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Car Tune Up Tips

Most car owners know that it is important to get your car’s oil changed every three months, but what else can you do to keep your car performing well over the years? Proper regular maintenance can improve and prolong the life of your car, and may save you from costly repairs down the road. And, if you do it yourself, you can save even more money!

If the topic of car maintenance intimidates you, the good news is that most of the basic tune ups are easy enough for any driver to handle. So, even if you cannot do every one yourself, you can still knock out a few before you seek a mechanic’s help. And the better you know your car, the wiser you can be when dealing with mechanics.

How to Do a Basic Inspection

Once a year, it helps to do a “once over” inspection of your car to ensure it is in good working order. Park your car in a location that allows you to easily access all of its sides. Then, set aside an hour or so to visually check the following aspects on your car. If you find that something needs repaired or replaced, make a note and continue on with your inspection. When you have completed the full check, you can then make a plan for the repairs, which may include shopping for new parts.

11 Step Car Inspection

  1. Check the exterior and interior for signs of damage. Make a note of any scratches or dents that expose bare metal (you will need to prime and paint these to keep the area from rusting). Look for any loose pieces.
  2. Check the wiper blades. First, do a visual inspection of the blades. You may be able to immediately tell that they need to be replaced. If they appear fine, test them by spraying water on the windshield with a hose or spray bottle. Then, turn on your car and see how well they remove the water.
  3. Check the turn signals and lights. With your car still on, test both turn signals, as well as your headlights, brake lights, hazards, and brights. This is easier done with a partner but can be accomplished alone, if necessary. (Turn your car off before you continue with the rest of the inspection.)
  4. Check the brakes. Press the brake pedal to test for its responsiveness. If it feels weak or spongy when you press the pedal down, your brakes may need to be replaced. Ensure that the pedal itself is firmly in place (not moving right and left, etc.). If anything seems off about the brakes, you will need to get them fully inspected.
  5. Check the tires. Look for signs of wear on the side walls of the tires. Measure the tread depth to ensure it is still good. Insert a penny into the tread groove so that Lincoln’s head is upside down. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it is time to replace your tire. You will also want to check the air in the tires. If you do not have a tire pressure gauge, do the best you can by sight and feel to determine whether they could use more air.
  6. Check the oil and transmission fluid. Pop the hood and secure it. Check the oil level. Have a rag or paper towel handy. You will find the oil dipstick near the oil cap (which is usually yellow or red). Pull it out, and wipe the dipstick clean. Then, reinsert it and pull it out again. If the oil is between the minimum and maximum markings on the dipstick, the oil level is fine. If it is low, you will need to add oil to the engine via the oil cap. (If it is extremely low, this may signify is a more serious problem. Check with a mechanic.) Now, find the transmission dipstick near the transmission fluid cap. Follow the same procedure of pulling the dipstick out, wiping it clean, reinserting it, and pulling it out again. If the fluid measures too low on the dipstick, you will need to add more via the transmission fluid cap.
    • Remember that your oil should be changed (not just topped up) every 3,000 miles or three months (whichever occurs first). The oil filter should also be replaced every 15,000 miles.
  7. Check the other fluids. Locate the plastic reservoirs for the brake fluid, coolant, window washing fluid, etc., and look at their levels. Make a note of any fluids that need replenishing. If the brake fluid is low, your car may have a more serious problem that you will need to discuss with a mechanic.
  8. Check the battery for corrosion. Corrosion can inhibit your car’s ability to connect to the battery. So, if you see any, it will need to be removed.
  9. Check the air filter. A clean air filter improves your engine performance, which can result in better gas mileage. The air filter box is usually near the front of the engine. If you can easily remove the filter, pull it out to better see whether it is dirty. If it is, you may be able to clean the filter, but you might have to simply replace it.
  10. Check the belts. Inspect the serpentine belt, power steering belt, and alternator belt for signs of damage. A little wear is to be expected. But, if you see significant damage on a belt, it will need to be replaced.
  11. Check the spark plugs. Inspect the spark plugs to see whether the rubber insulation or wires show any damage. Spark plugs can last up to 60,000 miles. However, some only last up to 10,000 miles. Be aware of the type of plugs you have and inspect them accordingly.

Now, take your list of notes and determine what tools and supplies you may need to complete the required tune ups. You can also mark which repairs you want a mechanic to perform. Be sure to have your car manual handy, because there may be some better methods that are particular to your car.

How to Do a Few Routine Car Tune Ups

While some car tune ups are simple to perform, like adding air to your tire or topping up a low fluid level, others require tools and a bit more instruction.

Cleaning a Car Battery

You can use an old toothbrush or scrub brush with baking soda to remove the corrosion from the battery. Or, if you have a can of cola, you can pour it over the corroded areas and let it remove it. Once a year is sufficient to check your car battery. But any time you are checking anything under your hood, it is smart to keep an eye out for corrosion to keep your battery performing at its best.

Cleaning an Air Filter

Because the air filter material can easily tear, you will need to clean it carefully. Sometimes you can simply knock the plastic edge against the car to dislodge the dirt. If you have an air compressor and can turn it to a lower setting, you may be able to clean the filter with that. Just know that you may have to replace the filter if any tears occur during cleaning.

Replacing Parts

If you need to replace any belts, filters, or spark plugs, it is best to consult your car manual to ensure you are getting the correct part and putting it in according to the design of your car.

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