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Car Care

Cars are quite complex in order to help you extend the life of your car, reduce breakdowns and to lessen repair costs there is much to maintain.

Here are some quick checks you can do yourself and a list of Items which need regular maintenance, an approximation on how long they last, how you can check the wear and tear on them, what damage might occur if you do not do that maintenance as well as steps to stay safe when doing so.

[WARNING: If your car is a diesel never overfill the engine oil as it can cause a diesel runaway effect this is both a spectacular and catastrophic event which almost always ends in an engine replacement and sometimes injury.]


Oil Check.
Make sure you are on level ground or the measurement might be off.
Switch the car off and make sure it has been switched off for at least 5 minutes in order to wait for the engine oil to settle down and pull out your dipstick if the oil is not transparent at all it is definitely time to change it and if the level is bellow the bottom mark top up oil immediately. Certain cars do not have dipsticks and are either checked electronically thru your cars dash or they have a special type of dipstick which is connected to the oil cap so it may not be obvious to find.



Coolant Check:
Warning when checking cooling systems.
Even a short drive to a gas station is enough to heat up and pressurize an engines cooling system this can lead to serious burns for a simple check if not done correctly. Never open a cooling system while it is either hot or pressurized. You can check this by touching the overflow bottle or top radiator hose to see if it is hot then if it not too hot squeezing the top radiator coolant hose to see if it is pressurized if it is easy to squeeze it is not pressurized. Remember there is about a 5-10 degree temperature difference from the surface of the hose to the coolant temperature where it is hotter. If unsure wait 1 hour before opening a coolant reservoir or radiator and never top up cold water into a hot engine as that can cause damage to the engine.

Take a look at the Coolant overflow bottle the level of the coolant should be between F(Full) and E(Empty) if it is a pressurized coolant overflow bottle like some audi or BMW's make sure the engine and overflow bottle are cold before opening to top it up.

If there is no coolant overflow bottle or no marking for coolant level anywhere in the engine bay first make sure the engine is cold or wait at least half an hour to one hour with the bonnet open to be safe then after the engine has cooled down very slowly while using downwards pressure on the radiator cap very slowly turn the cap anti-clockwise and simultaneously very slowly reduce downwards pressure once the pressure begins to release with a hissing sound stop turning and hold some downwards pressure on the cap let the pressure release fully when it has stopped hissing continue to open the cap, this will prevent burns or an unexpected coolant shower if the system is still hot or pressurized. Never just turn a radiator cap even after it has cooled down it could still be pressurized.

Once the cap is removed if you have a float that sticks out there will be two level marks on it which are compared to the the rim of the radiator filler hole if the tip of the float is floating below the rim it is bellow minimum when the next mark reaches the rim there is enough coolant, if there is no float look inside there may be a piece of plastic which looks like a two step staircase the bottom step is for minimum and the top one is for maximum.

After checking this make sure to tighten the radiator cap nicely.

If your coolant was extremely low after topping it up your cooling system may need bleeding to get rid of air pockets as it will still be prone to overheating, if you are topping it up frequently we recommend you come to get it checked for leaks.


Power Steering Check:
If your car has a fully electric power steering you don't have to do this check. If it is either hybrid Electric and Hydraulic or fully Hydraulic you need to.

Take a look at the Power steering fluid reservoir if it is transparent there will be lines on the outside for Full and Empty levels if the fluid level is between these two lines all is well. If there are no markings on the outside of the reservoir and the reservoir is not transparent unscrew the lid of the reservoir and there will be a level tube attached to it which is dipped into the fluid there are 2 marks on the bottom of the tube which show a minimum line and a maximum line, in those cases the minimum line is just before the end of the tube and another line will be above that for maximum.

Automatic Transmission Fluid Check.
Make sure your car is on level ground.
If your car has an automatic transmission it may have a dipstick although not all modern cars do. An automatic transmission fluid level is always checked when the car is running and the car has only just reached operating temperature by which time the transmission fluid has reached around 40 degrees and expanded correctly. To be more precise while the car is running hold the foot brake and go through all the gears spending about 10 seconds in each gear then leave it in parking and wait for the engine temperature to reach operating temperature(the middle of the temperature gauge) then with the car still running check the Transmission Dipstick, otherwise go for a drive then pull over when the car is at operating temperature.

The colour of the transmission fluid varies per manufacturer and type of transmission.
Mercedes Benz Oil should be clear with a silver hue when new.
Continuously Variable Transmission Oil should be a fully transparent yellow/cream colour.
Most other Automatic Transmissions should be a semi transparent red colour.
When these colours or transparencies look off it is time to change the oil or if coming up to the correct km for a service do it then.

Regular Wear and Tear maintenance;
1.) Wipers tend to last between one and two years as the rubber blade dries it becomes harder and looses efficiency in wiping it will become like plastic and the wiping will be streaky and if left for years longer it can break off then you run the risk of scratching your windscreen.

2.) Engine Oil is recommended to be changed each 10,000km or every year, whichever comes first. On some turbo cars Engine oil is recommended to be changed every 5,000km. Chain driven instead of cambelt driven engines require regular oil changes as they are more prone to damage if the oil is not changed regularly. Certain parts like Hydraulic chain tensioners or Camshaft variators which run on hydraulic pressure do not operate at their best efficiency.

3.) Oil filters are changed with every oil change. Not changing oil filters may cause a reduction in the flow of your engine oil or increase oil pressure.

4.) Engine Coolant should be changed every 3 years, Coolant has 3 functions it prevents freezing/boiling as one combined function, it also transfers heat to the radiator where it can be dissipated and it also prevents corrosion within the cooling system. Not changing the coolant can lead to blockages in the radiator from a build up of rust or water pumps rusting away and not providing flow.

