Owning a vehicle is one of life’s greatest pleasures—with a pair of wheels, the possibilities of freedom are nearly endless. However, even the best cars will run into some problems, so knowing how to check and change vehicle parts is crucial.
You don’t always have to bring your car into the shop to complete pricey replacements. In fact, by following a few easy steps, you can learn how to care for your car in your own driveway!
Read on for handy how-tos for new drivers.
How To Check Your Tires
It’s essential to regularly check your vehicle’s tires for any potential problems, including inflation, tread depth, splits or bulges in the rubber, and general wear and tear. Check your tires for signs of these issues every few months.
Checking Tire Inflation
Newer vehicle models will typically alert you when your tire pressure goes below the recommended PSI, making checking tire inflation easy. Older models will require more examination.
If you are unsure of the correct tire pressure for your vehicle’s make and model, check the owner’s handbook for the answer. Then, use a tire pressure gauge to determine the tire PSI for your front and rear tires and ensure they are inflated sufficiently.
Checking Tire Tread Depth
The legal limit for tire tread depth in the United States is 2/32 of an inch, so maintaining a tread depth above that is crucial for your safety. Keep an eye on the tread wear indicators; if the tread is level with them, it’s time to replace the tire.
Checking for Splits or Bulges
An easy way to check for compromised tire rubber is to apply a soapy liquid bath to the tire. Examine the surface carefully, and if you spot any bubbles forming on a particular spot, you have a puncture or a split in your tire.
How To Check Your Car’s Oil Levels
Don’t let the oil levels in your car get too low—it can lead to breakdowns and severe engine damage. Check the oil every few weeks with these easy steps:
- Ensure the engine is completely cool and switched off.
- Open the hood and locate the dipstick; it should be fitted in a tube on the side of the engine block.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe any oil remnants from the dipstick with a rag.
- Check your oil levels by reinserting the dipstick into the tube and pull it out again.
- Examine the dipstick: there are two marks at the end that show the upper and lower levels for oil. If the oil mark is on the lower side of the two, it should be topped up.
- Replace the dipstick and close the hood.
How To Check Your Engine Coolant
Your car’s engine coolant is crucial to keep the vehicle’s temperature at a safe level and prevent overheating. When the coolant level is not high enough, your engine can overheat, so check the level twice a year, before summer and winter.
Checking Coolant Levels
To check your engine coolant, pop the hood and locate the coolant filler cap. Its location varies from car to car, but you can consult the vehicle’s handbook to help you. The engine coolant reservoir is translucent white with a rubber connecter.
Always make sure the engine is completely cool before opening the filler cap, as pressurized hot air can be present inside and cause burns. Carefully examine the side of the reservoir—the coolant level should be at the “Cold Fill Line” mark.
How To Clean Your Car’s Air Filters
Instead of replacing air filters when they get grubby, take them out and give them a clean! This will save you some money and protect the environment, too.
Cleaning air filters is very easy with this method:
- Pop the hood and locate the air filter—it should be near the front of the engine compartment, in a rectangular box called the “cold air collector.”
- Carefully remove the air filter without letting any residues fall into the empty housing box. Remove any outer protective elements from the air filter to expose the cottony filter layers.
- Remove any excess dirt with a vacuum or by brushing it off.
- Apply an appropriate cleaning solution, such as a heavily diluted laundry detergent mixture or special automotive all-purpose cleaner, and let it soak.
- Gently rinse both sides of the air filter in a sink or with a hose. Start at the interior and push water towards the exterior to avoid jamming any debris into the filter layers, and repeat this process until the water runs clear.
- Allow the filter to air dry completely before replacing it.
- If you have an oiled filter, apply fresh filter oil to the component before gently squeezing out any excess and returning the air filter to the cold air collector box again.
How To Change a Car Tire
Changing a tire can be a daunting prospect, but with a few simple steps and the correct tools, you can quickly and safely change your tire, should the occasion call for it.
Here are 10 easy steps to changing a car tire:
- Make the Car Safe—Ensure the vehicle is turned off, with the parking brake on and all passengers removed. Then, get the spare tire and necessary tools from the trunk, typically found beneath the bottom floor panel.
- Apply the Tire Chocks—To prevent the car from rolling and causing damage while jacked up, position chocks under the wheels, starting with the one opposite to the tire that needs to be changed.
- Loosen the Wheel Nuts—It is best to do this before jacking up the car. Turn the nuts counterclockwise with a wrench and loosen them enough that you can rotate them by hand, but don’t remove them entirely just yet.
