Understanding the mechanics of a car can sound a little bit daunting, but it is important to know a few key basics about your own car, especially for those times you might find yourself alone and with a car related issue.
How to check your tyre pressure
It’s good practice to check your car’s tyre pressure when you are refuelling your car. The correct tyre pressure for your vehicle can be found on the inside of one of the front doors on an attached panel, or in the owner’s manual. Petrol stations have tyre pressure gauges so that you can see what your current air pressure is, and top up when necessary.
Your tyre will have a screw cap on it, to check your tyre pressure you need to remove the cap and push the air pressure gauge onto the valve. This will bring up your tyre pressure reading. If it is below the recommended amount, attach the air hose to your valve and top up to the correct amount.
How to change a tyre
If you find yourself with a flat tyre, this is a handy skill to have in your arsenal. Most vehicles come with the items you need to change a tyre, in a compartment within your boot. Make sure you have located your spare tyre and the jack and wheel brace before you go out venturing in your car. This way you will know exactly where to go in the event of a punctured tyre when you’re on the road.
Once you’ve pulled over and put your hazards on, you need to loosen the nuts holding the tyre onto the wheel. Next, you use the jack to raise the car approximately 50-10cm off the ground. Now you can completely remove the wheel nuts, and slowly remove the flat tyre. Take the spare tyre and line it up to the holes on the wheel and then put it on the wheel. Put the nuts back onto the tyre and tighten as much as possible by hand. Lower the car and remove the jack, then use the brace to tighten the nuts as tight as you can make them.
How to check the engine oil
We can all be guilty of it – just assuming that the mechanics have everything under control and the oil level is all good. However, it is good practice to check the oil level regularly – and especially prior to taking an unusually long drive. Oil is needed to lubricate all the moving parts in the engine. Low engine oil is NOT good for your car engine – it leads to early engine wear and, in a worse case scenario, can lead to the engine seizing completely and being irretrievably damaged. You don’t want the first sign of low engine oil to be a glowing red light on your dash.
The best time to check your oil level is when the engine is cold (ie before you start it in the morning). You will need some paper towel or a sacrificial rag for this activity. Lift the bonnet of the car. Pull out the long dipstick marked OIL. Give the stick a wipe with your rag, then return the dipstick. This removes any residue oil that may still be on the stick from last use. Once you have returned the dipstick, remove it again and lay it against a clean section of your paper towel to check the level. There should be oil roughly midway between min and the max level markings of the dipstick. If your oil is near the low marker, top it up and book your car in for a service. If you do not have oil at home, go to the nearest service station or mechanic.
Do not drive for any longer than you absolutely have to on low oil and do not drive the car at all if there is no oil visible on the dipstick. If the oil on the dipstick is black, it is time for a service and oil change. Low oil that is black can indicate a head gasket leak in the engine and should be addressed as a matter of priority.
If you do get a red OIL warning light on your dash, the best thing you can do is stop your car immediately and call for road side assistance. Continuing to drive increases the likelihood that you will damage your engine beyond repair.
How to jump start a car
Ever accidentally left the headlights on? Or left a door cracked open so the interior light was on all night? There’s nothing more inconvenient that a flat battery. Jump starting a car is quite simple, all you need is a set of jumper cables and another car. Consult your owner’s manual, as it will tell you exactly where to connect the jumper leads to your battery, and same goes for the other car you’re connecting the leads to. Start the other car first and then start your car. The charge from the other car’s battery should kick start your battery. Keep your car running for 10-15 minutes and give the engine a few revs for good measure. Disconnect the cables and turn the engine off. Restart your car and if you can take your car for a little drive around the block, this will help.
If there is no logical explanation for a flat battery (like the lights were left on), a flat battery can be a sign of other mechanical problems. Car batteries have a finite life of around 5 years and it could simply be that your battery has come to the end of its life and you need a replacement. A flat battery can also indicate a problem with the car electricals or a failing alternator. If you have a flat battery that cannot be explained by user error, should book your car in for a service to determine the cause as soon as possible (go straight to the mechanic if possible).
What to do if you feel something isn’t right
If you notice something isn’t mechanically right with your car, like a noise that you haven’t noticed before – it’s best to take your car to a professional. Ignoring it could be ignoring something that is causing wear and tear on your car, and might result in more damage and a bigger bill with the mechanic than if you had it checked out when you first heard the noise. If something changes, seek professional advice.
Contributor: Brett Mills of Ken Mills Toyota on the Sunshine Coast grew up with the Toyota brand, taking family holidays to Fraser Island in the 40 Series as a kid and working in every role at his Dads’ – Ken Mills – Toyota Dealership in Kingaroy. He went on to work for Toyota Australia Motor Corporation (TMCA), where he met his wife Caroline, and they purchased their two dealerships – at Nambour and Maroochydore – in 2002. Brett is currently the Chairman of the National Toyota Dealer Association.