If the thought of inspecting your car at home makes you shiver, you’ve come to the right place. With our step-by-step approach, learn everything you need to know and give the extra care your car deserves in between service appointments.
1. Get under the hood of your car
Arm yourself with your owner’s manual and take a look under the hood of your car.
Key areas to check include :
Drive belts: these belts (serpentine and timing) allow energy coming from your engine to power other parts and accessories. They are usually made of rubber, which means that they will degrade over time. Look for visible hairline or any change in their integrity to know if they will require to be changed anytime soon.
Tip: it is usually recommended changing serpentine belts every 65,000kms and timing belts every 100,000 kms. These timeframes may vary but they are still good indicators of whether you should pay even greater attention to your belts when doing your home inspection.
Oil levels: oil helps reduce friction between moving parts and enhances the performance of your car. In order to check the level of your oil, follow these simple steps:
- locate the oil dipstick
- pull it and wipe it with a clean piece of cloth
- insert it and pull it again
- locate the two indicators on the dipstick, oil level must be within these two points
- if level is below the lowest indicator, add some oil
Tip: You will want to perform this check-up when parked on level ground to ensure accuracy. In addition, you may want to check the color of your oil. It should be amber, not black. Dark colors are a sign of excessive heat, the possible presence of contaminants, or even sludge. Oil needs to be changed frequently. Refer to your owner’s manual to confirm the recommended frequency for your car.
Engine coolant level: coolant is key as it helps avoid overheating. Locate the coolant reservoir and check that the level is within markings. It should not require you to open the reservoir as they are translucent. If you are not sure where it is located, you can always refer to your owner’s manual.
Engine air filter: a dirty and saturated air filter can have many negative consequences, such as higher gas consumption or even engine misfire. Your owner’s manual indicates the frequency at which you should change your engine air filter. However, your driving habits also have an impact, and you might need to differ from the recommended schedule.
As you are doing your home maintenance, pay attention the cleanliness and integrity of your engine air filter. If it already looks dirty and saturated, it is time to replace it. You can either do it yourself if you have the right parts and the confidence, or you may want to add it to the list of parts to be replaced during your next service appointment.
Washer fluid: your windshield is exposed to a lot of debris from pollen and insects to salt and other road chemicals. It is important to be able to clean it at all time while driving to ensure good visibility and safety.
Look for the washer fluid reservoir and top it up to the maximum limit. This check up should be done frequently enough so you never run out.
Tip: When buying washer fluid, consider the conditions/weather in which you will be driving. Temperature, for example, matters, as some fluid will be more resistant to lower temperatures than others.
Cabin air filter: its role is to keep the air inside your car as clean as possible by filtering pollutants like dust, pollen, smog etc. Replacing it is an easy change and it will bring safety and comfort inside your car.
Tip: It is recommended that you change your air filter every 12 months or every 20,000kms.
2. Don’t forget your tires
Pressure and alignment: You may not be able to check/adjust the pressure or alignment of your tires at home, but you have the possibility to check their tread depth and determine whether they are due to be changed. In order to know if the tread is still deep enough, look for wear indicators on your tire. All tires have them nowadays. If you don’t find them, chances are that your tires have served their purpose and now needs to be retired.
Rotation: Tires do not get used equally whether they are at the rear or the front of your car. This is why it is important to rotate them regularly. If you know how to properly rotate your tires, and have the space and appropriate set up, you might be able to do so at home. Otherwise, make sure you mention it for your next service appointment.
Tip: It is commonly recommend rotating tires every 8,000 to 12,000 kms. To know the exact recommendation for your car, you can refer to your owner’s manual.
3. Before you close the manual
Your car’s manual contains lots of other useful information and most of them don’t necessarily stay top of mind. Going through the manual can help you remember what all warning light indicators mean for example and what features you might not be using yet.
Some indicators you want to be familiar with are:
- Check engine light – probable problem in components of a car’s motor
- Service engine light – maintenance needed
- Electrical fault – issue with electrical charging system
- Brake warning light – various reasons (e.g parking break is engaged, brake fluid needed)
- ABS warning light – ABS needs further diagnostic ASAP
- Coolant warning light – Engine is overheating, need to pull over and let it cool down
- Oil warning light – oil pressure in engine is too low. Severe damage to engine can occur if driving while this indicator is on.
Overall, home maintenance is a great opportunity to look at the service schedule recommended by the manufacturer and know when your vehicle is up for a visit, along with what the next services will include. Feel free to take notes of both your observations when doing maintenance at home, and the possible questions you may have, in order to be prepared for your next appointment.
Why make at-home car maintenance a habit
Regularly taking care of your car will have additional benefits such as:
- Improved safety – from well maintained breaks to properly inflated tires
- Saving on expensive repair costs – your engine will last longer if properly fueled
- Contribution to a cleaner environment – produces less harmful fumes and fluids
- Increased reliability and performance
- Higher re-sale value
With a a good at-home inspection should come an ever better at-home car wash. Here is a step-by-step guide to answer your car will shine like a diamond.