Maintaining your vehicle

Maintaining your vehicle is essential to help ensure that it is roadworthy, safe to drive, fuel efficient and is friendlier to our environment by emitting fewer emissions. To ensure that your vehicle is well maintained, it is important that you routinely service your vehicle according to advice from the manufacturer (please note this information is generally provided in the owners manual) and by applying the following basic vehicle maintenance tips.

Basic tips to maintain your vehicle

In between getting your car serviced, there are a number of simple vehicle maintenance checks that you can perform yourself to keep your car in a safe and top mechanical condition. These checks are very simple and will not take very long to complete.

1. Checking your tyres

The condition of your tyres is really important to ensure you’re driving a safe vehicle and that you’re minimising fuel consumption. To check the condition of your tyres, follow these easy steps.

Step 1 - Check your tread by examining your tyres to check if there is anything unusual with your tread. This is generally indicated by wear to the tread or where the depth of tread is less than 1.5mm.

Step 2 - Check the air pressure by setting the pressure of the air pump at your local service station to the correct pressure and attach to the tyre valve and click. The air pump will automatically test the pressure of your tyre and inflate/deflate accordingly.

You can find the correct pressure to put in your tyres in your log book or inside the car door. The air pump will tell you that no more air is required for your tyre by beeping three times.

In addition to checking the air pressure in your tyres, a wheel alignment is recommended every 15,000 kilometres to ensure your car continues to steer properly and does not pull to one side of the road.

2. Checking your vehicle fluids

Your safety is very important when checking your vehicles fluids as there is a serious risk of burning yourself if this task is performed when the engine is hot. To be safe, it is best that the vehicle has not been operated for at least two hours before performing this maintenance task.

Most modern cars help owners locate areas which require checking fluids by highlighting the filter caps for engine oil, dipstick, washer bottle and radiator fluid in bright yellow. Each area of the engine that requires fluids to be poured into it will have identification markers to show the minimum and maximum acceptable fluid levels.

The following provides information on the individual fluids that you must check to ensure your car is well maintained.

The radiator (coolant)

If you notice that the level of coolant in your radiator is down and requires a top-up, it is important that you use the exact coolant that is currently in your radiator. Different types of coolant rarely mix well and may corrode your cooling system or provide poor cooling efficiency. If you are unsure as to what coolant is currently in your radiator and it requires topping up, use distilled water and fill it up to the maximum line.

Engine oil

To maximise your cars performance and reduce the risk of engine failure it is important that your car has the correct type and level of oil in the engine.

When adding oil to your engine, it is important that you apply the correct oil as recommended by the manufacturer (this information should be available in your handbook) and that you do not overfill the engine with oil. By overfilling the engine with oil, it can cause serious damage. Accidental overfills can be remedied by draining the excess oil from the sump underneath your car. By adding oil in small quantities and checking the dipstick frequently, you can avoid overfilling your engine.

Automatic transmission and power steering fluids

When topping up your automatic transmission and power steering fluid only use the fluids specified by the vehicle manufacturer. This information should be available in your log book or by contacting the manufacturer. If there is a higher than usual loss of fluid from either the automatic transmission or power steering, this could indicate a leak, so notify your mechanic.

3. Checking your battery

In today’s cars, most batteries are maintenance free which means you should not need to top them up with water at all. However, if you would like to check the status of the battery, this can be done by reading the small viewing panel on the battery. If the screen is 'green', this means that the battery is charged, if it is 'clear' it requires a charge and if it is 'red', it requires replacement.

If your battery is an older style with screw taps on top, you will need to check your batteries fluid level. To do this, carefully unscrew the cap and check that the water level sufficiently covers the metal plates in each cell. If the water level is low, top the chamber up with water until the plates are covered. It is important that you do not fill your battery to the top as it will spill out and damage any paint it comes into contact with.

4. Checking your car lights

To ensure you are driving a safe vehicle, it is vital that all your lights are in working order and that they are checked regularly. To check whether your car lights are working, get someone to help.

In the event of a faulty light, it is important that you get this fixed as soon as possible by taking your car to a mechanic as it is very dangerous to operate a vehicle that does not have functioning warning or safety lights.

Heavy vehicle maintenance

When maintaining a diesel heavy vehicle, it is essential that owners and operators follow these four key steps:

Step 1 - Only use fuel that is free of contaminants and meets national fuel standards.

Step 2 - Set your emission control systems to the manufacturer's specifications, particularly fuel pumps and injection timing.

Step 3 - Stick to a maintenance schedule. Vehicles need to be maintained at the regular intervals that have been recommended by the manufacturer or to an equivalent standard.

Step 4 - Organise a system for fault identification and repair. It is important to have a system in place that lets you identify, record, assess and act on reported faults.

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