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Having a reliable, functioning vehicle is essential for anyone raising kids. Whether you’re doing a grocery run, picking them up from school, or driving them out to a sporting event, even simple problems can create a major headache. While we might rely on our mechanics to keep our cars running smoothly and let us know when something needs to be addressed, mechanics certainly aren’t cheap, and they aren’t always trustworthy. Luckily, you don’t have to be a total gearhead to look after basic maintenance on your own.
Here are five simple tips that anyone can use to help maintain and extend the life of their vehicle.
1: Know How to Check the Fluids
This one might seem pretty basic, but not everyone knows how to check their fluids. And checking them regularly to ensure they are changed on time can be the difference between a car that lasts ten years and one that lasts 20.
Oil and coolant should be done monthly. Remember: they don’t have to be completely full, just somewhere between the low and full lines. Those are the easy ones.
What many people miss is the brake fluid, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid. These should be checked every six months – about when you change your oil. Your owner’s manual will tell you where to find them and what to look for.
If you’re experiencing squealing when turning the wheel, squishy brakes, or hard shifting (a big clunk or lurch), then this is an indicator that those fluids are bad.
2: Wash and Wax Your Car
Ever see an old 90s vehicle driving around with the clear coat peeling off? Ever wonder why some cars rust out after just a few years while others last forever? The answer might be simpler than you think!
Your paint job isn’t just for looks; it’s the primary thing protecting the metal structure of your car. Giving your car a quick wash and wax can help extend the life of the paint, keeping your vehicle looking good and rust-free for many years.
3: Watch The Lights
The lights on your dash can tell you a lot about your car. Specifically the check engine light. While that light may not tell you much, a code scanner can plug into your vehicle and tell you exactly what the problem is.
Even if you aren’t mechanically savvy, most mechanics will pull the code and tell you what they mean without spending a lot of money. But if the check engine light is flashing, you should pull over immediately and call a tow truck – this usually indicates a serious problem.
Aside from the check engine light, your dash should also tell you when your tires or oil is low.
4: Protect Your Battery
If you need to jump-start your car, most of us have a pretty good idea that the battery is on it’s way out. But what we may not know is that every time you run a battery flat, you reduce it’s expected life.
Additionally, simply leaving your car sitting for a long time will cause the battery to drain slowly, and cold weather can make it drain even faster. If you are parking your car for upwards of a week, pick up an inexpensive battery maintainer.
These inexpensive things trickle charge your battery to keep it full and can help extend the life to several years or more.
5: Know the Feel
Being familiar with your car and paying attention to it might be the easiest thing you can do that will save you money in the long run. Notice an unusual squeal? Feel a new vibration? Does your engine seem to have less power than it used to?
All of these issues are easy to notice and even easier to ignore.
However, these small issues can indicate that there is a big problem coming unless addressed. Asking your mechanic about any unusual behavior can help them catch minor issues before they become mechanical failures.
You might end up spending $50 for an inspection only to find out that nothing is wrong, but often issues related to fuel, sparks, brakes, or transmission can be fixed for up to 80% cheaper when problems are caught early. Most of the time, this is just some small component that is easy to change but can damage critical components if ignored.
No need to stress!
For a lot of us, a car is a mechanical marvel that we don’t fully understand. But if you drive a lot, you likely know your car much better than you think.
Paying attention to these few simple things doesn’t require much time or knowledge, but can put you well ahead of many car owners on the road. Proper maintenance keeps your car reliable, affordable, and trustworthy. So it’s certainly worth your time to learn!
Krystle Cook – the creator of Home Jobs by MOM – put her psychology degree on a shelf and dived into a pile of diapers and dishes instead. She is a wife and mother to two rambunctious boys, sweating it out in her Texas hometown. She loves cooking, DIY home projects, and family fun activities.