Car Maintenance 101: Fluid Levels & Check Engine Light
The idea of trying to do your own…even basic car maintenance can seem overwhelming. Just looking under the hood of your car may appear like a confusing maze of hoses, wires and belts. Some vehicle maintenance should generally be assigned to your trusted local professional mechanic…but here are a few things that you can easily take care of yourself.
Checking Fluid Levels
Fluids play a vital role in your vehicle’s engine health. So, pop the hood and follow along for ways to ensure you are doing your part to keep your vehicle running smoothly.
Park your car in a well-lit, flat area and let it cool off for at least 20 minutes. Then, prop your hood up and you’re ready to go.
You should check your fluid levels every 1-2 months.
Items to Keep in Your Vehicle at All Times:
Spare rag or towel
Gloves (optional, but a good way to protect your hands)
Wipes for cleaning your hands
How to Check Your Oil
Locate the dipstick. It’s a thin rod with a circular ring at the top or there might be a small handle. Don’t mistake it for your transmission fluid dipstick. Check your owner’s manual or vehicle guide to be sure.
Pull the dipstick all the way out, wipe the end of it on a rag or a towel to clean it and reinsert the stick. This will help you get a clean reading of the fluid level.
After a few moments, pull the dipstick out again and look to see if the oil level is near the FULL line.
If it isn’t, you may need to add more oil (your owner’s manual should tell you what kind of oil to use).
Never overfill your oil reservoir.
To add oil, you need to locate the oil reservoir (Note: You cannot add oil through the tube containing the dip stick. Use your owner’s manual to identify the proper location). Remove the cap, use a funnel to add oil, wipe up any oil that may have spilled, return the cap securely and recheck the levels after giving it time to settle.
If you find you’re adding oil regularly, you probably have a leak and should have it checked by a professional.
If the oil is black or dark brown, instead of a shiny, clear light brown, then you probably need to have the oil changed.
How to Check Your Windshield Wiper Fluid
Identify the windshield wiper fluid reservoir. Typically it’s a large, white plastic container with an image of a windshield on the lid.
If you aren’t sure it’s the correct reservoir, consult your owner’s manual or vehicle guide.
If the fluid level is lower than the fill line or less than three-quarters full, remove the cap and add windshield wiper fluid using a funnel. Do not add water.
Wiper fluid is a mixture of soap and anti-freeze to ensure the fluid does not freeze in cold weather. You can purchase the fluid for a few dollars at most gas stations, and any auto parts store.
Be sure to secure the lid when you’re finished.
Check Engine Light
“Service engine.” “Check engine.” “Service engine soon.” Regardless of what that little control panel indicator may say, it can strike fear into the hearts and minds of drivers. While we can’t advise you on how to solve the problem, we would like to offer a little insight into this mysterious and worrisome indicator.
Why is my check engine light on?
It depends on a few factors since every car is slightly different. You should plan on taking your car to a mechanic or the dealer to have it looked at—sooner rather than later—since many of the issues reported by the check engine light can be seriously damaging to your engine. However, some vehicles do have slight variations in the indicator to express whether it’s a dire emergency or something to get checked within a few weeks.
Your owner’s manual may shed some light on how the indicator is displayed for your vehicle, but here are a few common scenarios:
If the check engine light appears as a solid light, this can (on some makes and models) indicate a less serious issue.
If the indicator lights up and blinks, this usually means it’s something more serious that requires immediate attention. It’s like a “Hey! Over here! Pay attention to me!” distress call.
Some manufacturers distinguish severity by the color of the indicator. Yellow can mean important but not serious while red indicates a more pressing issue that requires attention.
Regardless of whether it’s blinking, solid, yellow or red, you still need to have a professional look at the vehicle.