Car care: 9 essential tips for looking after your vehicle

Car engine warning light
  • Quick and easy checks can ensure your car is reliable and safe

  • Healthy oil and cooling systems are vital to keep your car going

  • Tyres are your car’s only connection to the road – look after them

  • Poorly maintained car batteries are a big cause of breakdowns

  • Working headlights, tail-lights and indicators are safety essentials

Regular care checks and maintenance are all it takes to avoid potential car reliability problems. Our maintenance plan will help you keep your car in good shape.

1. Seven things to check before your road trip

  1. Radiator and cooling system

  2. Engine oil

  3. Tyre condition

  4. Battery condition

  5. Transmission and power steering fluid levels

  6. Windscreen wipers and washer fluid

  7. Headlights, tail-lights and indicators

2. How to check your radiator and cooling system

Caution: Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot. Let it cool for a few hours to avoid injury.

A quick check of the radiator coolant is as easy as looking at the level in the plastic overflow bottle of most cars. The coolant level should be in between the high and low markings.

Once the engine has cooled, you can remove the radiator cap and check the level in the radiator, too.

If the level is low, top it up with the coolant recommended by the vehicle manufacturer or call the NRMA for motoring advice for assistance on 13 11 22.

If your car is regularly losing coolant, there may be a leak somewhere that could be a sign of a bigger problem which needs professional assessment. While you have the bonnet open, inspect the hoses and pipes - such as those leading to and from the radiator and heater - the fuel lines and any pipes associated with the power steering or brakes.

Stains could indicate a leak, and any soft, kinked, swollen or cracked hoses should be replaced by a reputable mechanic.

If your car is regularly losing coolant, there may be a leak somewhere that could be a sign of a bigger problem which needs professional assessment.

While you have the bonnet open, inspect the hoses and pipes - such as those leading to and from the radiator and heater - the fuel lines and any pipes associated with the power steering or brakes. Stains could indicate a leak, and any soft, kinked, swollen or cracked hoses should be replaced by a reputable mechanic.

3. How to check your engine oil

  1. Park your car on level ground

  2. Start the engine, let it run for a short time, then turn it off

  3. While the engine is warm, remove the dipstick and wipe it clean with a clean cloth or paper towel. Reinsert the dipstick – make sure it’s fully inserted, otherwise you'll get a false reading

  4. Remove the dipstick and check the oil level. It should be in between the low and high markings. If the oil level is low, top up your oil but first check the owner’s manual for the correct oil grade. Don’t start the engine if there isn’t any oil on the dipstick! An engine with no oil can seize and be extremely expensive to fix

4. Check your car’s tyre pressure and condition

Incorrect tyre pressures can reduce the life of your tyres and may make your car less safe to drive. 


The correct tyre pressure for your car is located on the tyre placard, which is usually found inside one of the front doors. If you can’t find it, check the owner’s manual. It’s good to carry a basic pneumatic/ mechanical tyre pressure gauge in your car because service station gauges may not be accurate.

You should also check that your tyres have enough tread. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.5mm on any part of the tyre surface – it’s wise to replace your tyres before they wear this far.

Tyres have tread depth indicators in the grooves between the tread. When the tread is worn to be level with an indicator, it is time for a new tyre.

Also check your tyres for abnormal wear and damage such as cracks or bulges, which could indicate a suspension problem.

Routinely rotating your tyres helps spread the wear and extend tyre life, and it could be good timing to do so before a big trip.

Including the spare wheel and tyre in the rotation can extend the life of the entire set by as much as 20 per cent, because you’re now spreading the wear over five rather than four tyres, though sometimes this isn’t possible because the wheels and tyres are of different sizes or your car has a temporary spare.

Using the spare also helps keep the tyre pliable – a spare left in the boot for years can dry out, making a blow out more likely.

5. Checking car battery condition

Caution: Your battery is potentially dangerous, so don't check it near a naked flame or a lit cigarette. Batteries produce an explosive gas when they charge, and the fluid inside is corrosive, so avoid any contact with your eyes, skin, clothing and painted surfaces.

If your battery has caps, remove them and check that the fluid inside is deep enough that the plates within are fully immersed. Some batteries without removable caps have an indicator on the outside of the case to let you quickly check battery health.

If the battery’s level is low, top it up with distilled water (rather than tap water) but don’t overfill it. Replace the caps and check that the clamps are tight on the battery terminals. The top of the battery should be clean and dry and the terminals should be free of corrosion, which can be in the form of a white or bluish substance.

6. Transmission and power steering fluids

The right way to check your power steering and transmission fluid level differs between makes and models – you can find out how in the owner’s manual. A low fluid level in either could indicate a leak, which should be checked by a mechanic as soon as possible.

7. Maintain your windscreen wipers and washer fluid

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. 

Windscreen wipers

If your wiper blades are not cleaning your windscreen properly, or are split or perished, they need to be replaced.

8. Checking your headlights, tail-lights and indicators

Having working lights is a safety fundamental that’s so obvious, it’s often overlooked. Test your indicators and headlights, including the high beams – your car’s reflection in a glass shopfront or on a wall can be useful if you don’t have someone to help you test the reverse and brake lights.

Replace blown globes with the correct type – you can read this on the globe itself, check the owner’s manual or ask your mechanic or spare-parts store.

Replacement globes and other car care and maintenance items are available at the 85 Repco stores in NSW and the ACT, where Members receive a discount.

Or book in for a comprehensive car health check or service at your local car servicing store and let an experienced professional take care of your car for you.

9. Warning signs that something is wrong with your car

You will need to visit a mechanic as soon as possible if:

  • A dashboard warning light remains on
  • You feel any unusual vibrations
  • The temperature gauge reads hot
  • You hear any unusual noises
  • The oil pressure gauge reads low
  • The car has a tendency to wander or steer to one side
  • You experience any abnormalities when braking

You should also take your car to a mechanic if it:

  • Uses more fuel or oil than usual
  • Is difficult to start
  • Runs roughly
  • Leaves oil or coolant on the driveway
  • Has a smoky exhaust
Note: This is a guide only. The manufacturer's specific recommendations take precedence and you should still have your car regularly serviced by a qualified technician. 

Unsure about carrying out a vehicle check yourself?

 Book your vehicle in for inspection with NRMA car servicing