Basic, vital pointers for newbie car owners

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NEW car owners need not fret when it comes to car maintenance. Instructional motoring blog PinoyDriver.com offers several easy but vital pointers.

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Owner’s Manual. This should be a no-brainer. But first and foremost, browse your owner’s manual. Check it (usually in the glove box) and look for advice regarding maintenance specifically for your car. If you can’t find it in the glove box, look for it online.

Oil Indicator. Second, mind your oil indicator. A lit oil indicator means either you’re almost out of oil, you’ve got blocked oil filter, an obstructed strainer in the sump, or the oil pump has died. This means your engine won’t be receiving lubrication and it will be running metal against metal.

In that case, stop right away and turn-off the engine, unless, of course, it’s unsafe to do so.

Don’t try to drive home or to a mechanic’s repair shop. Just stop as soon as you can. Your car is at risk of the engine seizing, which would cause further damage that is more expensive to fix.

Make it a habit to inspect your engine oil every 4-8 weeks using the oil dipstick that’s easy to locate in the engine bay. It usually has a yellow cap with an ‘oil can’ picture on it. The oil level must be within the minimum and maximum levels allowed. You can check it by pulling the dipstick out, wipe the tip with a cloth, dip it back in and pull it out to inspect. If you noticed that the oil level is already below the minimum, then it’s time to add more oil. Don’t over-fill the oil reservoir. If you add too much, you will need to drain some by unscrewing the drain plug—but only do so when you are sure of what you’re doing.

Don’t exhaust your fuel. Fill up as soon as the fuel light comes on. Another reason why it’s good to keep your fuel tank topped-up is to avoid wasting precious time filling up your tank when you need to drive right away because of an emergency situation.

Mind your coolant warning indicator. The radiator is the heart of your car’s cooling system. Don’t wait for the light to come on before you check your coolant level. Instead, make it a point to check it regularly and add to it when necessary.

Stop immediately if you see the coolant light on, but don’t open the radiator cap right away, as the water with coolant, due to heat pressure, would come bursting out to you. Let it cool down first before adding fluid into it, and only use tap water as a last resort because it would leave mineral deposits that are bad for the cooling system.

Mind the handbrake light, too. A lit handbrake light indicates that your handbrake is engaged. Be sure to release your handbrake before you drive away, as it would burn the brake shoes if you don’t.

Don’t tire your tires. Refer to the owner’s manual for the recommended tire pressure. Don’t over-inflate your tires, as this will give you less road grip since it will reduce the amount of tire rubber in contact with the road. On the other hand, under-inflated tires cause extra rolling resistance and increase fuel consumption. Oh, and make sure you inflate your spare tire with the correct pressure, too.

If you have a flat tire, see if the tire isn’t completely deflated, and if that’s the case you may be able to drive to the nearest vulcanizing shop to have it fixed. If it is completely deflated or it has blown out, pull over and replace it right away with your spare tire (You should always have one in the car). Driving with a blown or completely deflated tire will damage your wheel which will be more costly.

You can rotate your tires every 10,000km to keep your tire wear even. This means swapping your tires either side-to-side, front-to-back, or diagonally. If your tires are uni-directional, you can swap the front right to the rear right and vice versa. Don’t do a side-to-side swap or your tires will be rotating in wrong direction that the tread pattern isn’t designed to, and it will be ineffective at dispersing water in the wet.

Windshield fluid. It’s important to keep it topped-up, as this will help you clean your windshield. A dirty windshield could restrict your vision, especially when driving towards the setting or rising sun, and therefore impair your driving.

Blown headlight bulb. It’s fine to touch the metal area with your bare hands, but be careful that you do not touch the glass area using your bare hands (Use gloves or a clean cloth), as oil transferred from your hands and fingers to the bulb’s surface will heat up and cause it to crack. You can usually access the headlights from within the engine bay, although you may need a screwdriver to undo the housing.

Squealing sound. If there’s a squealing sound whenever you start the engine and which stops after a few meters, it could be the slipping of your fan belt. Replace it as soon as you can. Your engine will lose lots of its cooling capability at low speed if the fan belt breaks.

Visit your friendly mechanic. Some things are better done by the experts themselves. Visit your trusted mechanic and get your car serviced. Usually, it needs to be serviced within 5,000-15,000km, or every 6-12 months (depending on how often you use it).

Keep a list. Last but not least, keep a list that will remind you of your car’s periodic maintenance schedule. In general, 4-8 weeks is fine when inspecting your tire pressure and tread depth, radiator fluid, windshield fluid, and oil level.

These tips come from PinoyDriver director Carlos Ubaldo, an electrical engineer and online marketer, who has helped run driving theory websites since 2012.

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