Whether you purchase a second hand car or a brand new vehicle, there's nothing like driving it home and planning all the stuff you'll buy for it. You stop off at the local auto store and grab some new seat covers, a boot organiser, a rubbish bag and a dangly smelly thing to hang off the rear vision mirror. You spend hours washing, vacuuming, Armor All-ing it and fiddling with things under the bonnet and incur all sorts of costs running your vehicle, petrol and car insurance to name just two. There are, however, other things you can do to prolong the life and looks of your vehicle, and minimise the cost of maintenance while you're its owner.
Having your vehicle regularly serviced by a licenced mechanic is crucial. They're the best people to talk to about how often this should happen - usually the little sticker they place inside your windscreen will have an odometer reading or date when you should bring your car back. If it's a new car (or a car that's still under a new car warranty), you may need to stick to these figures religiously to preserve the warranty. If you have any queries before then, it's also best to call in and ask. Don't ignore warning lights if they pop up and do exactly what the mechanic says when you see him or her.
Having the safety features of your vehicle serviced is an essential way of making sure that, in the event of an accident, you're well protected. Seat belts, air bags and the like need to be checked just like your oil. Even regular services of general mechanical components can help prevent an accident in the first place by detecting defectsi. An authorised dealer will have the equipment and parts specific to your particular vehicle (although they may be more pricey; your log book checks may need to be done with them too). A car that is serviced and tuned regularly will use less petrol and emit less pollution; you'll be saving your wallet as well as the environment. Regular checks noted in the log book also improve resale value.
Regular servicing is an excellent way to detect little problems before they become big issues, but there are little things you can do yourself to help. Some of the checks and services you can carry out at home include the brake fluid, transmission and engine oil, and water (in the windscreen reservoir and radiator).
If you lift the bonnet and become familiar with what's under there, this will make it easier over time to conduct these checks. Have a manual handy if you're not used to finding dipsticks and reservoirs/tanks. Generally speaking, transmission oil is a light reddish colour while engine oil is a darker colour. Brake fluid is also a light red colour. Depending on the vehicle, you can interchange transmission oil and brake fluid. Check the engine oil after the car has been running as the oil coats the engine components - what's left in the reservoir is what the car has left. Dipsticks should be wiped clean and then re-dipped and read.
Your radiator is what keeps the engine cool. Many new cars don't have the old-fashioned temperature gauges, so it's important to monitor the fluid levels to prevent it getting too low and causing the car to overheat.
The simplest check you can carry out is to just walk around your vehicle. Check the tyres, lights (have someone help check your brake lights and headlights), blinkers and windows. Turn the key in the ignition and make sure all warning lights come on (if they don't, you might miss something important). Start the engine and listen for a minute - are there any odd sounds? Is it sluggish?
If you're planning on a long road trip, a complete service is a good idea, as is having the wheels balanced and the tyres checked - this includes the spare tyre. 46 accidents in 2010 were caused by tyres being ill serviced or faulty; three of those were fatalities. Seven accidents, one of which was fatal, were caused by lights not working properlyii. These are basic checks you can conduct, or have an expert carry out for little cost. Filling the water and oil reservoirs and making sure the spare tyre is easily accessible will reduce the risk of being caught out in an emergency. There's nothing worse than having to unpack an entire boot (loaded with holiday supplies) to get to the spare tyre!
Regularly maintaining your vehicle yourself will help minimise the risk of an accident, improve the life of the engine and keep your car running well and using less petrol. Many things you can carry out yourself, which further saves you money. Some things, however, need to be done by a professional mechanic and this is well worth the investment.