Car maintenance can be tricky, especially when you don’t know what is safe to handle yourself and what requires a professional. Sure, an oil change sounds simple enough, but without the skills and know-how of a seasoned mechanic, is it really smart to attempt yourself?
Follow these helpful tips and hints from Ricky Jackson and Scott Cudini of Jiffy Lube International to keep your car in the best possible condition this season and year-round.
What kind of preventive maintenance can car owners take care of on their own?
“Generally, we would recommend four key areas,” said Jackson. “Check your oil level, tires, lights and wipers.”
• Engine oil level—should be done on a periodic basis or at the recommendation of the owner’s manual
• Tire inflation—once a month
• Exterior lights—headlights, turn indicators and brake lights
• Washer fluid level and wiper condition
“Regarding tires, lighting and wipers, not only are these good maintenance recommendations, but more importantly, good safety practices,” said Cudini.
What fluids should a car owner check?
Should a car owner attempt to change their own oil? “Beyond the engine oil level, the transmission fluid level is important and readily accessible in most vehicle applications,” said Cudini.
When checking the transmission fluid level, the vehicle needs to be on a flat surface and at normal operating temperature. Other vehicle fluids, for example rear differential fluid, are generally best left to automotive professionals with the appropriate technical training, tools and equipment.
“Do-it-yourselfers who possess the knowledge, tools and equipment to perform an oil change can do so,” said Jackson. “For those who do not, it is best advised to seek out an automotive service provider.”
If something is leaking, should car owners attempt to fix it themselves?
“Simple rule: vehicle fluids should not ‘leak’,” said Jackson. “If an owner notices fluid pooling under their vehicle, it is best to allow an automotive professional with the appropriate technical training, tools and equipment to diagnose the issue.”
Certain belts under the hood tend to wear out and need replacing. Can they change it on their own? “Certainly, perform a belt change if you have the tools and knowledge,” said Cudini. “Where this can get difficult, however, is having the appropriate diagnostic tools to inspect the belt and other subcomponents to ensure accurate diagnosis.”
Can car owners know when it is time to replace a battery? Should they clean it or replace it themselves?
“Historically, battery life was more easily detected through experience of slow cold-start cranking,” said Jackson. “Today, this is less evident.”
Have the battery checked on a periodic basis by an automotive service provider. Cudini said someone who has the knowledge can do it themselves, but it is something that a automotive service provider should tackle in any other case.
Can car owners replace wipers, filters, tires, spark plugs, brake pads, etc.?
“Certain maintenance, such as replacing a light bulb, windshield wipers or even an engine air filter can be easily performed by most owners,” said Jackson. “However, broader maintenance needs such as tire replacement, spark plug replacement or brake service should really be performed by an automotive professional with the appropriate technical training, tools and equipment.”
How do car owners know when a problem is minor or serious?
“Simple rule: When an issue is first detected, it is best to have it inspected before it becomes a more serious issue,” said Cudini. Squeaky brakes should be addressed quickly to avoid more serious and expensive issues down the road.
What car maintenance or repairs should a car owner absolutely not attempt without a professional?
“One should not do preventative maintenance or repair without the proper technical training, tools and equipment,” said Jackson. “Performing an oil change needs to include the safe and environmentally-friendly disposal of fluids and filters.”
As with any maintenance and repair, when in doubt, seek advice from a professional.