DIY under the bonnet basics
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.