Car Repair Vs Maintenance

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Car repair vs maintenance

Modern vehicles are complex machines that require a lot more time, effort and money to fix than they used to. Fear not! Our article is here to sort out this car-fuffle, so read on to find out when maintenance or repair is best for your beloved motor.

Maintenance or repair?

Depending on how bad a problem with your car is – and how early you notice it – will determine whether you can fix it yourself or if you need take it to the garage.

Here’s a list of examples of what can generally be maintained by yourself and what should be left to a professional at a garage.

How can I maintain my car myself?

Regularly checking the oil level for your engine and knowing when to top it up will guarantee that you keep your car running smoothly and efficiently.

Motor oil lubricates the pistons which move up and down in your engine cylinders. As a result, the combustion temperature is managed, and friction is reduced. If left, the oil breaks down and the filter can become clogged with contaminants.

Changing your oil and filter

Regularly checking the oil level for your engine and knowing when to top it up will guarantee that you keep your car running smoothly and efficiently.

Motor oil lubricates the pistons which move up and down in your engine cylinders. As a result, the combustion temperature is managed, and friction is reduced. If left, the oil breaks down and the filter can become clogged with contaminants.

Six steps for checking and topping up the oil level of your car:

  1. Firstly start the car and get it warm, making sure it’s on even ground.
  2. Stop the engine and wait for the oil to settle (this should take around three minutes).
  3. Open the bonnet your car and pull out the oil dipstick (colourful circular handle next to the filter marked ‘engine oil’).
  4. Wipe the rod part of the dipstick clean and insert it back into the pipe.
  5. Pull out the dipstick and check that the oil streak on the end is between the ‘min’ and ‘max’ markers.
  6. Using a funnel and recommended oil for your car, pour small amounts into the reservoir and regularly check the level until it’s right where you want it.

Remember: You don’t want the level to be above the maximum marker or below the minimum marker. Too much oil can result in decreased oil pressure caused by overloading the pump to a point where it’s no longer effective. On the other hand, not enough can lead to the pistons grinding and seizing the engine.

As each vehicle is different, it’s worth checking your car’s levels once a week. Some models will need topping up roughly every 3,000 miles, while others can go 20,000 miles before needing any more.

Checking and altering your tyre pressure to avoid wear

Your car’s tyres are one of the most important parts which make up your motor. They’re the only part which are in constant contact with the road and therefore need your care and consideration through regular maintenance.

Making sure your tyre pressure is at a safe PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) level at least once a fortnight and before long journeys helps prevent excessive wear caused by over inflating or under inflating.

Three steps for ensuring your tyres are at the correct pressure:

  1. Open the driver door of your car and check the print on its sill to find the recommended laden and unladen PSI levels for your specific model.
  2. Take your car to the nearest petrol station, which will either charge a small fee to use an air pump or offer the service for free.
  3. Simply use the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons to set the PSI level you want, take off the valve caps from all four tyres and hold the air hose over the valve – the machine will then bleep as it reaches the pre-set pressure you specified.

One final check you can perform on your car’s tyres is the tread depth. By law you’re required to have a minimum of 1.6mm tread depth across the band around the central three quarters of the tyre. However, industry experts recommend that you should look at replacing your tyres when they reach 3mm because of the increased stopping distances this causes.

You can do this by simply inserting a 20p coin in the grooves of each tyre. The bottom of the coin should be hidden when you do this, otherwise your tyres could well be over the limit.

If you don’t want to use your precious pennies for measuring, you can always see if your car has tread wear indicators. These are sometimes moulded into the groove of a tyre at regular intervals to show you when the legal limit has been exceeded.

Remember: While maintenance of your tyres can be done through regularly checking the pressure, a tread depth lower than 1.6 means the tyre in question needs changing. Your nearest garage should be able to do this for you.

Replacing engine coolant

The radiator in your car is responsible for cooling your engine but needs water and coolant (also known as ‘antifreeze’) in order to do so.

Remember: Some coolants are ready mixed with water so if you use one of these you won’t need to match the amount of fluid you put in.

It’s a very quick and easy process to check the current level in your reservoir and top it up if need be. Here’s how:

  1. Open your bonnet and look for the coolant reservoir (see-through jug).
  2. Make sure that there’s enough mixture in there using the ‘min’ and ‘max’ lines on the side.
  3. If needed, unscrew the cap of the reservoir and fill to the maximum line with either your pre-mixed antifreeze or standard product with matching level of water.

Maintaining your drive belts

Your car’s drive belts connect the alternator, aircon, power steering and other important components to the crankshaft.

It’s unavoidable that over time the drive belts in your car will develop wear and tear due to the heat in the engine caused by the numerous moving parts there. However, there are several things you can do in order to ensure its longevity. They are:

  1. Check the drive belts (usually located at the front of the engine) for obvious signs of damage, such as cracks. If it’s broken, there will tend to be a squealing noise coming from the engine.
  2. Make sure that the belt is properly aligned on the pulleys, which you can see by looking underneath the bonnet.
  3. Test the tension of the longest part of the belt, which should be no more than 1.25cm-2.5cm of slack.

If these checks lead you to suspect that one or more of your drive belts need replacing, then it’s probably best to leave this for a qualified mechanic to do.

When might repair be a necessity for my car?

Warning lights

Most of us can identify when a complex problem occurs with our car thanks to warning lights displayed on the dashboard. These lights are conveniently located behind your steering wheel and are colour coded based on the severity of the issue.

Red means a potential safety issue that needs immediate attention. A yellow (sometimes orange) light for when a part of the car needs repairing or servicing. A green (sometimes blue) light to show when a system operation is taking place.

While you won’t need to stress over seeing a green light or blue symbol appearing on your dashboard, it’s worthwhile being clued up on what all potential yellow/orange and red warning lights mean.

UK service company RAC (The Royal Automobile Club) have a handy list of all the cautionary icons which can appear on your dashboard, along with their meanings.

It’s safe to say that if you come across any of these warning lights on your own car’s dash, that you should bite the bullet and book your car into the nearest garage at the earliest opportunity.

Looking out for problems while performing maintenance

As daunting as it is taking your car for repair, sometimes it’s simply unavoidable and must be done.

The whole purpose of maintenance is that it allows you to do the essentials to keep your pride and joy ticking over. However, it also means you can spot a problem early and not bury your head in the sand about funny noises and changes in your vehicle’s performance.

The result? Time, money and effort saved from diagnosing an issue early and getting your car to a qualified mechanic before it all goes wrong.

Top four tips for spotting potential problems with your car early

  1. Perform weekly routine checks while maintaining your car (e.g. checking tread depth and conditions of your tyres after topping them up with air).
  2. Listen and get a feel for your car from day one and then on each journey. This way you’ll soon know if something isn’t right.
  3. Keep an eye on your dashboard’s warning lights to make sure that none are displaying signs that are out of the ordinary.
  4. Occasionally read your car owner’s manual to stay clued up on best practices and safety information for your specific model.

For the latest car news and reviews, head over to the Moneyshake blog.