We’re so used to cellphones, TVs, computers, and home appliances that need no regular checks or maintenance, that last until they don’t and then get trashed and replaced, that it’s tempting to think of our vehicles as equally attention-free and reliable. And we’re just so busy every day.
But modern vehicles aren’t electronics. Rather, they’re incredibly complex machines—mechanical devices made of thousands of parts, many of which move up, down, or around. And of course, they roll on inflatable rubber tires.
Some of these components need occasional attention to keep them operating properly, and others eventually require replacement.
There are many reasons to take care of your daily wheels. Regular maintenance is quick, easy, and cheap, while major repairs are expensive. It’s also comforting to know that your car, SUV, or truck is in good shape regardless of its age or mileage, with no need to worry about delays or breakdowns on long trips or your commute. Well-maintained vehicles last longer and hold more of their resale and trade-in value than neglected ones. In other words, take care of your car and it will take care of you.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a car enthusiast or even marginally mechanically inclined to keep your car in top shape. And it takes hardly any time. Here’s a list of six easy things to check that have the potential to prevent costly problems and keep your vehicle humming happily for many years. We’ve provided illustrations to help you find the components under the hood that need to be examined. But it’s always a good idea to read your owner’s manual to locate these items on your particular vehicle and to know the manufacturer’s service recommendations for them.
How’s the Oil Level?
Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. Oil lubricates all the moving parts in your car’s engine, so you never want to let it run low. Almost all of today’s cars have engines that are so well built and thoroughly sealed that they won’t use any significant amount of oil between the recommended oil and filter changes. But you won’t know for sure if your car is an exception to the rule unless you check. Or maybe you drive an older car that does use some oil. Here’s how to check your oil:
- Make sure the engine is off. Open the hood. The release is usually found under the driver’s-side dash; the safety catch is under the lip of the hood.
- Find the (usually well-labeled) engine-oil dipstick, and pull it out. (It’s often yellow, for easy spotting.) Wipe the end with a clean cloth, replace the dipstick fully back into its sheath, and pull it out again.
- Now look at the tip; the markings indicate a range from full to one-quart low. You will see a light coating of oil on the end of the dipstick. If it’s between the minimum and maximum lines, you’re good. If it’s at or