Taking care of a car can be intimidating if you've never done it before, but it's really not that difficult. If you can remember to check each of these items every month then you'll be well on your way to taking great care of your car and ensuring that you get as many miles as possible out of your vehicle.
This is a simple checklist of 6 things you should regularly check on your car.
Always, always, always remember to check your coolant level when your engine is cold. A hot engine will pressurize your cars coolant, and if you unscrew the cap while it's hot then you risk having scalding liquid spray you as soon as the cap is out of place, so be sure the engine isn't hot. After unscrewing the cap, be sure that you can see coolant inside your radiator. If you can't see it, then it's time to add some coolant; if you can see it, but it appears dirty then you'll need to go to a shop to have your radiator flushed.
Just like checking your cars coolant, you should only check your oil when the engine is cold. There's no risk of getting hurt by checking oil while the engine is hot, but doing so could give you a false reading. The dipstick on your car will usually have two markings on it, a minimum and a maximum mark. For an accurate reading on your oil level you'll need to wipe the dipstick off with a rag or paper towel and then reinsert and pull it out again. This ensures the most accurate oil reading.
Most tires on passenger vehicles do fine with an air pressure of around 35 PSI, but to get the specific numbers for your car you can open the driver side door and look for the specification decal. If you've just opened your driver side door then you can normally find this decal on the right hand side where the door closes. It will tell you certain technical information, like the weight of the car, and the optimum tire pressure. One thing to keep in mind concerning tire pressure is the weather. As seasons change it becomes more important to check your tire pressure, because every ten degree drop (fahrenheit) in temperatures equals a loss of 1 PSI in your tires, and vice versa. Again, be sure that your tires are cold when checking PSI. Driving causes your tires to warm up and can give you a false reading.
While you're checking the air pressure of your tires, go ahead and look at the tread as well. Make sure that the tires are wearing evenly, and that you still have at least 1/8 of an inch of tread left. If you're not sure what 1/8 of an inch looks like then you can use the penny test. Get a penny and turn it upside down and insert it into the grooves in your tire tread. If part of Lincoln's head is covered by tread, then you're OK, but if you can see his entire head then it's time to replace your tires.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Low windshield washer fluid won't ruin your car, but it's easy to ruin the windshield washer fluid system. If you need to add fluid, don't take the cheap route by adding windex and water, or any other homemade concoction. When winter comes, the water in your homemade solution can freeze and burst your lines. Actual windshield washer fluid contains alcohol to keep it from freezing during the winter.
This one is listed last because to check your transmission fluid you'll need to turn on your car. After turning it on, move the gear shifter through Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and back to park. While the car is still running, check the transmission fluid dipstick the same way you would check the oil - by cleaning the dipstick, replacing it, and then checking it.
Pretty easy, right? Car care isn't difficult, even if you're just starting out. Keep up with the six items on this checklist and your car will stay in great shape.