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On the Road - Car care health

Happy, Healthy Wheels

Looking after our four-wheeled friends takes more than just a trip to the mechanic. Like us, our cars need regular health checks. But what should we be checking ourselves, and when should we leave it to the experts? We lift the bonnet on car care.

Do it yourself 

A crackle, a thud, a nerve-tingling screech… many car owners will know the dreaded feeling all too well – when an unknown sound sputters from somewhere within. It’s a little bit terrifying, and a whole lot exasperating, especially when you don’t understand what’s gone wrong or you realise disaster could’ve been prevented. Just like the dentist reminding us to floss, our mechanics often advise us to do little check-ups between all-important services. There's a lot to remember, from checking your oil and coolant to pumping up your tyres.

So, where do you start? What should you be checking, and how often? We take you through some of the most important car components to check up on yourself, and those that need expert care. You’ll be sure to impress your mechanic after this one.

Tyres

They’re what get us from A to B every day, but if your tyres don’t have enough tread or pressure, you could be putting your safety at risk. Tyre tread wears down over time with friction and impact on the road surface, so it’s important to check the depth of your tread regularly.

There should be at least 1.5mm of tread on a tyre, otherwise the effectiveness of braking or turning your vehicle could be impacted. You should also check for cuts and wear.

The same applies for the pressure in your tyres. If the pressure is below the recommended level for your vehicle, you could shorten the lifespan of your tyres.

Check your tyre pressure by heading to your nearest service station, or have the pressure checked at your next service. If you need a top-up between services, use service station air pumps (and be sure to set to the pressure recommended for your vehicle).

The recommended pressure for your tyres is usually listed on the inside door panel of your vehicle, or in your manual.

When to check

Tyre condition and pressure should be checked every four weeks. Tyres will also need replacing eventually. It’s best to ask your mechanic for a time frame on your tyres, as there’s no set standard

Coolant

Keeping your hard-working engine cool is a mighty important gig. This honour is bestowed upon your car’s cooling system and, of course, the humble coolant within it. Making sure you have enough can be the difference between a healthy engine and a terminally ill one.

Your coolant level is displayed in a plastic reservoir under your bonnet. It’s important to check the level regularly. Remember, never open your cooling system’s cap(s) straight after your car has been driven. Your engine and cooling system will be extremely hot and under high pressure. If you open your coolant cap, you could be sprayed with a boiling hot jet stream.

Instead, check the level at the beginning of the day, before driving or after your engine has cooled down. You can top up your own coolant, if you know what type has been used in your vehicle already. It’s important not to mix coolant types. If you’re not sure what type of coolant is in your car, let your mechanic take care of it, or top up with distilled water in the meantime.

Remember, don’t drive your car if the level is very low, as this could irreversibly damage your engine.

When to check

Check your coolant levels every four to six weeks, or every week in older cars. Refill if below the recommended level, and ensure it’s replaced within the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. This will need to be done by your mechanic.

Brake fluid

Arguably the most important function of a motor vehicle, braking is reliant on brake fluid and brake pads.

Brake fluid ensures braking actually happens. Pressing the brake pedal allows brake fluid to be distributed, which puts pressure on the brake pads, eventually stopping your wheels. This is why it’s vital to check your brake fluid level regularly.

Why? Well, brake fluid can absorb moisture over time (clever stuff!) contaminating the fluid to the point where it will not perform properly, which causes the braking system to be less effective.

Make sure you check your brake fluid level regularly. You’ll find it in a plastic reservoir under your bonnet. For the exact location, check your car owner’s manual.

If the level isn’t full, there could be a reason for this, like worn brake pads, or even a leak in the hydraulic system. If the level is very low or close to empty, don’t drive your car until the braking system is checked by a trained technician or mechanic.

If you do need to top up your brake fluid, you can buy it from a reputable motoring store like Repco. Make sure not to spill any on the paintwork as brake fluid is corrosive. Remember, if you’re unsure about anything or you don’t feel comfortable topping up, visit your mechanic.

When to check

Brake fluid must be checked every four to six weeks and should be checked by your mechanic each service to

Windscreen, wipers and washer fluid

Checking your windscreen for chips or cracks is important, not only for optimum visibility but also to ensure damage doesn’t worsen over time.

