Most modern automatic transmissions need little maintenance, but you should check the fluid level each month and maintain your transmission as per manufacturer's instructions.
Your owner's manual will indicate the correct procedure for checking the fluid and the type of fluid required. As a general rule the vehicle should be parked on level ground, at its correct operating temperature, with the engine idling, the gear selector in the park position and the handbrake on. Vehicles may vary from model to model, so always check the manual.
- Withdraw the transmission dipstick and wipe with a clean soft cloth, note the level indicators.
- Now replace the dipstick and remove it again.
- This time check the indicated level and top up with the correct fluid if necessary.
- Also check the colour and smell of the fluid.
- If the colour is dark and the fluid has a burnt or sweet smell, this may indicate an internal problem.
- Take the vehicle to a franchise dealer or transmission specialist for further diagnosis.
- Erratic gearshifts can be caused by low or contaminated fluid.
- Have your transmission checked by a specialist if in doubt.
If your vehicle has a manual transmission then it may have a hydraulically operated clutch. The reservoir is usually mounted on the firewall in the engine bay beside the brake fluid reservoir (check your owner's manual for details).
Be careful to clean any dirt from around the reservoir caps before opening as dirt can contaminate the fluid and cause inefficient brake or clutch operation. If the reservoir is of the clear plastic type you should be able to check the levels without removing the caps.
Never over fill as brake fluid is corrosive and will damage you car's paintwork.
Keep a clean cloth close by to wipe up any spills immediately and wash the bodywork off with clean water.
If the brake or clutch fluid level drops suddenly take the vehicle to a qualified technician for further diagnosis.
Brake fluid is particularly sensitive to moisture and will absorb it. This can lead to a change in the fluid boiling point, inefficient operation and in extreme cases brake failure.
Have your fluid changed in accordance with the manufacturer's schedule.
The power steering reservoir is located in the engine compartment, check your owner's manual for details on the correct checking procedure and type of fluid.
Note: some cars should be checked while the engine is idle, others while the engine is stopped.
If the reservoir has a metal container it will have a dipstick much like the engine oil dipstick. Some reservoirs are made of clear plastic and the level can be checked without removing the cap.
Switch off the engine before topping up. Use extreme care when checking items with the engine running. Clothing can become entangled in moving parts and cause severe personal injury.
Always wear appropriate clothing when working on your vehicle.
Check the coolant level in the expansion bottle on a weekly basis. It is also a good idea to check the level in the radiator every month.
Not all cooling systems allow checking of the radiator, your owner's manual will tell you which system applies to your vehicle.
It is important not to open the radiator cap until the engine is cold, so this is a job that should be tackled first thing in the morning before start up.
Carefully remove the radiator cap and check the level. If the level is low, top up with the appropriate coolant.
Check the seal on the cap for deterioration, as this can cause coolant leaks or low pressure in the system. Low pressure can lead to overheating and in extreme cases engine failure due to coolant loss.
Do a quick visual inspection of all the cooling system components. Check the hoses for softness and splitting. Check all connections for evidence of corrosion and check the outside of the radiator core for blockage.
Never use tap water in the cooling system, this can cause corrosion and eventually engine overheating due to head gasket failure. If your radiator core is blocked up with bugs and debris, you can blow the rubbish out with an airline or garden hose at low pressure. Always blow from the inside out to prevent debris from being further embedded in the core.
The fanbelt drives various components on the engine. Your car can have one or multiple belts depending on the engine design.
Great care should be taken to ensure that the vehicle is not started when you are checking the belts, so it's a good idea to put the car keys in your pocket.
Visually check the belts for cracking, deterioration and oil contamination.
Also check the tension on the belt, a loose belt can cause squealing and inefficient operation. A belt with too much tension can cause premature wear of associated parts.
As always, your owner's manual will serve as a guide.
When checking the fanbelt tension, depress the belt between two pulleys and note the movement. Your owner's manual will tell you the correct tension for your car but as a general rule a deflection of 10mm-13mm would be appropriate for most applications.