How to keep your car running smoothly without a mechanic

If you have just bought a new car, you may want to take care of it yourself rather than rely on mechanics being available when you need them – as well as keeping the automobile running for longer! Maintaining your car properly will extend its lifespan, as well as help it to maintain its monetary value.

You also don’t need to go to TAFE or do any formal mechanic training to learn how to take better care of your car day to day, although of course it is difficult to teach yourself how to do things like brake replacements! Knowing a bit more about how your car works will also help you to avoid being ripped off by a dodgy mechanic, or talked into unnecessary parts.

When you are working out what to do to help take care of your car the owner’s manual is always a good place to start. It will tell you specific advice about what your car needs, and how to find things like wheel struts and the oil filter. If you want to learn a bit more about different parts, is also a great resource.

Fixing a car
Doing as much work as you can on your own car can save you money. Photo:

Managing engine fluids

Engine fluids play a crucial role in keeping the car running smoothly and helping to prevent break downs. You can replace or refill these yourself, which will save a few dollars on your next service as well as keep the car running if you are late to make an appointment!

Your engine will have a container for coolant, as well as brake, windscreen and steering fluid. You should check every few weeks to make sure you don’t need to refill these – there will be a “fill” line to tell you when to add more fluids, and a “full” point to show where to stop. Some cars have a specific type of fluid they need, so check the manual to see if yours is one of them.

Oil is a bit different, as the oil in your engine doesn’t really run out – it just stops being effective. You should change your oil (and oil filter) every few thousand kilometres to keep your engine parts running smoothly.

To change the oil you need to jack up your car like you are changing a tyre, underneath your engine. There should be a drain bolt (which runs into the oil pan) that you need to remove, which will drain the oil out of your engine (catch it in a container to avoid getting oil all over your driveway). Once the oil is drained, take out the oil filter as well.

You will need to replace the oil filter (dapping a bit of oil around the seal can make this easier). Then you should refill the engine with the amount and type of oil recommended in the owner’s manual.

Coolant needs to be replaced periodically as well – generally once a year. You drain it in a similar way to oil, by jacking up the car and taking out your radiator’s drain plug. You should then close the plug, fill the radiator with water and drain it again to make sure it is cleared out. Then refill the radiator with the correct coolant mix for your car (generally 50/50 water and coolant).

Managing the fluids properly will, in the long run, save you a lot of money in maintaining and running your vehicle.

Managing engine fluids
You can generally replace engine fluids yourself. Photo: Pexels

The fuel system

Check your manual to make sure that you are meeting your car’s minimum requirements for fuel octane and makeup (some cars cannot handle E10 petrol, for example). This doesn’t apply to diesel cars, as there is only one type of this fuel, but petrol engines will often have minimum requirements.

Assuming you are using the right kind of petrol, you will need to replace your fuel filter every 50-60 000 kilometres. This is a cylinder with a nozzle at the front and back along your fuel line. Before you start to replace the filter, get some spare fuel line clips, because the ones you have may break.

You will need to pop the clips that hold the line to the car off to detach the fuel lines from the filter – this is where they can break. You then need to loosen the bracket that holds the filter in, and take it out and replace it. Then tighten the bracket, attach the fuel lines and replace the clips.

What else can you replace yourself?

You can replace brake pads, belts and hoses yourself, but this is a lot more complicated than the routine maintenance of refilling fluids and swapping out filters. If you still take your car to the mechanic regularly (which you need to do at least once a year to get your registration check) they will check for any serious problems to make sure the car is roadworthy.

If you notice any problems with your engine or brakes that are not related to your fluids, go to your local garage to get the car looked at by a professional. If you do the routine maintenance work described in this article these times will be rarer, and the car generally will run more smoothly.

Christian Woods
Christian Woods
Christian is a morning reporter and technology columnist for Best in Australia. Christian has worked in the media since 2000, in a range of locations. He joined Best in Australia in 2018, and began working in Melbourne in 2019.
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