Likewise, the health of your wipers should be inspected regularly. While they may only need a simple clean, any fraying or splitting in the rubber blades could indicate they need replacing. This will need to be done by your mechanic.

Make sure to check your washer bottle fluid levels, too. Top up with water (there should be a level marked on the bottle), or you might be stuck in a sticky situation (literally). Driving with a dirty windscreen could even land you with a fine.

When to check

It’s a good habit to check your wipers every time you wash your car. When it comes to your washer fluid and your windscreen, check these every four to six weeks.

Mechanics will also check during a service.

Engine oil

Engine oil is like the blood in our veins, but for cars. Without it, the engine will not survive. It’s important your engine oil remains at an acceptable level at all times, otherwise, your engine will suffer.

But how much is enough? Your car’s dipstick will tell you this. Simply locate the dipstick (a thin metal stick, usually with a clearly marked handle) and pull it out to check your oil level. Wipe the dipstick clean, re-insert, then inspect to get an accurate reading.

The oil mark must be within the ‘safe’ zone as marked for the engine to run at its best. If the oil level is below the line, or you can’t see any oil at all, do not drive your car.

If the level is low, remove the cap and add a small amount of oil using a funnel.

When to check

Check your oil level every four to six weeks, or every week in older cars. Engine oil (and your oil filter) is generally replaced by your mechanic every 10,000km – 15,000km. Check this on your service receipt.

Lights

Headlights, indicators, taillights, number plate lights and brake lights can all run out of spark eventually. Just like regular house globes, they’ll need replacing. It’s important to check they’re working for safety reasons. Checking your lights can often be forgotten. Faults can be missed because you’re unlikely to notice them from inside your vehicle. Check car lights yourself on a regular basis – either with the help of a friend or by checking in the reflection of your garage door or walls.

If your lights aren’t working, we recommend they're replaced by a professional, if required. It’s especially important to keep your lights in check, because if they're ineffective, you could receive a fine.

When to check

Check your lights every four to six weeks. Lights should also be checked regularly by your mechanic.

 

Call the Mechanic 

Drive belt and timing belt

They’re the over-achievers under your bonnet.

Due to all its hard work, the drive belt (also known as the serpentine belt) will be prone to wear and tear and will need to be checked by your mechanic at every service. Your timing belt is responsible for the operation of your entire engine, and if it becomes too worn, it could snap.

This will likely lead to your engine breaking too.

The timing belt can only be checked and replaced by your mechanic, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some cars are fitted with timing chains, which don’t wear and should remain intact for the life of the vehicle.

If you’ve bought a second-hand car and it’s fitted with a timing belt, it’s important to check the service history to find out when it was last replaced. If these records aren’t available, we recommend you have it replaced for peace of mind.

Belts run a huge variety of engine components. They assist with your power steering, air conditioning, alternator, engine valves and so much more.

When to check

A good mechanic or technician will check your drive belt as part of your routine service. Drive belts and timing belts will need to be changed according to the manufacturer’s service schedule. While it’s not part of a routine service to check your timing belt, a good mechanic will check the manufacturer’s schedule as to when it should be replaced. If you’re not sure of the condition of your timing belt, it might be a good idea to replace it.

 

Brake pads

Brake pads are another integral part of the braking process – they apply friction to the discs which slow and stop your car. Unlike brake fluid, which you can easily check at home, brake pads should be checked by your service technician or mechanic.

When to check

Each service, most reputable repairers and mechanics will give you a report on your brake pad condition, and let you know when they need replacing. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about when brake pads should be replaced, your mechanic should recognise when they reach their wear limits.

Air Filter

The air filter in your car makes sure only clean air passes through to the engine.

Trapping any dust in the air as it passes through, the air filter plays an important role in keeping your engine clean and operating at its best.

If the filter becomes blocked or damaged, your engine performance and lifespan can be negatively impacted.

Dust, dirt and unwanted debris can cause car engines to suffer.

How often?

Your mechanic or service technician should check your air filter each service. Replacement is generally every 40,000km, or earlier if the vehicle has been driven in dusty conditions.

Radiator

These clever hoses are the vessels through which coolant is carried to parts of your engine, to keep it from overheating and working as it should.

As they’re made of rubber and filled with pressure while they work, they will deteriorate over time.

When to check

Radiator hoses should be checked each service and will need changing when they have deteriorated. A good mechanic will advise when it’s time to have yours replaced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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