5.) Brake fluid as well as clutch fluid should be changed every 2 to 3 years, brake fluid/clutch fluid is hygroscopic it attracts water if this water is allowed to build up it can cause brake lines to rust up and loose structural integrity as well as the rust causing a restriction in fluid flow also too much water in your brake fluid may cause the water in your brake fluid to boil over when it heats up under hard braking loosing brake pressure entirely. Gas can be compressed fluid cannot so if any part of it boils over into steam you will suddenly loose brakes entirely.

6.) Automatic Transmission Servicing, On Japanese cars a Transmission service is recommended every 40,000km. On European Cars Transmission services are recommended every 100,000km. Although dealerships will say a cars transmission has lifetime oil it is a deceptive tactic, there is no such thing as lifetime oil. When they say lifetime oil they mean the transmission may not break down within the new car warranty period. A manual transmission's oil is changed when the clutch is changed there is no need to change it earlier. If a transmission runs low on oil it may not be lubricated in some places or not change gears correctly, the lubrication issue is the bigger of the problems because it might cause too much friction making it fail suddenly.

7.) Front Differential, Transfer Case and Rear Differential oils are recommended to be changed every 100,000km. Metal Shavings build up on the magnetic plugs and within the oil which need to be cleaned. Your diff might become noisy or start vibrating if the oil is not changed.

8.) Spark plugs are checked for wear not all last the same amount of time the average km for changing them is about 100,000km some last 70,000 some last up to 170,000. A bad spark plug might cause a misfire and if the misfire is not fixed quickly a process called petrol washing occurs by which the petrol that doesn't get burnt washes away the oil lubricating the piston rings which then start to wear away the cylinder walls resulting in irreversible lost compression and later on a permanent misfire.

9.) Air filters are changed on average every 20,000km depending on the driving environment if you drive thru a lot of dusty areas it may be more frequent but if driving thru cleaner environments this may stretch upwards of 40,000km we do a visual check to see how dirty they are. The downside of not changing your air filter is your car runs richer and less efficient either wasting more petrol if it doesn't adjust or loosing power as it tries to maintain the air/fuel ratio by supplying less fuel depending on the car's ECU programming.

10.) Auxiliary Belts are visually inspected and changed according to wear not km or age. If they are cracked fraying or the ridges are becoming too sharp they are close to breaking. Auxiliary belts run things such as alternators which charge your battery, water pumps which provide flow for your cooling system, A/C compressors which run your air conditioning, power steering pumps which provide power steering, Radiator Fans which cool your radiator when standing still in traffic and sometimes Superchargers which force air into your intake manifold. Any or All of these systems may fail if your Auxiliary Belt or Belts Break. Sometimes there is one belt driving everything and sometimes there are up to 4 belts depending on the engine.

When changing a belt we always check all of the pulleys for play by simply trying to wiggle them side to side to check for axial play and try to gently twist them to check for radial play as well as spin them to listen for noise which shows wear we do this for any tensioners or idlers the belt runs along. If they fail the above tests we recommend changing them as they can lock up and cause the new belt to slide along it causing friction and breaking prematurely.

11.) Cam Belts are a big part of maintaining your car not many people are aware that there are two conditions for changing your cam belt age and kilometers. Different manufacturers recommend different ages but most recommend 100,000km the age we recommend a cam belt replacement is every 6 years this prevents stretching of the cambelt and keeps the engine running within the peaks of its tolerances, The other thing to consider is if the engine has been overheating at all within the age of the cambelt it may drastically reduce the life of the belt as it dries out and becomes brittle. If the engine has a waterpump driven by the cambelt instead of the fanbelt we recommend changing it during a cambelt job as it will save a lot of time spent in labour from having to repeat the whole cambelt job just to get to the waterpump later on. We also recommend changing the tensioner and idler for the cambelt with every cambelt job because of the same reason and they usually come as part of the kit anyway. If a cambelt breaks the engine will stop running immediately but if your engine is and sadly most engines are interference engines(Valves reach into the cylinder travel path when open) then those valves get slapped by the cylinder and become bent because the cambelt which operates the valves stops and the valves stop retracting but the combustion process continues for a fraction and forces the cylinder into the valves bending them and possibly cracking the top of the piston or bending/breaking the connecting rod.

12.) Glow plugs on diesel engines are checked with a glow plug tester every 100,000km sometimes they loose effectiveness early, sometimes they outlast the rest of the engine.

13.) Fuel filters on both petrol and diesel cars are changed every 100,000km. An old dirty fuel filter can cause restrictive fuel flow putting too much strain on the fuel pump as it tries to maintain fuel pressure, this can make a fuel pump fail early while in the mean time providing insufficient fuel for a correct air fuel mix. On a side note using 91 octane fuel in a car designed to run on 98 or premium octane can make a fuel pump fail much earlier.

14.) Drivelines on most 4WD or older cars are greased including some ball joints, a grease nipple has a ball bearing on the end when you pressurise the grease it pushes back on the ball bearing and fills the cavity when it begins to leak from crevices or from the lip of the nipple it is full. This should be done with every full service.

15.) On a side note if you are going offroading or planing to drive thru a deep puddle or shallow river in a regular car we dont recomend it unless you are equipped with a fully sealed air intake snorkel which you can guarantee to stay above the water level, the risk is not you simply stalling and becoming stranded which wouldnt be so bad without the additional cost of a replacement or rebuild engine, if a large quantity of water gets into the intake it will bend your connecting rods as per the regular combustion process what the engine expects to be air enters then tries to compress it for ignition. It then fails to do so since liquids cannot be compressed only gasses can the momentum of the transmission flywheel and crankshaft will put the force onto the currently compressing piston and as it fails to compress the water the connecting rod either bends or breaks against the resistance.