How To Service A Car
Servicing of your car is one area where you can save a considerable amount of money by going the DIY route. Over the life of the car you stand to save some serious cash by servicing it yourself but if you want to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape you do need to know what to look for when doing these services.
Before we jump right into it I want to clear something up regarding new or near-new vehicles. If your vehicle is still under warranty don’t be tempted to service it yourself. Sure you may save some cash but when something goes wrong and you need to make a warranty claim that $50 or $100 that you saved by doing it yourself can cost you thousands if they deny your claim.
Also, don’t let the dealership fool you into believing that you HAVE TO get the car serviced at the dealership. Bullshit! They make good money from you coming back for servicing so they try and scare you into thinking that your warranty will be void if you go elsewhere.
You can have your new or near-new car serviced wherever you like AS LONG AS a registered mechanic does the work AND they use genuine parts only. e.g. filters and the like must be genuine, don’t let them use aftermarket brands like Ryco, Valvoline etc. In my opinion the quality of most aftermarket parts is just as good as the genuine stuff but they can knock you back on a warranty claim if the need arises.
Ok, on with the show.
- The first items on the agenda are the Park Lights, Indicators, Head Lights, Tail Lights, Reverse Lights and Number Plate Lights. Make sure they are all working and the lenses etc are in good condition.
- Next up check that the Windscreen Washers and Wipers are working as they should. Seriously, there is nothing worse than driving through heavy rain with crap wipers or having a dirty windscreen and not being able to do anything about it. Plus it’s extremely dangerous.
- While you are in the car test that the Horn is working. This is fun to do when there are animals or children in close proximity to the vehicle!
- It is ideal for the engine oil to be warm when it is dropped out so it flows better. If the engine is cold start it up and let it run for a while (not in a closed garage though!). While it’s running check the Power Steering Fluid and Automatic Transmission Fluid IF the owners manual stipulates that these fluids should be checked while the engine is running. Many are checked like this but some are checked within a certain amount of time after switch-off or with the engine not running etc etc. Consult your owners manual for more information on this.
- Now it’s time to do a Basic Suspension Check – push down and ‘bounce’ each corner of the car and if your shock absorbers are doing their thing the car should settle pretty quickly. If it keeps bouncing more than three times that is a good indication that your shocks are not good.
- Time to raise the car and support it with chassis stands. Take the time to make sure the vehicle is on the stands correctly and it is secure.
- Now we can Drain The Oil. WARNING – The Oil Will Be Hot!! I like to use a socket and long extension to fully remove the sump plug when the oil is hot, saves burning your hands. Also protect your eyes with some Safety Glasses. We can leave the oil filter in place until it cools down.
- While the oil is draining and the front of the car is off the ground it is a good time to give the front end a basic checkover. Without getting too involved, the easiest way to do this is to grab the front tyre top and bottom and then from the sides and give the wheel a small push back and forward. If there is any clunking or ‘free’ movement the front end needs a closer inspection. I have a quick video that shows this procedure HERE (opens in a new window).
- Now we can take the wheels off and Check The Brakes. If you are not confident checking the brakes, leave it to a qualified mechanic - brakes are not something you want to get wrong. Even though the car is supported by chassis stands I always put the tyres that I have just taken off under the car. You can’t be too safe. Check the front and rear brakes pads for plenty of friction material. Make sure to get a good view of both the inner and outer pads because as you can see in the following two images the pads can wear at different rates and while one pad may have plenty of life left, the other pad on the same brake may be getting close to worn out!
- The engine is our next port of call. Here we need to Check The Air Filter. As well as checking the filter itself for contaminates (dirt, dust, insects, leaves etc) also check the intake pipe from the filter to the engine’s intake manifold – leaks here can cause all sorts of problems. In the old days we used to have to tighten the intake manifold bolts at each service, these days you’re flat out seeing the bolts let alone getting a spanner on them!
- Spark Plugs can give us a lot of information on how the engine is running and if it is a simple job to check them I highly recommend it at each service. CLICK HERE for more information on ‘reading’ spark plugs (opens in new window). Engines that are fitted with Platinum or Iridium tipped spark plugs only need the plugs changed every 100,000km or so. Check with your owners manual or service logbook before ripping the plugs out – so to speak.
- Fuel Filter – it is a good idea to check and/or replace the fuel filter every 40,000km’s or so. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble finding it on a late model car, more and more manufacturers are using an in-tank fuel filter, check your owners manual for details on these ones.
- Now that we have everything pretty much under control it is a good idea to go over (and under) the car to try and spot anything that might need attention. For example - check all of the fanbelts/drivebelts for cracks or perishing, check the radiator for leaks and radiator hoses and heater hoses for leaks or perishing, check for oil leaks from the engine, the gearbox/transmission and the differential, check the exhaust system for cracks or deterioration or leaks, check the driveshaft boots and joints, look for loose bolts or clamps – I could go on all night but I’m sure you get the idea. Basically anything that looks out of place or ‘not right’ should be investigated.
- While you are under the car check the Gearbox/Transmission Oil Level and Condition and the Differential Oil Level and Condition if applicable. The picture below shows a typical transmission/differential setup from a front wheel drive vehicle. The transmission fluid is checked with the dipstick (A/T) and the differential oil level is checked by removing the differential case plug (red arrow). The fluid used in the differential is often Automatic Transmission Fluid.
- If your brakes and steering etc are all up to scratch it is probably a good idea to Refit The Wheels at this stage. Be sure to give the tyres a thorough check-over before refitting the wheels. These days the majority of tyres have a tread depth indicator to show you when the tyre has reached it’s legal limit of tread. Replace the tyres BEFORE they get to this point. CLICK HERE for more on tyres (opens in new window). If you have the equipment to do so now is the time to check the tyre pressures, including the seldom checked spare! If you don’t have a tyre gauge you can always take the vehicle to a service station when you do the road test and check them there, although service station tyre gauges are not usually accurate due to the way they are handled.
- By now the Oil Filter should have cooled down enough to remove it. Be aware that it will typically contain quite a bit of oil so be prepared for some spillage!
- Clean the area and fit the new filter ensuring that the seal came with the old filter and isn’t still stuck to the block. Spread a thin layer of oil around the rubber seal of the new filter so it seals nicely and do the filter up hand tight only. Don’t be tempted to tighten it up any further as you will never get it off next time.
- Refit the Sump Drain Plug (be careful not to cross-thread or over-tighten) and Refill the Engine Oil. Always use a funnel as a little bit of spilt oil goes a long way! Your owners manual should have the engine oil capacity but if you are not sure refill the engine with an initial amount of oil around 2½ to 3 litres, let it sit for a few minutes and then check the dipstick. When you have the level up around the full mark, start the engine and ensure that the oil pressure light on the dash goes off. Switch off the engine and let it sit for at least five minutes before checking oil level again and topping it up as necessary.
- Now we can finish off the service by checking and Topping Up The Fluids such as the brake fluid, the windscreen washer fluid, the coolant/anti-freeze level and condition in the radiator and at the overflow bottle and check the battery electrolyte levels and top up with distilled water if necessary.
When you are satisfied that your engine oil level is correct and everything is back together the way it should be it is time for a test drive. If all is good note down the odometer reading and the day’s date somewhere so you know when it’s due again.
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