In order to keep your vehicle running smooth there are things you will need to either maintain yourself, or have others do it for you. Now, some of you may know a personal mechanic that takes care of your needs for a fair price, while others are forced to take it to the dealer and get charged a hundred (or more) dollars an hour for labor, plus parts, to get the job done. If you know of a local mom and pop automotive shop, that helps save you a little more but even then you’re still paying around fifty to eighty an hour for labor alone. If you really want to save some money and get that feel good accomplishment when its all done, do it yourself.
Now, some things do require special tools or certain equipment and/or just aren’t worth the time and hassle to do it yourself, in which case a shop is where to go, but the majority of things you need to do on a regular basis can be done in your own carport/garage area. Tools to conduct these tasks come fairly cheap and will last long enough to get your money’s worth so they are well worth the investment. I have created a list of some basic tools for the beginner and throughout this section we will go over other special tools necessary for certain tasks.
First, I would highly recommend investing into a Haynes Repair Manual if you want to learn more about the ins and outs of your specific vehicle, outside of what your owner’s manual will show you. I have purchased one for every vehicle I have ever had because of how detailed they are. You can get them at your local auto parts store or order online through Amazon for around $20 pending your vehicle make and model.
Before I go over some routine maintenance you can do at home, lets go over some basic “DOs and DONT’s”;
- Wear safety glasses when working with power tools or under a vehicle to protect your eyes from falling or flying debris.
- Clean up any oil spills or grease splatters immediately to avoid someone slipping. Cat litter or fine sand is good to soak up oil spills, brake cleaner and paper towels are good for small spills and stains.
- Use every nut, bolt, washer, and wire you take off.
- Make sure the engine is cool before working on it
- Keep chemicals out of reach of children and pets. Anti-freeze especially, as it gives off a sweet smell and pets have been known to get sick after digesting.
- Don’t rely on a jack when under a vehicle, make sure you have a sturdy jack-stand supporting where you are under.
- Don’t push on wrenches when loosening or tightening a bolt to avoid knuckle busters. If you have to push, push with an open palm.
- Don’t use loose wrenches or other tools that may slip and cause injury
- Don’t remove a radiator cap while it is hot.
- Don’t wear loose clothing or have long hair hanging while working on, or around, moving parts.
- Don’t use your battery as a tool holder, a wrench that touches the positive and negative post can complete the circuit and cause damage to your vehicle and or injury to yourself
- Don’t leave tools in the sun because they can get blistering hot quickly
Routine Maintenance schedule;
Check fluid levels; oil, coolant, windshield washer (if applicable), brake, and clutch (if applicable)
The level indicator (dipstick) for the engine oil can usually be found on the passenger side of the vehicle by the spark plugs.
The engine coolant level can be found either by looking at the reservoir that is usually located on the passenger side or by looking in the radiator itself. Make sure the system is cool and depressurized before opening either cap so you don’t get sprayed with scolding hot water.
Normally located under the hood around the coolant area but have been found
Located under the hood on the driver side of the vehicle
Normally located by your brake reservoir on the driver side under the hood
Inspect tires overall condition and air pressure, check for;
Tire separation; break in steal belts causing a bubble effect on tread
Dry rot; old dry rotted tires from sitting in sun too long
DOT #’s; check the date. Most manufacturers recommend replacement no matter what the tread condition looks like every 10, 8, or even 6 years. Some, if not most, tire shops recommend replacement every 6 years
- Tread depth should be above 4/32nds
- Check for smooth tires or flat spots from locking up brakes
- Check for steel belt exposure
Replace immediately if your tire looks like this, take your vehicle down to have the suspension/alignment inspected as well
Air Pressures; check your owner’s manual or placard located on your driver side door for appropriate air pressure but a standard rule of thumb is;
- Small car; 25-30 psi
- Medium car/small truck; 35 psi
- Light duty truck with load range C tires; 35 psi standard, 50 psi loaded up
- Light/Medium duty truck with load range D tires; 50 psi standard, 65 psi loaded up
- Medium/heavy duty truck with load range E tires; 65 psi standard, 80 psi loaded up
- Special note; Low profile tires should be set to max air
Tire pressures should be set when they are cold but if they are hot be sure to account for the extra air and set for 3-4 psi more
QUARTERLY (Every 3 months or 3,000 miles)
- Check fluid levels for power steering and transmission
- Change oil filter and oil
BI-ANNUAL; (Every 6 months or 6,000 miles)
- Inspect seat belts
- Inspect windshield wiper blades
- Inspect battery, add DI or Distilled water if necessary (just enough to cover the bottom cells)
- Inspect the drive belt
- Inspect hoses under the hood
- Inspect the cooling system
- Rotate tires; 4-tire and 5-tire (if you have a full size spare) recommended rotations
ANNUAL; (Every 12 months or 15,000 miles)
- Inspect the differential fluid level
- lubricate the chassis
- Inspect the fuel system
- Inspect the brake system
- Inspect the exhaust system
- If 4WD, inspect transfer case level
- Inspect the air filter
Every 30,000 miles or every 2 years
- Change the brake fluid
- Replace the air filter
- Replace spark plugs, if conventional non-platinum, non-indium type
- drain, flush and refill cooling system
- Inspect the steering, suspension and drive-axle boots/bushings
- Change transmission fluid and filter
Every 60,000 miles or 4 years
- Change the transfer case lubricant (if 4×4)
- Change the differential lubricant
- Replace the PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) valve (if applicable)
Every 100,000 miles or 5 years
- Replace spark plug wires (platinum and indium type)
- Inspect and replace spark plug wires if necessary