- Jack Up the Car—If you are not familiar with your vehicle’s dedicated jacking points, check the owner’s manual. Position the jack on the affected side of the car and slowly raise it until the wheel is 4-6 inches off the ground.
- Remove the Tire—Fully remove the pre-loosened wheel nuts and gently pull the tire towards you. It should come free fairly quickly, allowing you to place it flat on the ground nearby.
- Mount the Spare Tire—Carefully attach the spare tire to the protruding hub bolts and slide it into place—use caution, as the new tire will be quite heavy to lift. Then reattach the wheel nuts and tighten them by hand, but not entirely.
- Lower the Car—With the jack, slowly lower the vehicle. Lower it enough that the new tire is in contact with the ground but not enough to have the car’s weight fully resting on it.
- Tighten the Wheel Nuts—Use the wrench to tighten the wheel nuts fully and lock the new tire into place.
- Lower the Car Completely—Now, you can utilize the jack to fully lower the vehicle back to the ground, allowing its total weight to settle on the new tire. Remove the jack and check the wheel nuts for tightness.
- Check the New Tire’s Pressure—Ensure that your new tire is filled sufficiently using a pressure gauge to check the PSI. If you are unsure of the correct inflation level, check the owner’s manual for guidance.
How To Change the Oil in Your Car
Changing your vehicle’s oil is quite simple—you need a socket wrench and a container to catch the oil in, and then follow these steps:
- Place the oil pan beneath the drainage pipe that sits underneath the engine. There should be ample amounts of room for you to reach under the car to do this safely.
- Turn the drain plug in a counterclockwise direction with the wrench until you can remove it. If you also remove the oil cap under the hood, the oil will drain even faster. Allow enough time for the oil to drain out of your engine fully.
- Once the oil has been drained, replace the plug and tighten it thoroughly with the wrench. If you removed the oil cap as well, make sure to put it back on.
- Carefully add new oil into your oil tank to the fill line. This is typically around 1-1.5 gallons of oil, but you can check the level with the dipstick to ensure it does not overfill.
How To Change the Oil Filter in Your Car
While you don’t need to replace your oil filter every time you change the oil, you should replace it every other time you change the oil or every 6,000-10,000 miles, especially if you tow heavy loads or drive in dusty conditions. Use this method:
- Ensure the engine is off and the car is fully cooled.
- Place a container under the car to catch oil runoff and proceed with the oil change.
- Once you have drained the oil and replaced the plug, locate the oil filter. It will be attached to the engine block.
- Turning it counterclockwise, screw off the oil filter and set it aside to drain completely before disposing of it.
- Lubricate the base and gasket of the new oil filter with fresh engine oil.
- Attach the new oil filter and screw it in by hand until you feel it meet the engine block, then give it a quarter turn more.
- Fill the engine with fresh oil and replace all caps before closing the hood.
How To Refill Your Engine Coolant
If your coolant level is not at the fill line, you will have to refill it. Make sure never to mix coolant types, as this can cause potentially serious engine damage. Additionally, you should only top off your coolant with water in emergencies, not regularly.
Refill your engine coolant when the engine is turned off and completely cool, with the car in park and the parking brake set, by following these steps:
- Pop the hood and locate the engine coolant reservoir.
- Place a towel over the filler cap before removing it.
- Loosen the filler cap a bit, then step safely back while any pressure releases.
- Add the correct brand of coolant to the reservoir via the coolant filler, up to the “Cold Fill Line.”
- Replace the filler cap and tighten until you feel it click, then close the hood.
How To Use Jumper Cables
Jumper cables are a critical resource for emergencies or breakdowns and can power up a dead battery and get you back on the road. And using them correctly is simple when you take the process step-by-step:
- Move the car with the working battery next to the car with a dead battery.
- Pop both vehicles’ hoods and find the batteries themselves, exposing the battery posts if plastic safety hoods cover them.
- Locate the positive and negative battery posts with + and – symbols. Connect one end of the red jumper cable clamp to the dead battery’s positive post and the other to the working battery’s positive post.
- Connect one end of the black jumper cable to the working battery’s negative post. Attach the other end to a metal surface on the dead car’s engine, such as a screw or bolt. Do not attach the jumper cable to the dead negative post.
- Start the working car and let the engine idle for a few minutes before starting the dead car’s engine and letting it idle, too, to help recharge the battery.
- If the previously dead car starts without issue, carefully unclamp the black cable from its battery first, then from the jumper vehicle’s battery. Remove the red cable from the jumper car before removing it from the once-dead battery.
Knowing how to check and change vehicle parts is essential for any driver because you never know what may happen. Not to mention that mechanic bills can break the bank. That is why it is best to know these simple how-tos listed above.
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