way around under the hood, get a professional cleaning. Remember, no matter how new or old your car is, it’s likely the second most expensive “thing” you own (if not the first), so if you’re unsure go with the safer option and invest in someone who has the proper knowledge to do so.
On the contrary, the exterior is likely the area we most pay attention to on our cars. Much like life, beauty is not always on the outside. When you take your car to a mechanic, the inside of your car tells a story, including under the hood.
At the same time, since the outside of a car IS the easiest to take care of, neglecting it sends a bad signal to everyone. You might not be shooting for a social status with your car, but if you don’t take care of the outside it gives folks the impression that you really don’t care about much else; whether it be the inside of your car or even your kitchen. The outside of your car tells a story to even strangers, coworkers, friends and family.
Change Your Engine Air Filter
Changing your engine air filter, is one of the easiest DIY car maintenance steps you can do. That’s why we started with the engine air filter under the hood, which literally takes five minutes or less to change, even for a teenager or someone who has ZERO experience with DIY car maintenance (me).
We just moved to a new place and we’re within walking distance of a Super Walmart, though we could almost NEVER walk there for fear what we’d have to haul back. I probably could have spared myself by walking when we went to pick up a FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter. I ended up with a bunch of things I didn’t need, but if you’re looking for FRAM at Walmart, you can make a beeline right to the Automotive section.
When we got home, I had to wrestle the teenager out of his gaming dungeon (aka bedroom) so we could both learn how to change the air filter. I had no idea where it even was. Fortunately, Travis pointed it out and gave us a quick tutorial before I snapped these pics to “send home to Grandma“! (That’s literally how I have to get the kid to appear in photos.)
First up, you pop and prop the hood, but be sure to make sure the engine is cool. Next, find the engine air filter. In our 2006 Kia Spectra it’s on the right hand side, just above the battery. With a quick pop of just two latches on the front, we were able to open and easily remove the old filter.
Can you say GROSS? On the left, you’ll see the new FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter and on the right you’ll see the old engine air filter. We definitely should have changed it sooner, especially after learning that my dirty filter can lead to poor acceleration, decreased horsepower and the way it runs overall.
Installing the new filter was a cinch. It did need a bit of fitting just to make sure it was in there properly, but once it’s situated, you just close the lid, latch it and you’re done.
A clean engine air filter works to keep dust and dirt from entering and damaging the engine, which is why cleaning under the hood is not just for cosmetics. Your filter will have to work harder if you have an ongoing cesspool of dirt and dust under the hood and considering the filter is your engine’s first line of defense, it’s worth cleaning under the hood at least twice per year.
Check your owner’s manual for a recommended schedule for your air filter. If you live in a highly polluted area or dusty, rough roads you should change your air filter more often.
Check Your Tires
Did you know you can get two different readings on the same tire within an hour? The tire pressure increases as the temperature of the tire increases, so it’s best to check your tire pressure when your car has not been driven for at least an hour.
The recommended tire pressure is on the sticker inside the driver’s door. This should match the tire pressure recommendation on the wall of your tire.
Just find the tire’s valve stem and use a tire pressure gauge to get a reading on all 4 tires.
Wait! Don’t forget to check your spare tire periodically, especially before going on a road trip. I once had to drive all the way from Savannah to Northeast Atlanta on a spare. If that thing would have been flat, it would have been a nightmare. We kinda overspent our vacation funds!
Inflate if necessary. Your tires should also be rotated based on your car’s manual.
Prepare for Emergencies
After you check your spare tire’s inflation, be sure your tire jack and lug wrench are there. For other emergencies keep jumper cables on hand, a flashlight, an empty fuel container and a first aid kit. If you’re headed out for a Summer road trip, keep bottled water in your car especially if you’ll be taking roads less traveled.
Check Fluid Levels
When you get an oil change, most shops will top off your fluids for you, included in the cost, but it’s wise to check fluid levels periodically even between oil changes; and especially before and after taking a road trip. Always check fluids when the engine is OFF and cool. Use the fluids recommended in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Wiper Fluid – The wiper fluid and the coolant can often be mistaken for one another. Look for the white or off-white jug with blue-ish windshield washer fluid. Mine is actually green, but the way to spot the difference between the coolant and wiper fluid reservoirs is that the coolant reservoir has a hose attached to it that goes to the radiator. (There’s that and they’re usually labeled as such unless your car is ancient). If the level is below the fill line, top it off.
Coolant / (Anti-Freeze) – Your radiator uses coolant to keeping your engine from overheating (and freezing during the Winter). If your levels are low, which you can see through the reservoir with the hose attached to the radiator, you can refill them using the manufacturer’s recommended mixture and instructions in the manual.
Oil – Make sure your vehicle is on a level surface. You’ll want to warm up the car for a few minutes, then turn it off and wait a few more minutes to allow the oil to drain to the bottom of the oil pan. This is contrary to what I’ve ever known, but that’s one benefit of loving a car guy!!
You’ll need a shop towel, though even a few paper towels will do. Remove the dipstick and wipe it off. Then, re-insert the dipstick all the way. Now, remove it again and check the oil level to make sure its between the ‘Min’ and ‘Max’ marks, adding oil if necessary. The color and viscosity are also important. Dark or gooey is a sure sign you need an oil change. Don’t skimp on oil changes, folks. Skipping recommended maintenance can cause serious problems, possibly disabling your car.
Check the Battery
In the morning, before driving is the best time to check your battery as a preventative maintenance step. Of course, if you’re checking your battery when a problem arises, it’s not always possible to “schedule” these woes. Be sure the engine is off and the battery is cool.
Not everyone has the tools to check their own battery, but you can pick up a digital multi-meter at your local auto parts store or online. Otherwise, before you hit the road this summer, stop by your local auto parts store and they can test it for you. They’ll generally do this for free.
You also want to wipe the battery down. Use dry paper towel, a water-soluble degreaser and an old toothbrush.
Wipers and Lights
Wipers tell their own story. It’s pretty easy to spot wipers that need to be replaced. Some vehicles have front and rear wipers. Wipers are also very easy to find (thanks to the handy-dandy kiosks in stores) and replace yourself.
Lights, however, are often overlooked. How many times have you been told by someone else that a light is out? It’s easiest to check your lights when it’s dark. Be sure to check your headlights (2 front), tail lights (2 rear), brake lights (2 rear) and turn signals (front, rear and on some vehicles the mirrors), as well as your high beams (2 front).
It goes without saying your interior should be cleaned. What about those spaces between like the door jams? Did you vacuum in between and under the seats (where french fries are stored for safekeeping by our children, of course)? That calls for a new air freshener. I love fun summer scents that remind me of the beach.
What tips do you have for showing your car extra love this Summer?
Download this free printable Summer Car Care Checklist.
¹ Tchir, Jason. “Should I Clean My Car’s Engine?” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 09 Oct. 2012. Web. 31 May 2016.