Doing your own car maintenance: 6 simple checks to keep your car running smoothly and safely
Learn how to check tyres, fluids, and lights to keep your car running smoothly and safely.
Keeping your car well-maintained is crucial for safety. It can also keep your car going strong for longer and avoid bigger problems down the track.
We recommend doing these simple car maintenance checks once every month, and especially before any long trips or busy booking periods such as Christmas, Easter, or long weekends.
Anyone can perform these checks, but please always make sure the car and engine are cool, and take care while you're doing it.
If you're not confident doing your own car maintenance, you might be interested in attending a car maintenance workshop, such as Galmatic (though this is for women only, and Sydney-based.)
If you have any continuing problems with your car, or if you find that each time you check these things there is something not quite right, this might be an early indication that something is wrong with the car and you should get it checked out by a mechanic.
Our recommended mechanics can be found on the Car car services page.
Six Simple Do-it-Yourself Car Maintenance Checks
- To check the oil, wait until the engine is cool, and make sure the car is parked on level ground. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel.
- Push it all the way back in, wait a second, then pull it back out again. The oil level should be in between the 'high' and 'low' marks on the dipstick.
- If it's low, top it up.
- Each car is different, but the coolant reservoir will usually be a white transparent bottle bolted to one side of the engine bay under your car's bonnet. It may have the word 'coolant' on it, or a symbol of an engine or radiator.
- Wait until the engine is cool
- Check that the level of coolant falls between the 'high' and 'low' indicators on the bottle.
- Check that all indicator lights, brake lights, headlights and hazard lights are working. You might need another person to check these with you while one of you sits in the driver's seat and flicks them on and off.
- If a light is out, it is usually very cheap to replace a bulb.
- This container under the bonnet usually has a symbol of a windscreen wiper on it.
- You should be able to see the level on the side of the container.
- Some people like to put special wiper fluid or detergent mixed with water in here, but water should work just fine.
- To find out what your car's tyre pressure should be, check the manufacturer's tyre placard. This is usually found just inside the drivers door, or the passenger door in some European cars, in the glove box, under the fuel door, or under the bonnet.
- Tyre pressure should be checked when the tyre is cold, so don't check it straight after you've just been driving.
- Most service stations' air hoses will be equipped to read the pressure, and allow you to fill to the recommended pressure.
- All car tyres have tread wear indicator bars moulded into the tyre.
- You can feel them if you run your finger in between the big tread grooves towards the middle of the tyre.
- There should be at least 1.5mm in between the depth indicator and the actual tread, by law, but some recommend a depth closer to 3mm for optimal safety.
Find out more about tyres in our article about how long tyres should last.