Tuning Into a Good Tune-Up: Car Care for the Newly Mobile

For most people, owning a car is more than just a blessing disguised under two tons of steel and a shiny coat of paint with that coveted “new car smell.” It means freedom, possibilities, and a distinctly American way of getting from point A to point B (or C, D, and Z). While the majority of us use our cars to commute to and from our place of business, they have a special place in our hearts just like the furry friends we feel affectionate toward when we start grilling steaks. But do you care enough for your car? It may seem like the last item on your “to do” list, but where are we without them? After all, there is no steak without that smooth ride to the grocery store.

If you think that cars are overrated and scooters (or bicycles) are the way to go, think again. While the latter get better gas mileage by far, cars are more than just a hot commodity. They are one of the most prolific items owned in our society outside of cell phones or wallets. In fact, there is almost one car for every person in the United States (even babies and children). That’s approximately 330 million vehicles out and about, sputtering and puttering (unless, of course, their owners have taken phenomenal care of them).

Lots of people don’t know how to properly take care of their car, which is a shame. The constant oil changes, tire rotations, and which cleaning scent to pick is enough to make anybody go crazy. Luckily it’s not that hard to keep your automobile running like the well-oiled machine it’s supposed to be if you follow some basic car maintenance and repair tips. Don’t worry, your mechanic will thank you.

Getting Gassed Up Is a Science

You’ve probably been to a gas station so many times in your life that you don’t even give it a second thought anymore. Along with diesel or regular gasoline, it’s just another place to get your favorite tortilla chips or sour gummy worms with the occasional coffee. But how much do you really know about the gasoline that you put in your vehicle and how it affects performance? It’s one of those car maintenance and repair tips that rarely gets discussed because of how trivial it seems.

In the USA, gasoline is sold by its octane level. Octane levels (also known as octane ratings or numbers) indicate which type of engine the gasoline or diesel fuel should go in, with higher numbers correlating toward higher performance engines. These numbers usually run from 85-94 depending on the region. Most cars only require regular unleaded (87), but some specialty cars require mid-grade (89) and almost all high-performance cars require the maximum octane (91). Depending on the car you have, you can usually get away with putting in higher quality fuel (if you can afford it), but not the other way around. It’s worth checking your car’s user manual to find out what the manufacturer deems the appropriate fuel type for your vehicle so that you don’t cause unnecessary damage and spend an afternoon (or three) in the automotive repair shop.

Keeping a Kit for All the Hazards of the Road

It’s better to be safe than sorry, right? We prepare in all manners of our lives, from taking vitamins to buying insurance. But rarely do we look in the back of our cars and check off our “emergency kit” should anything happen on the road. It’s a smart thing to have, and need not be large to provide for a variety of situations.

For general emergencies, you can count on having some energy bars, flashlight, blanket, and a roadmap as four items that will keep you calm no matter where you’re stranded. The energy bars will hold you over until morning, and the blanket will give you a more restful sleep even in the uncomfortable confines of your car. With the flashlight you can study the roadmap to pinpoint where you are at night, even if your car is completely dead and has no light available. Since it’s much easier to sleep if you have a snack and some semblance of where you are and the next town is, all these items work in tandem to hold you overnight in an emergency. Perhaps you’ll even dream of some car maintenance and repair tips to get you out of a pickle the next morning.

For a repair situation, one of the best car maintenance tips and tricks is to keep jumper cables as your main go-to. Mechanical problems can be hard to diagnose on your own, so it’s better to get it to a mechanic, but battery drainage is a common problem that jumper cables solve. Just be wary that once people know you have these cables, you’ll be doing a lot of favors for stranded strangers. If you’re even more inclined, pick up a fix-a-flat kit with rubber spray. These little kits allow you to patch tires and re-inflate them at will, turning a sack of rubber into a wheel again and getting you moving.

Treat Your Mechanic Like Your (Car’s) Doctor

If you’re staying on top of your health, it’s likely that you go for a check-up at the doctor at least once a year. It only makes sense, right? You’d like to catch problems early before they snowball into life-threatening (or expensive) catastrophes. So why not apply the same sound logic to your car? If you treat your mechanic just like your doctor and cultivate a personal relationship, not only will you most likely receive better service vehicle, but your vehicle will thank you with better performance.

Sometimes it can be hard to find both a trustworthy and reliable mechanic, especially one that’s used to working on your type and model of vehicle. The easiest place to start is your local branded dealership. The major benefit of going with a dealer is that not only can they provide auto sales in your same make/model if you are tired of your current car, but they can offer specific, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts for your vehicle so that it’s like it came straight from the factory. Whatever model your car is, they’ve heard of it and had to deal with it at some point or another. From auto AC service to tuning a stubborn steering wheel, they should be able to fix it.

