Everything you want to know about how to keep your vehicle in great condition.
Most of us don’t think much about how much we rely on our cars until something goes wrong. Then? Unless your shop offers you a loaner, it’s panic-mode time as you scramble to figure out how to get yourself to work and your kids to school and after-school activities. We won’t even talk about the endless errands that seem to pop up throughout the week.
Once you’ve solved that crisis you get to think about the bomb the repair will throw either into your family budget or your savings account, depending on how the family finances are looking.
Some of us moms are car fanatics, but let’s face it—many of us simply haven’t spent a lot of time peeking under the hoods of our vehicles. Yet knowing a thing or two about what needs to be done on the regular, what you can do yourself, and what must go to the shop the moment you notice a problem means preserving your sanity and ensuring you don’t have to deal with a breakdown when you’re already late for whatever-it-is. Fortunately, Austin’s very own Luxury Auto Works has shared lots of tips on DIY car care, as well as options for bigger projects.
Learn To Spot the Signs that Your Car Might Need Service
Cars rarely just break down out of the blue. They’re usually vocal when something’s starting to go wrong. You just need to understand what they’re trying to tell you.
Start by learning what all your car’s dashboard lights mean, especially if you’ve been guilty of simply dismissing any light you don’t understand. These lights are color-coded for your convenience. Blue, white, or green lights just tell you certain systems have been activated, such as your headlights. Yellow lights mean the system needs service. Red lights mean there’s a serious problem which requires your attention. Multiple red and yellow lights usually mean something’s gone terribly wrong.
 – This warning light tells you your brake pads need to be replaced.
 – Your tire pressure is low. This could signal a slow leak, so get your tires checked right away.
 – A leak in your air suspension system could cause your car to ride too low to the ground. You and your kids will start feeling every bump and pothole. More importantly, your car will start to take some serious damage.
 – This could mean anything from a weak battery to an alternator problem.
 – This indicates a problem with your anti-lock brakes.
 – This indicates a problem with your transition.
 – Could mean anything from a serious engine problem to a fault in your dashboard computer. Getting it checked out is usually inexpensive.
Make sure you look up the common warning lights for your vehicle’s make and model, as they do vary from vehicle to vehicle. Read over them until you can recognize them on sight.
Lights aren’t your car’s only communication method. Pay attention to how the car sounds: it will often clank, clunk, clack, or squeak when one of its systems is starting to go. A car which smells funny or which doesn’t drive the way it usually does is probably in trouble as well. Finally, a visual check can tell you a thing or two: a pool of leaked fluid on your driveway is never a good sign.
Most problems can be prevented simply by engaging in a regular maintenance regimen. At a minimum, this means:
- Get your car washed and detailed whenever you start hating it. It’s the quickest way to love your car again, which will inspire you to do all this other stuff rather than trying to figure out how soon you can trade it in for a newer model.
- Giving your car a visual inspection at least once a month to see if you can catch anything out of the ordinary.
- Checking all your fluid levels each month.
- Check and clean your battery every six months.
- Replace your wipers every six months.
- Check brake light and headlight bulbs every six months, changing them as necessary.
- Change your oil every 5,000 miles.
- Replace your air filter every 12,000 miles.
- Rotate tires every 5,000 miles.
- Check tire alignment every 20,000 miles.
- Change your spark plugs. Check your owner’s manual for the proper schedule.
- Get serpentine belts checked once per year.
- Get timing belts replaced every 85,000 miles, or every six years.
Mark all this in your day planner or Google Maps now so you don’t forget, and commit to getting it done! Generally, it’s safe to do most of these repairs yourself, though it’s best to leave spark plugs, tires, serpentine belts and timing belts to the pros.
Learn Your Way Around the Auto Parts Store
Auto parts stores are not that hard to navigate, and you don’t have to walk in knowing what a transmission looks like to use them effectively. Usually you just walk in, tell the clerk the make and model of your car, and then talk to them about what you’re trying to get done.
Do this, and you’ll be able to handle a host of minor repairs yourself. Swapping out broken car mirrors? No problem. Shoring up a dangling exhaust pipe? Easier than you think. Most repairs aren’t much harder than dragging the gunk out of the garbage disposal, and let’s face it…we do that all the time.
Start by cracking open your car’s owner’s manual, which will explain exactly how to handle many issues. Can’t understand what it’s trying to get you to do? Get a visual by taking to You Tube. Start here, with this video, which will tell you exactly which You Tube DIY car repair channels are the very best.
Get Car Fanatics on Your Side—Lots of Them, For Free
Still a little bit confused? Tap into a network of car fanatics who can’t wait to explain how to fix anything you can think of. One good place to start would be the sub-Reddit for your specific type of vehicle, i.e., this one, for BMWs. The general auto repair forums at Automotive.com and Car Talk are great as well.
To make the most of these forums, follow one simple rule: never be vague. Show up armed with your make, model, and vehicle year. Take pictures of the problem. Describe everything you see and hear. Giving better information gets better answers. It also ensures you don’t end up frustrating those who would otherwise be happy to help you.
Know When You Absolutely MUST Take the Car to the Shop
Some car repairs are downright unsafe to DIY, often because it would involve dealing with systems that impact your entire vehicle. For example, you should never try to install your own radio or DVD player, since you could easily destroy your car’s electrical system. Obviously, you’ll want to leave other repairs which touch on the electrical system to professionals as well.
Extremely vital safety systems such as the brakes should always be left to professionals. Your life—and your children’s lives—will literally depend on them, so you don’t want to risk getting them wrong. Touchy, more complex systems such as your radiator, your fuel pump, your transmission or your head gasket fall into this category as well: it’s easy to do something wrong, and the resulting damage can be both dangerous and expensive to repair.
Finally, there are those systems which are hazardous to get to or work with at all. Getting to a car’s suspension system will mind climbing under the vehicle; a dangerous prospect if you don’t have the proper equipment.
Don’t be a martyr. Push yourself to do small, routine things, but don’t try to tackle any repair that makes you uncomfortable. If you feel like something is too dangerous or complex for you, it probably is. In these cases, taking the car to the professionals will save far more time and money than trying to forge bravely ahead.