Cars & Bikes
Checking under your car’s
bonnet periodically can head
off problems before they become
costly. Instead of finding a
mechanic, you can do it yourself
Car Care Fundas
Now that you have bought your dream wheels, what does your car mean to you? Indeed, how you view your car may determine how well you tend to treat it. If you see it as a mere conveyance, you may give it little thought. If you consider it a proud possession, you probably will be more attentive.
No matter how you relate to your vehicle, it is important to care for it in specific ways that will maintain its reliability, preserve its drivability and protect its resale value.
Do you know your way around under the bonnet of your car? While not as critical as it used to be, checking under the bonnet periodically can head off problems before they become costly. Instead of finding a mechanic every week, you can do it yourself.
Start by reading your owner’s manual. There will always be a section on under bonnet checks. But first, a word about safety. Read the safety warnings in your owner’s manual and any safety warning stickers that may be under the bonnet. All checks should be done while the engine is turned off.
The following items should be checked periodically:
- Engine oil level
- Brake fluid
- Power steering fluid
- Coolant level
- Windshield washer solvent
- Belts & Hoses
- Windshield wiper blades
Engine oil level is the most important under-bonnet check you can do. An engine cannot run without oil even for a minute without serious engine damage or total destruction!
To check the oil level, make sure that the engine is turned off, then find the engine oil dipstick and remove it. With a
paper towel or rag, wipe off the end of the stick and notice the markings on it. You will usually see a mark for ‘Max’
and another mark for ‘Low’. Check your owner’s manual to be sure.
Push the stick back into the tube until it seats then immediately pull it out to see the oil level. You should not add
oil unless the level is below the ‘Low’ mark and NEVER add oil to bring the level above the ‘Max’ mark.
Your main concern with this check is that oil consumption is not rapidly increasing. If it is, take your car to a repair shop as soon as possible and have it checked out.
The brake fluid reservoir is under the bonnet right in front of the steering wheel. Most cars today have a transparent reservoir so that you can see the level without opening the cover.
The brake fluid level will drop slightly as the brake pads wear out. This is a normal condition and you should not worry about it. If the level drops noticeably over a short period of time or goes down to about two thirds full, have your brakes checked as soon as possible.
Never Put Anything But Approved Brake Fluid In Your Brakes. Anything Else Can Cause Sudden Brake Failure!
Keep the reservoir covered except for the amount of time you need to fill it and never leave a can of brake fluid uncovered. Brake fluid must maintain a very high boiling point. Exposure to air will cause the fluid to absorb moisture.
The power steering fluid reservoir usually has a small dipstick attached to the cap. Remove the cap and check the fluid level. The level should not change more than the normal range on the stick.
If you have to add fluid more than once or twice a year, then have the system checked for leaks. These systems
are easily damaged if you drive while the fluid is very low. Another warning of low power steering fluid is a buzzing
noise when you turn the steering wheel at slow speeds.
Coolant level is another important check. Never open the radiator of a car that has just been running. The cooling
system of a car is under high pressure with fluid that is usually hotter than boiling water.
Look for the cooling system reserve tank, somewhere near the radiator. It is usually translucent white so you can
see the fluid level without opening it. (Do not confuse it with the windshield washer tank).
The reserve tank will have two marks on the side of it - ‘Max’ and ‘Min’. If the level frequently goes below ‘Min’ after adding fluid, you probably have a leak which should be checked as soon as possible.
Modern engines are much more susceptible to damage from overheating, so do not neglect this important system.
Most batteries today are “maintenance free”, which simply means that you cannot check the water level.
However, this does not mean that there is nothing to check. The main things to check are the top of the battery,
which should be clean and dry, and the terminal connections, which should be clean and tight.
Windshield washer solvent is readily available by the litre at petrol stations and it is cheap. It is fine to use with or without adding water but will clean better undiluted.
In most cases, your mechanic can check your belts and hoses when you bring in the car for servicing. Belts are used to drive a number of components on an engine including the water pump, power steering pump, air conditioner, alternator and an emission control pump.
Modern high-end cars have a single ‘serpentine’ belt that handles everything. The more common type of belt is
called a ‘V’ belt and is adjustable. There is usually more than one to an engine, sometimes three or four.
Check each one for cracks and tightness and have them replaced if you find any problems. Some V belts are hard to reach but no less important so if you cannot reach it to check, have your mechanic do it periodically.
Hoses should be checked visually and by feel. You are looking for dry cracked rubber, especially at the ends where they are attached. You should also check the ends for any signs of ballooning.
Every driver knows what it is like to drive in the rain with bad wiper blades. Wiper blades should be changed every year. Wiper blades will tend to streak when they are dirty. Take a paper towel with some window cleaner and clean the rubber blade whenever you clean the windshield.
Buy a decent tyre pressure gauge and keep it in the car. Improper tyre pressure can affect tyre wear as well as
ride and handling. You should always check your tyres when they are cold. Use the manufacturers recommended