Living in a rural or less populated area can mean that dealerships are out of the cards for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a reputable local mechanic. Through word-of-mouth, online reviews, and visiting their shop you can find a local mechanic that is willing to work on your car for the right price. Just because they aren’t necessarily familiar with your vehicle’s make/model doesn’t mean they can’t learn, and they may even be able to provide some car maintenance and repair tips that you won’t find in any manual.

Repairs You Can DIY

It can be overwhelming, especially if you lack mechanical knowledge, to attempt any sort of auto repair on your own. You might think to yourself “I can’t possibly wiggle those gears and pop those tubes and whatnot, it’s just not for me. I can’t implement car maintenance and repair tips on my own.” And while you may have been correct in earlier years, car manufacturers have made diagnosing and correcting common repairs easier than ever. You can even look up DIY car maintenance and repair tips online now to find out what’s easiest to do on your specific vehicle. Many video series and books have been published on popular car models, allowing you to learn and performance maintenance like a pro if you have the dedication and toolset.

Replacing your own windshield wipers and washer fluid are usually something that can be performed by any car owner. The mechanisms of these systems is not complicated and either requires simple snap on/off functions, or lifting up a cap to pour.It will help to look up a video of your windshield wipers and learn how to properly take them and and off. Then you can buy premium wiper blades at an auto store and install them yourself to spectacular results for a luxury feel. Similarly, windshield washer fluid is simply held in a reservoir next to the engine and has a cap on top. Unlock the cap and fill up the reservoir with your favorite washer fluid. Once you’ve done these two things, you’ve saved yourself numerous hassles with driving blind or a dirty windshield along with all the inflated costs that a repair shop would charge to do these simple procedures. You have the power!

Brakes and Insurance Are Your Friend

One of the oldest car maintenance and repair tips is “if it can’t go, that’s fine. But if it can’t stop, that’s a problem.” After the engine, the brakes are probably the most important part on your car and are responsible for helping you avoid some life-or-death scenarios. Not being able to start your car is bad enough, but not being able to stop it might kill you or someone else. Make sure to get your brakes inspected regularly by a qualified mechanic, and don’t skimp on replacing them. Like quality gasoline, good brakes are worth their weight in gold and add to the overall performance of your car.

You’ve been trying out all the latest car maintenance and repair tips above, but still the inevitable happens. What now? Before this happens, it can be extremely beneficial to get a decent insurance policy. And by “decent,” it means trying to find one with the maximum amount of coverage (amount you receive in accident), lowest deductibles (what you pay out of pocket) for the lowest premiums (monthly cost) available. A good insurance policy can easily be worth far more than a totaled car would ever be in scrap, and even if it only pays out 75% of what you expect that is better than nothing at all. There are now more comparison tools than ever to find quality insurance at lower prices, and a lot of bargaining/dealing can be done over the phone. Take good rates you find and mention them to other brokers, who may be able to off you a better rate.

When Repairs Collide With Reality

Collisions happen. Life happens. But when the two collide together to seemingly ruin your week and necessitate automotive repair on a massive level, it can seem like a daunting landscape to navigate. The first thing you should do after a collision occurs is check yourself and the other driver for signs of physical damage. A car can be replaced, but a human life cannot.

If you’re both OK and can wiggle your toes, then it’s time to take a long-overdue look at your auto insurance policy card, call the phone number on the back, and have a chat about what just happened. Hopefully, you’ve been paying for a good automotive insurance plan all along, but even if you only have liability insurance it’s still the right move to make. It is almost universally the law that when two drivers get into an accident it should be reported to the police, otherwise it could be classified as a “hit and run,” which is definitely illegal.

Your insurance agent should know all the right moves to make and will help you along in the process of getting your vehicle towed, recommending a shop for service, and what documents will be needed to make a claim. At bare minimum, you will usually need a copy of the police report of the accident, photo documentation, and the other driver’s insurance information. Once you’ve got everything squared away and organized, it’s just a simple matter of knowing whether your car is still operable or not to drive to a shop for auto maintenance. The insurance company will usually send a tow truck just in case, and they are mechanically inclined to help you tow it even if it is operable.

What Will You Do With Your New Auto Maintenance Roadmap?

Now that you’ve learned a bit about car maintenance and repair tips that anyone can use to keep their automobile crankin’ onward, what will you do with it? Pass it onto others? Hoard it like gold? Broadcast it on your local FM radio station to the masses? The possibilities for spreading the gospel of responsible car ownership are wide and limitless, just like the open road.

While it’s suggested that you share all that you’ve learned about car maintenance and repair tips (therefore making the world a better place), only you can determine what to do with it. Should you encounter a vehicle in need without help around, you can make a difference while bettering your own skills. Perhaps in lieu of payment, you can rest easy knowing that the world is now a more sound mechanical environment. But one thing’s for sure: your wallet (and your mechanic) will thank you for the due diligence.