Most of us can admit that we are not experts when it comes to car care. We absolutely love our cars and want to keep them in the very best shape, but if we were asked to pop the hood and give a brief explanation of what is underneath, there’s a good chance we would let out a frustrated sigh.
Some women are able to perform routine vehicle maintenance on their cars — and good for them! Still, many of us are somewhat clueless about working on our car and basic care and would love to be able to perform some of the basic repairs ourselves (or at least know when to take the car in for new oil or tires).
It is time to empower ourselves in car care — no need to be a damsel in distress any longer! To get you started on the road to car expertise, we’ve put together a list of “quick checks” that should be part of your maintenance routine!
Check Tire Air Pressure
- Start with cold tires if possible. Vehicle manufacturers specify PSI – literally “pounds per square inch” of pressure – assuming tires are cold. Tires are considered cold when the vehicle has been parked for three hours or more, or if the vehicle has been driven less than a mile (1.6 km) at moderate speed. PSI is the unit your pressure gauge uses to provide readings.
- Check the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. Look on the driver’s side door jamb or your owner’s manual to find the recommended cold tire PSI for your front and rear tires. If you cannot find it, you should consult your vehicle dealer, manufacturer, or a qualified tire professional.
- Write down each tire’s PSI. If your front and rear tires require different pressure levels, write down the correct PSI for each to avoid getting confused as you move around your vehicle checking tire pressure.
- Check the tire pressure with your gauge. Remove the cap from the valve stem of your wheel, place the pressure gauge on the valve stem and press down hard enough so the hissing sound disappears and your gauge provides a reading. With a standard gauge, the air pressure will push a small bar out from the bottom of the gauge. Measurement units are etched into the bar. A digital gauge will show you the reading on a screen. Write down the reading and repeat this process for all four tires.
- Fill to the recommended PSI. Use an air compressor to refill any tires with low pressure. Many air compressors are different, so read directions carefully to be sure you’re using it correctly. If you’re using the air compressor at a gas station, be sure to park so that the hose will reach all four tires. Fill each tire by placing the end of the hose over the valve stem and pressing on the lever. Using a gas station air compressor means your tires might be “hot.” If it is, set their pressure to 4 psi (14 kPa) above the recommended cold inflation pressure then recheck the inflation pressure when the tires are cold. At this point, it’s ok if you overfilled the tires because you can always let some air back out.
- Never drive on overinflated tires. Overinflation can result in decreased traction, premature wear, and decreased impact absorption.
- Repeat every month. Make the above procedure a monthly ritual. Regularly checking your tire pressure is the best way to ensure your tires never dip far below the optimal PSI.
Information provided by Bridgestone
Check Motor Oil Level
Your engine’s life depends heavily on motor oil. In order for your engine to run smoothly and efficiently, the parts need to be lubricated. Ideally, you should be checking the motor oil level each time you fill up your gas tank. Your owner’s manual has additional information about motor oil, but here are some easy steps for checking the oil level and if needed, adding additional oil.
- Determine the grade of oil. You can find this in your owner’s manual. Additionally, you will need to obtain a plastic or metal oil-fill funnel, an oil rag, and a couple of quarts of motor oil.
- Park on level ground. You won’t want an uneven grade to give you an incorrect oil level reading. You will then need to turn off your engine and wait 10 minutes so that all of the engine’s oil drains into the oil pan.
- Protect yourself. Make sure you do not have any loose-fitting clothing and keep your arms protected from the cooling fan(s) while you inspect the oil. When the engine is off, you may still have a fan that turns on automatically.
- Checking the oil level. Open the hood of your car and find the oil dipstick. It is adjacent to the engine and will usually have a brightly colored handle. Pull the dipstick out and wipe the metal stick with your oil rag. Then fully insert it and remove it again. The highest point of the dipstick that is coated, indicates your oil level. If the dipstick indicates that the oil level is between “MIN” and “MAX,” you will not need to add additional oil and you can replace the dipstick and close your car’s hood. If however, the oil level is at or below “MIN”, you’ll need to add oil.
- Adding oil. If you need to add oil now, find the oil fill location, which will most likely have an oil can icon on it. Remove the cap and insert the small end of the funnel into the fill hole. Pour approximately a quarter of a container in at a time, waiting for the oil to drain into the pan. You will need to repeat step 4 until the dipstick reads just below the “MAX” mark. Adding oil in small amounts is very important because having too much oil in your engine is just as bad as not having enough.
- Finishing up. Remove your funnel, replace the dipstick, and secure the oil fill cap tightly. You may now close the hood.
Check Tire Wear
Safety is the most critical reason why we do car care and why you should be checking the tread on your tires. If the tire tread is worn below the recommended level, your car won’t respond well in rainy or snowy weather conditions. With good treads, your car will grip the road properly and will prevent premature wear on other parts of your car.
When checking your car’s tire wear, we have provided a list of indicators that your tires are not performing their best.
- An indicator of tire overinflation is excessive wear at the center of the tread.
- Extreme wear on the shoulders of the tire might be showing you that the tire is underinflated.
- If you notice uneven tread wear, you may have poor wheel alignment
- An incorrect camber angle may be the problem if there is excessive wear on one side of the tire. Camber is a measurement of the centerline of your wheel/tire relative to the road surface.
- Problems with the toe-in value are signaled by the treads on the outer section becoming knobby. Looking at your car from the top, imagine lines through the middle of the wheels in the riding direction. Toe-in occurs when these lines are in an “A-shape.” Toe-out occurs when these lines are in a “V-shape.”
- Monitoring your tread depth closely once it reaches 4/32 inch deep is really important. You can assess your tread depth with the chart below. Your tread depth significantly affects your stopping distances in varying weather conditions and is essential to your safety on the road.
4/32” or deeper – Good
3/32” – Replace tires soon
2/32” or less – Replace tires now
These tread depth recommendations are based on dry pavement driving. 2/32” or less will not be adequate tread depth to avoid hydroplaning or losing control in rainy, snowy, or slushy conditions.
A great way to check your tire tread depth is by taking the penny test. Please visit Firestone’s “Take the Penny Test” to determine whether you need to replace your tires.
Check out how to prepare your car for winter and remember, you are a “Woman With Drive” — you can be empowered in car care maintenance!
Jessica is a Service Advisor at Tire World Auto Centers.