The Secret To Easy Car Care – and Keeping Repair Bills Low

Audra Fordin Easy Car Care

And It’s Super Sexy: Read Your Manual.

You’re driving and hear a weird noise. “What the heck is that?” Next, you feel a shimmying sensation. “That can’t be good.” As if things weren’t bad enough, you notice a smell worse than dirty laundry. To confirm your suspicion that something has gone terribly wrong, the check engine light comes on. You pull over to make a few calls. After a tow truck picks you up, you find yourself at the auto shop.

The service adviser asks you all kinds of questions about the sights, smells, sounds, and sensations you happened to experience. It all transpired so fast that you’re struggling to remember the specifics.

“Were you driving on a hill or flat surface?”

“Was your foot on the gas or brake pedal?”

“Did the smell seem more sweet or salty to you?

“How fast were you driving when this happened?”

“When did your check engine light begin to flash?”

Anxious yet? But don’t worry just yet! There are some simple secrets to easy car care, plus some quick actions you can do right now!

What You Need to Know about Your Car

Many women depend on their father, brother, husband, or a male friend for auto advice. I hope you’re not one of them because you could break down hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. Or find out that he doesn’t know any more than you do. Or both.

But taking care of your car isn’t as difficult as you think. You don’t have to be an auto expert. You just need to be aware of your car’s needs.

Cars have changed a lot in recent years. Engines used to be controlled by mechanical parts only. Today’s engines still contain mechanical parts, but they’re controlled by computers. Modern mechanics aren’t unlike the geek squad, because everything is so computerized.

Easy Car Care Secret #1: Tune-Ups Are No Longer A Thing

Sadly, the auto industry hasn’t done a great job of educating the public about these changes. Drivers still come to my repair shop and ask for “tune-ups,” which have become an outdated service. Like I said, modern engines are controlled by computers. There is nothing to “tune up.”

Note: There’s an interesting story behind where the phrase “tune-up” came from. Old engines had mechanical parts that needed to be repaired and replaced every now and then. When the job was done correctly, the parts made a buzzing (or “tuning”) sound. This is where “tune-ups” were born.

Instead of asking for a “tune-up,” follow the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle. (Hint: You can find this information in the back of your owner’s manual. Go check it out!)

Your maintenance schedule was created by the people who made your vehicle. It’s MUCH better to follow their suggestions than get a “tune-up” and hope everything will be OK. Feel free to ask your car mechanic or technician: “Will you make sure my recommended maintenance is up-to-date?”

Audra Fordin Easy Car Maintenance

You don’t have to be an expert like Audra Fordin to be sure your car’s basic systems are working properly. Photo: Audra Fordin

Secret #2: Neglect Is Expensive; Preventative Maintenance is Not

Emergency repairs happen at the worst time possible. You’re driving to work, run over broken glass, get a flat tire, and your whole day is ruined. Some emergency repairs (such as the one in this example) are a result of bad luck. You can’t do anything to prevent it. However, most emergency repairs are a result of neglect… and you can totally prevent those!

Preventive maintenance is like eating a healthy diet to reduce the risk of diabetes, which is a serious and unfortunately very expensive condition. Invest in the safety and performance of your vehicle today, because doing so might help you prevent a serious traffic wreck or more expensive repair in the future. Considering that traffic accidents kill more than 46,000 Americans every year, it’s safe to say preventive maintenance is a smart investment.

Secret #3: Your Car Needs Care Just Like A Member of Your Family

We become complacent about the condition of our cars. It’s a symptom of all this technological advancement. Cars are a hundred times safer than they used to be. They don’t require half as much maintenance as in the past. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have any responsibilities. Owning a car is like adopting a dog or cat because it can’t take care of itself.

So, how can a driver embrace prevention? It helps to be mindful of what causes traffic accidents. You’re approaching a red light and your brakes fail. You’re going 70 MPH or more and your tire blows out. You’re driving in a rain storm and a windshield wiper breaks. You’re traveling on a cold day and your engine runs out of coolant. (Note: Coolant is like your car’s circulatory system because it prevents overheating).

Most of these issues can be prevented by simply following the recommended maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. And being observant. Here are some good questions to consider:

  • Are you having to apply more force to your brakes than normal?
  • When is the last time you inspected your tire tread to confirm it’s not running thin?
  • Do you have a spare wiper blade and jug of coolant (a.k.a. antifreeze) in your trunk?
Audra Fordin Easy Car Maintenance

Even the guys can learn a thing or two: Audra demonstrates checking the health of windshield wipers. Photo: Audra Fordin

Quick Action Steps You Can Follow Now

Taking care of your car is not something to be taken lightly. Or ignored. Someday, your life – and those of your passengers – might depend on it. Convinced? Here’s a fast and easy car care checklist:

Brace yourself for emergency situations.

I encourage you to keep an emergency kit in your trunk. It’s like insurance. Hopefully, you never have to use it, but it doesn’t hurt to cover your butt. Spare coolant and wiper blades are a good start, but toss in a flashlight, phone charger, jumper cables, and winter attire – gloves, blanket, warm coat – if you’re driving in cold weather! Waiting for a tow truck isn’t as bad when you’re able to bundle up.

Read the owner’s manual for your vehicle.

You don’t have to read it word-for-word. Look for a diagram of your engine. Especially note the location of your fluids. I recommend checking their levels once a month and before any road trips. Confused? Ask a trusted mechanic to show you where they are the next time you’re at an auto shop. Bookmark the recommended maintenance schedule and follow those suggestions to add productive years to your vehicle’s life.

Pay attention to what your car is telling you.

Car problems don’t come out of nowhere. There are typically warning signs, but you won’t notice them unless you’re observant! The check engine light is the most obvious sign of a problem. Other signs include: a sharp or sudden decrease in gas mileage; a “shimmying” motion at high speeds; and any other unusual sights, smells, sounds, or sensations.

Tip: keep pen and paper in your car. Make notes about what happened while it’s fresh on your memory, and share those with your mechanic to speed up the process of fixing your car.

Follow these tips to feel confident in your role as a driver and vehicle owner. Got questions? Tell me in the comments! If you have a friend who would be helped by this advice, feel free to share.

Master mechanic, automotive expert and teacher, Audra Fordin is the author of End Auto Anxiety, CEO of Women Auto... More about Audra Fordin