Minimise the risk of breakdown
Use this simple, once-a-month maintenance plan to keep your car in good shape and head off potential problems.
You can avoid breakdowns and save money simply by keeping an eye on some of your car's basic components. There are also various sights, sounds and smells that indicate there could be a problem.
Note: This is a guide only. The manufacturer's recommendations should take precedence, and you still need to have your car regularly serviced by a qualified technician
Checks to make before you hit the road
- Engine oil
- Windscreen wipers and washer fluid
- Radiator coolant level
- Wiring, hoses and pipes
- Headlights and inside controls
- Automatic transmission and power steering fluid levels
Engine oil level
Make sure your car is on level ground. Start the engine, let it run for a short while, then turn it off.
While your engine's still warm, remove the dipstick, and wipe clean with a lint-free rag. Reinsert the dipstick fully, otherwise you'll get a false reading.
Remove the dipstick and check the oil level. If it's reading low, top up your oil using the correct grade as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
Note: Do not run your engine if no oil is showing on the dipstick.
Radiator coolant level
Check the radiator coolant level in the plastic reservoir (most cars have them). The level should be between the high and low marks. With the engine cool remove the radiator cap and check the level in the radiator.
If it's low, top it up with the correct coolant concentration, as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer (see your owner's manual).
If your car is regularly losing coolant, there may be a leak somewhere, which can cause problems. Get your mechanic to take a closer look.
Note: Never check your coolant level when the radiator is hot. Always make sure it's cool to avoid serious injury or burns. And never mix coolants or inhibitors of different brands.
Wiring, hoses & pipes
Look for any frayed, damaged, loose or disconnected wiring. If you find any, notify your mechanic.
Check your hoses and pipes. Follow all hoses from one end to the other, making sure they are tight and there are no stains that could indicate a leak.
Check the top and bottom radiator hoses, heater hoses, fuel lines and any pipes associated with power steering or brakes.
Ask your mechanic to replace any hoses that are very soft, kinked, swollen or cracked
Automatic transmission and power steering fluids
The procedures for checking these fluid levels can vary between makes and models.
Check your owner's handbook or contact your service centre. If topping up, use only an automatic transmission fluid specified by the vehicle manufacturer.
A loss of fluid from either the automatic transmission or power steering could indicate a leak, so notify your mechanic.
If your battery has caps, remove them and check that the fluid inside is about 5 mm above the plates, or between the levels as indicated on the battery case.
If low, top up with distilled water and avoid overfilling. Replace the caps and make sure the electrical cables are tight on the battery terminals. The top of the battery should be clean and dry.
Note: Your battery is potentially dangerous, so don't check it near a naked flame or somebody who's smoking. Batteries produce an explosive gas when they charge, and the fluid inside is corrosive, so avoid any contact with eyes, skin, clothing and painted surfaces.
Windscreen wipers and washer fluid
Fill your washer bottle with clean water and the right amount of windscreen washer additive. Don't use household detergents as they can damage your paintwork and wiper blades.
Check the condition of your blades, and replace them if split, perished or not wiping your windscreen properly.
Incorrect tyre pressure can reduce the life of your tyres, and may make your car less safe to drive.
Check and adjust pressure when tyres are cold. You'll find your cars correct tyre pressure on the tyre placard on the inside of your glove box, fuel cap filler, or inside the driver's door opening.
You should check for a minimum tread depth of 1.5 mm on any part of the tyre surface that comes into contact with the road. Tyres have indicators in their tread pattern which show (as lines across the tread) when worn down to 1.6 mm.
Check your tyres for abnormal wear or damage (such as cracks, bulges or tears).
Utilise the Spare Tyre
Over time a tyre looses the oils contained in its rubber compounds and the composition of the tyre can alter. 5 years is the maximum life recommended by tyre manufacturers. If the tyre has not been used by this time, the extra heat generated by the less compliant rubber can add to the risk of a blow out.
When the tyre heats up during normal road use it relies on the oil and moisture content to keep it cool and pliable. Having it sitting on the back of your 4WD or in the boot of your car will dry out the tyre and when you fit it, it may blow out and cause damage to your vehicle or, even worse, a crash.
By routinely rotating tyres you can eliminate this problem and extend the life of your tyres by approximately 20 per cent.
In some cases this is not practical due to directional or different sized tyres which are only suitable to a particular side or particular position on a vehicle. Always refer to your owner's handbook and follow the instructions.
Note: You should buy your own tyre gauge to check pressure because service station gauges may not be accurate.
Headlights & Inside controls
Make sure all your lights are working, including high beam, stop and reverse lights. If you can't get someone to help you, drive your car up to a wall (or some reflective surface) and look for the reflection. Reverse to the same reflective surface to check your rear lights.
Switch off your engine and check all the controls for tightness and function. You may notice excessive brake pedal travel or loose gear shift linkages.
Put your steering wheel so the tyres point straight ahead. Lightly swing the steering wheel from side to side. As a guide, free play should not exceed 50 mm.
Things to keep an eye on while driving
Stop your car and check immediately if:
- a warning light remains on
- you feel any unusual vibrations
- your temperature gauge reads hot
- you hear any unusual noises
- your oil pressure gauge reads low
- your vehicle has a tendency to wander or steer to one side
- you experience any abnormalities when braking.
You should also get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible if it:
- uses more fuel or oil than usual
- is difficult to start
- runs roughly
- leaves oil or coolant on the driveway
- blows smoke.
To stock up on spare parts and all car care items, visit any one of 85 Repco stores across NSW & ACT, where NRMA Members recieve generous discounts.