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Tips for a Happy Car: Do-it-Yourself Maintenance

So you've passed your driving test and are the proud owner of a spankin new driver's license. Your Dad reluctantly has handed over the keys to his precious ride with hopes that you will keep it in the pristine condition he had. You both know that probably won't happen.

Chances are you'll never be able to compete with your Dad's maintenance schedule over the years, but there are some basic tips to know about keeping that freedom on wheels safe and running for as long as possible.

1. Car wash

Ok, so we'll start slow. At some point, everyone has either washed a car, or seen one washed, and I'm not talking about the fundraising ones put on so guys can check out sorority girls in white shirts. Go to the auto parts store and find yourself a sturdy bucket, sponges, and car wash solution. You can even add some wax or polish after your done washing to really impress the ladies. Or you can put on a see-through white shirt instead and see if that does the trick, but I'm guessing it won't.

2. Check your tires

Before tires were invented cavemen transported themselves on foot or just sat dejectedly in their caves, dreaming of a better life on the other side of the jungle. Today, tires play a pivotal part of safety on the road so it is important to ensure they are properly inflated and have correct air pressure. This can also help with gas mileage. If you're not sure what specifications your tire pressure calls for, check your manual and pick up a tire pressure gauge.

3. Change your oil

Teen-agers run on slurpees and cheetos; cars run on oil. Without clean oil, cars don't run properly so it is important to know how to check it as well as get it flushed regularly. A typical time to get your oil changed is every three to six months or 3,000 to 4,000 miles. You can find a reputable mechanic to do this for you, or learn how to do it yourself. During a routine oil change, mechanics will also change filters, and check other fluids such as coolant, windshield wiper liquid, brake fluid, transmission fluid and others but you should also check these yourself and top them off if they are low.

4. Check your battery

A car battery should be free of any corrosion and be changed per recommended by your car manual. A weakened battery can cause stress and issues for other electronic components in your car. A battery can be purchased at an auto part store, online or even at convenient locations like Costco. They can be installed on your own, but make sure you read the manual so you don't electrocute yourself in the process.

5.  Windshield wipers

Damaged or old windshield wipers can make things difficult in precarious weather, and they are cheap to replace. Unless you are driving a Ford Model T, you should be able to find your car model at any auto parts store. You can replace them yourself.

6. Lights

It will become fairly apparent at night when you can't see more than a foot in front of you that your headlight is out. The brake lights aren't so obvious, nor are your signal lights. Make sure you test all your lights from time to time with someone at home to ensure they are working properly. You can be pulled over by police for something this simple, and they won't be as forgiving as your home tester. You can pick up these parts at your local auto store and follow the manual on how to replace.

7. Gauges/Notifications

Most people tend to use a lot of obscenities when a notification light pops up on the dashboard, or a gauge is malfunctioning, but they are a key indicator of what is going on under the hood of your vehicle. It's best to pay attention to these important signals. When they come on they're not just flashing in a feeble attempt to attract the female gauges in the car. There has yet to be a notification that says Jim your car feels great today, keep doing what you're doig, so look up what the it means in your manual. Typically this will tell you whether you should bring your car in for service, assess if you can replace yourself, or if you have five minutes before the car explodes into a fiery ball.

Things like fuses will notify you they have malfunctioned when something stops working. The radio might not turn on, the dashboard might not look as bright as it once was, or something that you swear was working yesterday no longer is. You can find a spare fuse box somewhere in your car and that location will hopefully be posted in your manual otherwise you may need to rent the movie Da Vinci Code. Decoding may be required to locate.

If you follow these simple tips, your car should run as smoothly as a gazelle through the plains. If you don't, you better get yourself a good insurance company or befriend a tow truck driver.