DIY un­der the bon­net ba­sics

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

LIGHTS flash­ing on the in­stru­ment panel, a dig­i­tal writ­ten re­minder, some­times even an au­di­ble warn­ing – th­ese days many new cars will let you know when some­thing is wrong. Check­ing the flu­ids in your car should be done reg­u­larly to keep it in tip-top con­di­tion in be­tween ser­vices. If you’re reg­u­larly mon­i­tor­ing oil, wa­ter and en­gine coolant, washer fluid, brake fluid and power steer­ing fluid, you’re more likely to no­tice a sud­den drop that could in­di­cate a big­ger is­sue.

For some, what’s un­der the bon­net is for­eign and many may not be con­fi­dent in con­duct­ing th­ese im­por­tant mea­sures. The owner’s man­ual (lo­cated in the glove box in most cars) will take you through it step-by-step, and we urge you to read it and get familiar. But to help out fur­ther we’ve cre­ated an il­lus­trated guide be­low.

Most cars have brightly coloured caps to help lo­cate the things you need to check. The first time is the hard­est, just fol­low th­ese sim­ple steps:

Check Oil Level Take a short drive to get the en­gine warmed up, and then en­sure the sur­face you park on is flat. Wait a few min­utes for the oil to set­tle, then pull out the dip­stick and wipe it with pa­per towel or a cloth rag. Push the dip­stick back in as far as you can, then pull it out and check the oil level isn’t too low or high.

Warn­ing: Al­ways use the oil grade as spec­i­fied in your man­ual and never over­fill as you could cause dam­age to the en­gine.

Coolant Wait for the en­gine to cool com­pletely or you risk let­ting out a burst of steam when you open the reser­voir. The level may also be higher when the en­gine is warm, but when it cools off the level should be be­tween the min and max marks. Make sure the level is within the safe-zone and if nec­es­sary, top up slowly till its full.


Washer Fluid The wind­screen washer con­tainer is also linked to the rear win­dow and head­light washer sys­tem, so for the ob­vi­ous rea­son of en­sur­ing clear visibility, you need to check the washer fluid reser­voir reg­u­larly.

To top up, pour clean wa­ter and add washer fluid to the max level. In win­ter use a washer fluid with anti-freeze.

Warn­ings: Use soft wa­ter if pos­si­ble to pre­vent scal­ing and don’t risk putting in ra­di­a­tor anti-freeze or other ad­di­tives.

Brake Fluid pads wear, but if you no­tice a big drop or if its needs fre­quent re­fill­ing, it could mean there’s an un­der­ly­ing is­sue. Check that the lev­els are in be­tween the min and max marks on the reser­voir and top up if nec­es­sary.

Warn­ings: Do not spill brake fluid on the body of the ve­hi­cle or you can cause dam­age to the paint­work. It also shouldn’t come in con­tact with skin. If you are fre­quently heavy on the brakes, it could cause a vapour lock that can put you at risk of hav­ing an ac­ci­dent by af­fect­ing the ef­fi­ciency of the brakes.

Power steer­ing to it. Wipe with a clean cloth then pop back in and re­move to check the level.

If it’s low, have a quick look around to make sure there are no leaks, then top up slowly be­ing care­ful not to over­fill.

Warn­ings: For safety rea­sons its vi­tal that your steer­ing is per­form­ing at its op­ti­mum level. Al­ways use a clean cloth and make sure no de­bris gets into the fluid, this goes for brake fluid too, as well as any hy­draulic sys­tem. If you sus­pect a leak, take it straight to your pre­ferred au­tho­rised ser­vice cen­tre.

How of­ten should I check? The rec­om­men­da­tions vary, but once a month is a good rule-of-thumb. You’re cer­tainly not likely to have to top-up all the time, but mak­ing it a regular part of your rou­tine can help pre­vent ma­jor dam­age be­cause you’ll no­tice if things aren’t right. — Carad­vice

down. Mostly false. Back in the day brakes on cars were very poor, so you had to se­lect lower gears and slow down that way. To­day, car brakes are more than up to the task of slow­ing the car. But there are two ex­cep­tions to the rule; first is when you are face with very long down­hills that re­quire a lot of brak­ing, es­pe­cially when tow­ing or heav­ily loaded. Here it is a good idea to se­lect lower gears and have the en­gine as­sist the brakes to avoid over­heat­ing. The sec­ond is when you are driv­ing in very slip­pery con­di­tions. Here it is bet­ter to se­lect a lower gear and let the en­gine slow the car to re­duce the risk of skid­ding. This works be­cause the en­gine is try­ing to drive the wheels at a lower speed yet still ro­tate them, as op­posed to brak­ing which sim­ply tries to stop the wheels from turn­ing.

ABS is bad on dirt roads. This used to be true, but is now mostly false. On loose sur­faces like dirt it is bet­ter to lock the wheels up a bit when you brake; a sort of skid­ding as it forms a neat pile in front of the tyres to help with the brak­ing process. Old ABS sys­tems never did that, and the ve­hi­cle barely slowed down. Mod­ern ABS sys­tems adapt to the ter­rain and slow ve­hi­cles down nicely what­ever the ter­rain.

Brake be­fore a cor­ner. True, and false. The ab­so­lute safest way to cor­ner is to slow to the de­sired speed be­fore a cor­ner. How­ever, ad­vanced driv­ers of­ten get the bulk of their brak­ing done be­fore a cor­ner, and smoothly re­duce the brak­ing as they turn in. This is a race­track tech­nique called trail brak­ing, and can some­times be used on the road too but nowhere near to the same ex­tent as you’d use on a track. Be clear on this – you do the bulk of your brak­ing be­fore the turn, and have be­gun smoothly re­leas­ing pres­sure as you turn. — Prac­ti­cal­mo­tor­ing

Check­ing the flu­ids in your car should be done reg­u­larly to keep it in tip-top con­di­tion in be­tween ser­vices.

Com­ing to a stop also sep­a­rates the good driver from the bad.

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