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Beguyled: Don’t fear the mechanic



Keeping your car running well is really not black magic. Here’s how to make your car last 200,000 miles. You CAN do all of this yourself, or if you choose to use a service station/mechanic, you’ll know exactly what to have done and when.

Don’t ask the internet “experts”. Everything you need to know you will find in the owner’s manual for YOUR car. You can find the owner’s manual in your glove box or you can download it online. Your owner’s manual will tell you two critical things for each item in your car. How often to change it and exactly what to use when changing it. Ignore the “experts” and follow your owner’s manual recommendations!

The first two things to find in your owner’s manual are the recommended gas octane level and tire pressure. These are things you need to get right to make your car run well every day.

  • Gas: Most cars built after 1975 will require unleaded mid-grade – 87 octane or higher. That’s the number on the button you press to select gas at the pump. You can use higher number octane – it won’t hurt your car, but it won’t run better either. Do NOT use lower number octane. If used long enough it will damage your engine. If your engine sounds like there are a bunch of gremlins with hammers inside, it’s likely due to lower number octane gas (or possibly bad/old gas). Fill up with the right gas octane number asap.
  • Tires: Get in the habit of glancing at them when you’re near your car. Get a tire pressure gauge and keep it in your glove box. The correct air pressure will be listed in your owner’s manual and usually on a sticker on the door frame. Check air pressure when the tires are cool, which means before you drive it. If a tire is low, you don’t need to wait for it to cool to fill it. Put in a couple more pounds than recommended and then set the right level when the tires are cool. If you fill a tire and it’s low the next day, you have a nail or slow leak. Get it fixed immediately before it leaves you stranded.

The second thing to find in the owner’s manual is the maintenance schedule. It tells you how & when to check & change your engine oil, air filter and a few other fluids and some items that wear out. Many of the fluids may be checked by simply opening the hood and you’ll see the level without touching anything.

  • Oil & Oil Filter: This is the single most important thing you can do to make our car last a long time. Change at mileage recommended in your owner’s manual – not the oil service station sticker. Changing the oil too frequently is simply throwing money away and killing the environment. Change the filter every time you change the oil.
  • Air Filter: This is the second most important thing you can do to keep your car running well. Change it at the interval recommended in your owner manual.
  • Window Washer fluid, – Fill regularly – especially in the winter. If you live where it freezes, never just use water.
  • Automatic Transmission: Never let it get below the minimum mark. Read your manual for instructions on how to check the level – it’s different than checking engine oil.
  • Antifreeze, Brake Fluid & Power Steering Fluid: Never let it get below the minimum mark.
  • Rotate tires. This will make them last longer, give you experience changing them, and let you spot any nails in them. Learn how to change a flat tire. It’s easy and will save you from being stranded.
  • Brakes: As long as they feel normal and are stopping you they’re fine. Brakes are designed to make a squealing noise when they need to be replaced. If you don’t replace them when they start to squeal, they’ll soon start making a grinding noise, which is the sound of money flying out of your wallet. Don’t wait that long.
  • Don’t use oil or fuel additives unless the owner’s manual tells you to.

Watch the gauges & warning lights on your dash. Your owner’s manual explains what each of the lights means and what to do about it. If the oil light illuminates, stop immediately and check the oil level. NEVER start the engine if the oil level is below the minimum mark. A check engine light is usually a loose gas cap (retighten it) or bad gas (fill with the right octane asap).

Watch for leaks under your car. A few drops a month is probably not an issue. A puddle is a problem – find the source and fix it. The one exception is your Air Conditioner – which will leave a puddle of condensation (water) under your car when it’s been running.

If something electrical doesn’t work, first check the fuse box for a blown fuse. Your owner’s manual will tell you where the fuse boxes are located.

Replace windshield wipers when they start streaking or not clearing your window. They are cheap and easy to replace so don’t wait until you’re forced to do it in a blizzard.

Most cars are easy to replace burned out headlight, taillight or other bulbs.


I suggest hand washing your car. If you use a carwash, NEVER use the tire brush on the paint!

Clean the inside of your windows to prevent glare. Always use the fresh air setting – only use the recirculate setting briefly to avoid smoke or smell.

Finally, pay attention to your car. Listen for unusual sounds. Feel unusual vibrations / bouncing / knocking. Find the source of any unusual smells. If something is wrong, fix it now – don’t wait for it to become a bigger, more expensive problem.

If you’ll follow this bit of advice I promise you a much happier relationship with your car, your mechanic and your wallet.