Checking your car's oil and fluid levels is easy – you can find the instructions for how to do so in your owner' manual.
- Ensure your car is parked on a level surface, preferably with the engine cold – the best time to do this is before you start up in the morning.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe with a clean cloth. Note the marks for high and low level.
- Put the dipstick back in and remove it again. This time, note the oil level – it should be close to the high mark.
- If it needs to be topped up, the oil filler cap at the top of the engine – your owner's manual will tell where to find it and what grade of oil to use.
- Add a little at a time and check the level after each top up, being careful not to overfill. A small funnel will help prevent spillage.
- Don’t forget to replace the dipstick.
Each week, check the coolant level in the expansion bottle. This is usually located close to the radiator (check your owner's manual for the location).
The level fluctuates with engine temperature, so it is best to check when cold.
- The expansion bottle will have a high and low mark, or may be marked hot and cold. Note the level – it should be between the two marks.
- Mix coolants. If you are unsure about which type of coolant is in your car, have it flushed out and refilled with the manufacturer’s recommended coolant.
- Never use tap water in your cooling system.
- Some coolants are supplied in concentrate form – always mix with distilled water.
The battery is a much-neglected part of the car's electrical system and the cause of most breakdowns.
- Keeping the electrolyte level topped up and the terminals clean will ensure long life and a reliable start. Some batteries are sealed for life and require no topping up, but the terminals should be free of corrosion and the battery case should be kept clean and dry.
- If your battery is the non-sealed type, you can check the level by removing the caps and ensuring the electrolyte covers the plates. Always top up with distilled water as tap water can contaminate the electrolyte and shorten the life of the battery. When disconnecting the battery to clean the terminals, always disconnect the negative terminal first and reconnect it last
- Check your owner's manual as the radio code, engine computer and transmission computer can be affected by disconnecting the battery.
- Never smoke or use a naked flame near the battery as explosive gases can collect in this area and ignite, causing serious personal injury and damage to the car's electrical components.
- Your battery contains acid, which can be harmful to the skin and the car’s bodywork. Dilute any spills with plenty of water.
- Check the washer reservoir weekly and top up with clean water. Adding a windscreen solvent will help prevent road grime build-up, but never use household washing-up liquid or detergents in the reservoir, as they can damage the wiper rubbers.
- You can adjust and clean your washer jets with a small needle, but be careful not to damage the nozzles.
- Regularly clean your windscreen with a glass cleaner.
If your lights are not working, your car is not roadworthy and you could be subject to a fine.
You can check the front lights of your vehicle yourself, but you may need some help checking the rear lights. Replacement light globes can be purchased from most service stations. Check your handbook for information on the correct type and installation procedure.
- Incorrect tyre pressure can cause premature tyre wear and poor handling and braking performance. Ideally, tyre pressure should be checked when your tyres are cold, as the pressure increases with temperature. It is a good idea to purchase a good gauge – those at service stations get bashed around a bit and can be erratic.
- Some service stations have automatic tyre inflators. Simply dial in the correct pressure (you will find this in the owner's manual or on the tyre placard attached to the car's bodywork) and connect the hose to the tyre valve – the rest is automatic. Remember to replace the dust caps.
- Don’t forget to check the pressure in your spare tyre regularly, and to make sure the jack and wheel nut spanner is in place.
- Carry out a visual inspection of your tyres, carefully checking the sidewalls for cuts and damage, which could cause them to blow out. Check the tread for excessive or uneven wear, the latter of which may indicate a wheel alignment problem, and separation. The minimum legal tread depth in Australia is 1.5mm. All tyres have tread depth indicators between the treads at regular intervals.