SOME of us prefer to leave the maintenance of our vehicles to the professionals. But there are plenty of things that you may do to your car to maintain it and do-it-yourselfers are plenty out there. Still, there is no replacement for experience, and the many years maintaining cars have taught me a lot of handy tips and tricks.

Please remember that your vehicle’s owners’ manual is your go-to book for any specific details and that maintaining your car according to the book is the best method. If it says “Send your car to the dealer”, please do so as they will have the necessary expertise and tools to perform that particular maintenance item.

Here are 10 tips and tricks to keep your vehicle in tiptop shape.

1. The type of oil you need for your vehicle is usually printed or indicated somewhere on your oil cap. The capacity, type and viscosity is usually there or on your dip stick in most current vehicles.

2. Similarly, the type of transmission fluid to use in your vehicle is usually either on the dip stick handle or on the dip stick itself. In both cases, if the volume is not indicated, please check your manual.

3. During regular maintenance you or your mechanic might have changed any of the various belts (air-con, alternator etc). Make sure you keep the old one in your boot as a backup in case you break one somewhere in the boondocks. At the very least, you will be able to get to a shop for a new one.

4. Most newer vehicles don’t require an oil change every 5000km because new fuel-injected engines don’t dirty the oil as quickly as the old carburetted ones used to. It is best to follow the recommendations in the owners’ manual but up to 7500km is still within limits. Older cars require more frequent changes as a matter of course. A good tip is to check the condition of the oil on your dipstick.

5. Changing your transmission fluid every 40,000km can help prevent costly repairs and keep your transmission in good working order much longer. However, some newer cars have a smaller capacity and will need changing the oil earlier. The same applies to vehicles without transmission oil coolers.

6. A dirty air filter can end up costing you more in fuel in the long run. The best way to test an air filter is to shine a light through it — the filter should be translucent and you will be able to discern the light. If you can’t, you probably need a new filter.

7. Likewise, neglecting to replace your fuel filter will prematurely wear out your fuel pump by allowing harmful deposits through and it may also create performance problems. Because the fuel filter is quite inaccessible, it is not easily seen or noticed and thus is often overlooked.

8. Your cooling system should be flushed once every four years or more frequently. Coolant can become acidic if ignored and can end up doing serious damage to your gaskets and other parts of your cooling system such as hoses, aluminium blocks and your radiator. Do not mix different types of engine coolants because being differing chemical compositions they can also do serious cooling system damage if mixed together. Check your manual for the correct type to use. Antifreeze is only for cold countries so ignore that part of the manual. Air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles are exempt from this tip.

9. Most new vehicles nowadays have interior air filters, which filter the outside air coming into your car. When it gets dirty and clogged up it will affect your air conditioner’s performance. Have it checked during regular air-con maintenance or once a year, more often if you travel frequently offroad.

10. On newer vehicles, manufacturers have switched to international symbols to mark parts of your engine. For example the windshield washer fluid tank has a picture of a wiper; your oil cap has a picture of an oil can and so on and so forth. Useful for bridging the language gap, but please beware you don’t mistake one symbol for another. Yes, your manual will guide you in the right direction.

In this Internet age, it is common to look up maintenance tips in Google or YouTube. Some tips may even be useful and be time-savers but unless you know what you are doing, please refer to experts or your owners’ manual.

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