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3 Car Maintenance Basics You Ought to Know

Owning and driving a car is a great privilege that provides freedom and independence. Cars, however, need some maintenance to keep running well. The driver cannot simply put gas in and drive forever worry-free. The last thing anyone wants to be is stranded on the side of the road, on the way to school or work, only to find later it could have been avoided by following these three car maintenance basics.

1. Tire Pressure
Tires are filled with air, so ensuring proper tire pressure is a very important part of car maintenance. If the air pressure in the tires is too low, the car will suffer from poor fuel mileage. If the pressure is too high, the tires will wear out prematurely and the car will be difficult to control. Checking tire pressure is a relatively simple procedure. A tire pressure gauge is needed, which can be bought at most any gas station for fewer than five dollars. Tire pressure should be checked when the tires are cold (the car has not been driven for at least a couple hours). Each tire has a 'valve stem', similar to a bicycle, which allows air to be pumped in at pressure. Unscrew the dust cap from the end of the valve stem. Then, depress the tire pressure gauge onto the valve stem. The pressure is given as PSI (pounds per square inch). Refer to the owner's manual for proper pressure levels. If the tires are in need of air, most gas stations have air compressors available. Most popular tire retailers will also fill and check tires at no charge.

2. Lights
One car maintenance basic that is regularly neglected is the lights. Being able to see well at night is important, and you want to ensure other drivers can see you day or night. Properly functioning tail lights, brake lights, and turn signals alert other drivers of your intentions and allow them to make adjustments, if necessary, to avoid an accident. Many new cars are featuring LED lights, but most cars on the road still have halogen or incandescent bulbs which need to be checked regularly. With the car running, turn one turn signal on and walk to the front and rear of the car to make sure they are flashing like they should, and then check the other direction. For brake lights and tail lights, back the car up to about two feet of a garage door, or wall. The reflection of the lights can be seen on the wall. Check that all tail lights are working, then depress the brake pedal to check the brake lights. For the head lights, simply point the front of the car at the same wall. Turn on the headlights, and then the high beams.

3. Oil Level
This car maintenance basic, if neglected, can result in major repair bills. Oil is the life blood of the engine. Oil lubricates many moving parts, removes dirt and contaminates, and displaces heat. If the oil gets too low, the engine may suffer damage. To check the oil level, park the car on a level spot such as the street or in the garage, and turn the engine off. Open the hood of the car and prop it securely with the prop rod. Have a rag or paper towel handy. Be careful, the engine will be hot if the car was just turned off. The oil 'dipstick' will be near the front of the engine, and is usually topped with a small T-handle marked "oil." Pull the dipstick out vertically until it comes completely out from the engine. Wipe the oil from the end with a rag. Return the dipstick to the engine and pull it back out. This process ensures a proper reading of the oil level. The oil level should be between the hash-marks near the end of the dipstick. If the level is below the acceptable amount, more can be added through a larger access hole on top of the engine.

These three car maintenance basics should be performed every week. It is good practice to set a schedule, such as every Saturday morning to ensure the maintenance checks are always done; keeping you, and your car, on the road. There are a myriad of other things, such as the air filter, brake fluid, and power steering fluid that need to be checked at fewer intervals. These can usually be checked by your mechanic at the time of an oil change. Refer to the vehicle's owner manual for specific information for each car. Read more Car Maintenance tips for Teens.