You don’t need a comprehensive understanding of how a car works to enjoy one. (Though I think it does help.) Anybody can make their car a lot safer and likely longer-lasting by paying attention to just a few key things, as this video runs through.
Our friends at CarThrottle over in England really have a knack for dishing out advice into easily digestible informative videos, but in case you don’t have three minutes to listen to this narrator’s accent I’ll summarize the six things they say “even a lazy car owner” should keep an eye on.
Check Tires (Or “tyres” as the British incorrectly spell it.)
Tires are one of your car’s most important components. They are the only part that actually touches the ground (unless something has gone really quite wrong), and they affect just about every attribute of your car’s performance. So don’t cheap out when it comes time to buy new ones, and pay attention to the health of the ones you’ve got.
Make sure pressure is set to the car or tire’s specification, make sure that’s staying consistent (no leaks), and give your tires a physical inspection once in awhile to catch rot or damage sooner than later.
You’ve probably heard about the “penny test” where you place a penny in the valley of a tire tread to check the depth– if you can see all of Lincoln’s head, the tires are too worn. Your mileage may vary, but it’s even easier to tell if the sidewall is ok. Does it have cracks or chunks missing? No? It’s okay.
Being the lubricating lifeblood (and in some cases, cooling system) of your engine, you really want to make sure you don’t run out of this stuff.
Most cars have a dipstick at the engine that you can pull out, wipe off, stick back in, and inspect the tip of to see the current oil level. While the engine’s off, of course. There will be two little lines or markers on the tip of that stick– you want the dark liquid to be between them.
How much to add if it’s low? Google what your car needs specifically, but it often takes precisely one quart, a commonly sold single-bottle portion, to go from the bottom marker to the top “full” marker. You’ll want to add this in the big hole with the number “710” on it. Just kidding– that’s a little humor for the experienced mechanics who are hate-reading this. (Open your hood, you’ll get it.)
But pour carefully and slowly. An engine overfull with oil is in severe danger of destroying itself. As to what kind of oil you want; Google the owner’s manual if it’s not stickered on the that “710" cap!
Can your car stop? Great, the brakes are fine.
If you really want to be fussy, you can peek at the brake discs to see if they look anything but smooth and round. I know this is asking a lot, but if you pull the wheel off, you can usually tell how thick the brake pads are ergo how much life they have left.
Okay, here’s something even your five-year-old can do. In fact, it helps if you have another person to inspect your lights and see if they’re working since you can’t always park near a big mirror.
That clear plastic bottle under your hood is a coolant expansion tank. It’s where the water that keeps you engine cools goes when it gets too hot. There’s probably a little level indicator on it somewhere, and like the oil, you want your liquid to be on the high side.
Now some cars take coolant straight into this expansion tank, some take it in the radiator, some need a special pink liquid coolant that costs more because it comes in a bottle that says “VOLKSWAGEN/AUDI.” Triple-check where you’re adding this stuff if your level is low, because there might be other similar-shaped “bottles” in your engine bay.
Check Windshield Washer Fluid
That clear plastic bottle under your hood, no the other one, is full of the pseudo-soapy water that sprays onto your windshield and gets rid of bugs. This stuff is completely unnecessary until, well, you need it. Find out it’s empty in an auto parts store parking lot, not on a dark and dirty highway.
The only thing those Brits forgot to mention on such a reductive list is “don’t forget to put gas in your car before it runs out.” Hey, not everybody can be a car nerd but it seems like everybody insists on driving. Maybe if you pass this list around you’ll be a little less likely to get stuck behind some dingus who let their car run out of oil or windshield washer fluid.