So far here at Car Fix Tips, we’ve usually taken specific topics or questions submitted by you and gone in depth with them by providing as clear of an explanation we can give. By doing so we hope to provide you with the best possible chance of making the best decision for yourself.
This post is going to be a little different, and instead of going deep into 1 specific issue/topic, we’re going to go broad and cover the most general maintenance practices you should be implementing on your ride, in particular, your engine. This is, of course, dedicated to all the newbies out there who are just starting out their own DIY hobby or perhaps looking for a little bit of direction now that they’ve bought their first car.
We’ve taken the most standard maintenance procedures that everyone, at any level should be implementing on their engines to ensure that they remain healthy over the long-term.
Being broad, yet highly relevant, these instructions apply pretty much to every car owner, from weekend hobbyists to specialists (like a limo service for example).
Some of the tips are extremely beginner-friendly, while some do require a bit of an explanation to fully understand and get through.
Nevertheless, if you’re a beginner looking to get acquainted with your engine or your car as a whole, you should find most of these tips really easy to implement and they should give you the necessary confidence boost especially since you’re starting out.
We’ve segregated the tips based on each individual part, mainly for ease of reference and organizational purposes.
So without further ado, here’s Car Fix Tips’ very own, Dummies’ Guide To Engine Maintenance.
The Engine Is The Heart
Simply put: without a properly maintained engine, you wouldn’t have a properly maintained car. After all, the engine is the ‘heart’ of your car, pumping ‘fuel’ throughout its body and keeping it alive over the long-term.
Remove the engine and you would’ve removed the equivalent of a human’s heart, and we all know just how long we can last without our heart’s right?
With the immense number of components that make up your typical engine, I’m sure a beginner can feel overwhelmed not knowing where to even begin to look. With that, we’ve taken the bare essentials and stripped down all the other things you don’t need to know for now.Focus on these core parts, and you’ll have a good head start in learning the ropes of proper engine maintenance.
There will be a series of rubber drive belts at the front of your engine, looping around various pulleys that drive everything from the alternator to the a/c compressor. The thing about rubber is that it perishes, especially in extreme conditions found in an operating engine bay. The reason for doing so goes deep into the methodology of interference vs non-inteference engines.
Without getting too much into the details (as we like to keep this posts succint, especially in the case of beginners):
For a 4 stroke engine, there are typically 2 sub-types. The valves always open inward into the combustion chamber, and thus take up some space at the top of the chamber.
In an interference engine, if the timing belt breaks, at least one set of valves will stop in the open position and the momentum of the engine will ram the piston in that cylinder up into the valves – leading to a very expensive engine repair or replacement. This is because the position of the piston at the top of its stroke will occupy the same physical space that the open valves do whilst at the bottom of its stroke. In a non-interference engine however, you usually won’t suffer any valve damage because the piston cannot physically touch the open valves. This is because the valves do not occupy any space that the piston could move into. The explanations can get a bit technical, but generally, you need to know whether your engine is an interference or non-interference engine, as your approaches may differ based on that. But to simplify this further, as a general rule of thumb, you should be checking on your belts (particularly the timing belt and accessory drive belt) every 25,000 miles. Even better, would be to replace it every 50,000 miles, just for good measure.
Remember: checking of your timing belts is a necessity, not a luxury – which is why we have it as the first point to drive the importance of this home.
Your Oil Level
If the engine is the ‘heart’ of your car, then your oil level is the ‘lifeblood’ fueling it. This is another basic check that everyone at any skill level can and should do. If your oil level is too high or too low, it can cause trouble for your engine.
Here’s how to properly check it:
- Make sure to park your car on a level ground, and wait until your engine has cooled down after driving.
- Locate the dipstick, pull it out, and wipe it clean.
- Push it all the way back in until the top of it is seated properly in the dip tube again.
- Wait for a moment, and then pull it out again to check the level of oil.
Note: the ‘high’ and ‘low’ marks can be denoted by a ‘H’/’L’, 2 dots, or a shaded area on the dipstick.
If the level is between the High and Low marks, then its fine.
An important caveat: you can’t just check the oil level after pulling it out for the first time. This is because the dipstick will have oil all over it the first time round, making it difficult to precisely tell where the level is.
To make sure you get an accurate enough reading, cleaning it first, and then dipping it back into the oil is the best way to go.
Also, some people will insist in keeping the crankcase topped off completely, and they’ll check the dipstick just after shutting down the engine. This is also not the recommended way to check for oil levels, as a large quantity of oil is still confined in the oilways and passages of the engine, and will naturally take some time for it to drain back into the crankcase.
By doing this and not actually getting the proper readings of your oil levels, an unassuming beginner might actually fill up more oil to his car although it already has more than enough of it – leading to an engine overfilled with oil.
Needless to say, the repercussions of that occurring to your car are quite detrimental, but as that is outside the scope of this post, you can check out this website to learn more about how overfilling can be a serious problem for your ride.
Your Coolant Level
Another basic procedure that tends to get overlooked, but is just as important for your overall car health is checking your coolant levels. As we’ve covered here on the importance of checking your coolant level, you should know that a low coolant level can lead to an overheating of your car’s engine.
To get a more in-depth post on the effects of overheating as well as how to prevent it, check out this post: Everyone Dreads an Overheating Car
But regardless of whether your car faces an overheating problem or not, checking your coolant levels should be a staple in your car maintenance procedures. Every engine is different, but you can find your coolant reservoir by simply checking your handbook (usually bolted to one side of the engine bay or the other; a white semi-transparent bottle).
The procedure for this is similar to checking your oil levels.
Once again, waiting till your engine is cool is a vital step that should not be overlooked, and once it is cool, you will be able to check the level by observing whether it is between the ‘low’ and ‘high’ markings (which in this case should be on the outside.)
As with our previous post on the overheating engine, we find that it is crucially important for us to repeat this: Do not take the radiator cap off to check coolant levels. If it is still hot, that means that it is still under pressure and the pressure release will burn you.
Quite ironic when checking a cooling system, but yes, life can be a cruel irony at times.
Any car-owner/DIY enthusiast/beginner should be able to pull these 3 quick checks off for their car maintenance.
There are of course, thousands of other checks, tweaks and procedures you can do to enhance your car’s health and performance (as evident by all the posts in our site), but like we mentioned earlier, these 3 procedures should be the staple and backbone of what constitutes as a basic car maintenance guide.
The tips should give you a clear direction as you begin to learn more about your car and its thousands of features, but for now, take these simplified tips and implement them regularly to keep your car (and ultimately, you), healthy and happy.