Do It Yourself Tips

Click on a topic to learn more:

Check / Add Oil
Check / Replace the Air Filter
Check / Add Brake Fluid
Check the Coolant
Check the Battery
Check the Automatic Transmission Fluid
Check the Power Steering Fluid

Check / Add Oil

There is a special oil level measurement device sticking out of one side of the engine block called the dipstick. It is a metal rod with a small ring at the top. Pull this out and wipe it on a clean paper towel or rag. Re-insert it and pull it out again. Many dipsticks need to bend to be re-inserted, so you might only be able to get it to go back in when itís in the same orientation that it was when you took it out. Read the oil level on the stick and note its appearance. It is normal for modern oils to be slightly dirty even after a short period of use, but if the oil is very dark, have it changed soon. To get an accurate reading, you should check the oil after the vehicle has been sitting for at least a few minutes, so that most of the oil has flowed back into the reservoir at the bottom of the engine.

If the level on the dipstick shows ďfullĒ, thatís fine, but if the level shows "low", either put some in yourself or ask someone to do it for you.

To add oil you will have to locate the large cap at the top of the engine block that unscrews or lifts off. Add a small amount of oil at a time, frequently checking the level on the dipstick. After some experience, you will learn that a certain distance on the dipstick translates to a certain amount of oil. Consult your ownerís manual for information on the proper type of oil for your car and weather conditions. Do not forget to put the oil filler cap back, unless you want an unbelievable mess, and the possibility of engine damage..
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Check / Replace the Air Filter

The large round or square thing at the top of the engine is the air cleaner housing that contains the air filter. Unscrew the wing nut at the top or unclip the clips, remove the top cover, and simply lift the round filter out. The filter is a pleated paper device and you should be able to see light through it. If no light comes through, hold it in its normal, bottom-down, and tap it gently on the ground a couple of times in order to remove any dust. If itís still not possible to see light come through, replace the filter.

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Check / Add Brake Fluid

Near the back of the engine, on the driverís side of the car, is a small box or bottle with tubing going in and out. This is the brake master cylinder and it holds a reservoir of brake fluid. In many newer cars, the reservoir is made from translucent or transparent plastic and the level of the fluid can be checked without doing anything except looking.

If you canít see the fluid level, you will have to remove a cap that may be held on with a retaining spring. The spring can be popped off with a screwdriver. Make sure the area around the cap is clean before opening it. Wipe away any dirt or dust with a paper towel. It is very important not to let any dirt or foreign matter get into the reservoir, because this might interfere with the operation of the brakes.

Remove the cover and the rubber diaphragm that sits beneath it. The brake fluid should be within a half inch of the top in both chambers, or up to the fill line if there is one. Use ONLY the EXACT type of brake fluid that is specified by the manufacturer of the vehicle. Look in your ownerís manual or contact the dealer. Purchase the smallest amount possible and discard the rest. Once opened, do not store it for use at a later date since it will evaporate and gather moisture from the air, making it unsafe to use.

Carefully, and with cleanliness, replace the rubber diaphragm and cover. It may be necessary to push the diaphragm to its uppermost position with your finger before you can get the cover back on. Having to add brake fluid once in a while does not indicate a particular problem. However, finding that you must do so often, indicates a leak somewhere. Have that situation checked immediately.
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Check the Coolant

Most modern cars have a translucent plastic overflow tank that holds extra coolant, and it is attached to the radiator with a hose or tube. Simply check to see that the level is up to the mark. If you need to add coolant, use a mixture of half water and half antifreeze. If you donít have an overflow tank, youíll need to remove the radiator cap itself. The coolant level should be within a couple of inches of the top. Donít remove the cap from a hot radiator. Wait at least 20 minutes for the engine to cool down, and always cover the cap with a rag as you remove it, to avoid hot water coming into contact with your skin..
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Check the Battery

Protect your eyes, skin and clothing from the battery acid.

Unscrew the six small caps or pry off the bars with a screwdriver. Look inside. The fluid should cover the plates. Most batteries have a fill indicator inside each cell that shows the correct level. Use distilled water to fill the cells. The holes to fill a battery are pretty small and itís easy to make a mess unless you have something that allows dispensing a small amount of water at a time. Best is a battery filler - inexpensive and available at auto parts shops.

Do not smoke or otherwise have an open flame near a battery. Batteries generate hydrogen and can explode.

Do not get any of the battery fluid on you or your clothes. It is sulphuric acid and will burn your skin and your clothing. If you do get exposed to it, flush the area with a lot of water immediately. If the acid comes into contact with your eyes, flush well with lots of water and seek medical attention immediately.

If you have a sealed battery, there is no need, or possibility, of adding fluid. Many of these batteries have charge indicators that give an estimate of their condition, however. Thereís a little window at the top of the battery and you may need to wipe it off to see it. Dark with a green dot in the centre of the window means the battery is fully charged. If there is no dot, the battery needs charging and there could be something wrong with the electrical system. A yellow dot or clear window means that the battery is not accepting a charge and should be replaced. Batteries fail in mysterious ways; sometimes they seem fine one minute and might not even turn over the starter in the next.
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Check the Automatic Transmission Fluid

Check the ATF only after the transmission has been warmed up to operating temperature. Park on a level spot, put on the handbrake, leave the engine running at idle, and locate the ATF dipstick. This might be located along the back of the engine, but there are other possible places, depending on the make and model of the engine and transmission. Consult the ownerís manual or an auto technician if you are not sure. Do not confuse the transmission dipstick with the oil level dipstick. The ATF dipstick usually is much shorter and has writing on it, indicating what it does.

Pull the dipstick out and wipe it with a clean paper towel. Re-insert it and check the level several times until the readings seem consistent. The fluid is moving around and has a tendency to splash a bit giving changes in readings. If the level is low, fluid is added using a small funnel down the dipstick tube itself. Itís very important to use the correct fluid for your particular vehicle and that information is likely both stamped on the dipstick itself and printed in the ownerís manual. The fluid should be a nice red or pink color, not brown or smell burnt.
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Check the Power Steering Fluid

The fluid reservoir may be near the power steering pump, or may be located on the wall at the rear of the engine and connected by a hose to the pump. Many modern cars have a translucent plastic reservoir and the level can easily be observed. Some cars have a small dipstick built into the cap. The ownerís manual should be consulted for the type of fluid required, and that information may also be printed on the reservoir.
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These DIY tips should only be carried out if you feel competent.
If in any doubt, just call your Auto Technician for advice.