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News Room

Lockdown Guide: How To Service Your Own Car (Part One)

Jason Snyman
2020-05-18
Car due for a service during the lockdown? Who needs a mechanic when you can do it yourself? Here’s everything you need to know about performing a DIY car service, and other maintenance, without setting anything on fire.

Repairing and maintaining your own car isn’t the lifestyle most people buy into. Take into account, though, that with your own two hands and a couple of tools, you could keep your car in good condition, on the road and save yourself a whole bunch of money in the process. You generally don’t need a mechanic for any minor jobs on your car, unless you’ve done something drastically wrong to it. There are several things you can fix and maintain all by yourself, and a basic service, for instance, is well within the average person's capability.

Of course, before we begin, it's very important to note that performing many jobs on your own car could land you in a lot of hot water with your insurer. Always, always, always check with your insurer or broker before deciding to undertake any DIY car projects.   

In this two-part guide, we'll walk you through each and every step to performing said basic service, but first, what do you need to get started? 

When Is It Time To Service Your Car?

According to manufacturer guidelines (and many insurance or warranty conditions), your car should be serviced after a certain amount of mileage or time has passed. Here are some tell-tale signs that your vehicle may be long overdue:

The Engine Warning Light: the most obvious sign that something has gone awry with your engine. Most modern cars use this to tell you that it’s time for a service. It’s liklely nothing to panic about just yet, but it is advisable to service it as soon as possible.

Smoke or Steam Coming Out From Under the Bonnet: another obvious sign that something is terribly wrong. Steam is generally white in colour and could indicate a problem with your radiator, such as overheating. Best idea? Pull over and let your car cool down. Blue or dark smoke, on the other hand, indicates a bigger problem. It’s better to pull over and have your car towed to its destination. Blue smoke is generally caused by burning oil, and obviously, this can lead to a number of bigger problems. It could be due to piston wear, worn valve seals, piston rings, worn engine oil seals, head gasket failure or an intake manifold gas leak.

Vibrating / Pulling Brakes: this could be due to a problem in your steering, suspension or, most likely, worn brake discs or pads. If your tyres are wearing unevenly, this is a good sign that you’re in trouble. It’s not at all safe to drive like this.

Strange Noises: cars make strange noises every now and then, and the cause of which could be any number of things. Here are some common sounds: 

  • Loud whining – Could be caused by a loose belt. This could wreak havoc, from battery problems to overheating. 
  • Extra loud exhaust noise – This is most likely due to a hole or crack in your exhaust. 
  • Squealing or grinding noises when you step on the brake – This is probably caused by worn or warped brake pads. 
  • Crunching gears – The gear box goes through wear and tear, just like everything else. Fluids and parts often need replacing. A crunching sound when you change gears means it’s time for a full service. 
  • Uneven engine noise – Most car owners have experienced this, and lost countless nights of sleep. What is it? Where’s it coming from? You may hear it best when your car is idling. Your engine could be misfiring, or there’s something wrong with the way it handles the fuel / air mixture, or you may just need to change the sparkplugs. 
  • Scraping – Any sound of metal scraping against metal needs to be investigated as soon as possible. Likewise, if you hear your tyres scraping against the wheel arch of the car, there’s likely something wrong with your suspension.
  • Awful Screaming - Check to see if there's a Nickelback song on the radio, or if you’ve run somebody over while staring at your phone. If these are positive, there's probably no need for a mechanic. 

What to Check in a Basic Service

The basic service is the most common and easiest type of car service to perform by yourself. This typically involves an oil and filter change, a top up of key fluids in the engine, and a check of key components.  

If you were to take your car in to a mechanic or garage, they might also check your brakes and suspension and recommend any additional repairs. These establishments also offer full, major and manufacturer's service options, and each of these build on the previous level, take a lot more time to complete, and cost a lot more money. As previously mentioned, certain tasks will undoubtedly require the expertise and equipment of a qualified mechanic, but for the purpose of this guide we will only be looking at the barebones basic service. 

So, for a basic car service, you’ll be carrying out the following maintenance tasks:

  • Change the engine oil;
  • Replace the oil filter;
  • Replace the air filter;
  • Replace the fuel filter;
  • Check and refill brake fluid / clutch fluid, power steering fluid, windscreen washer, automatic / manual transmission fluid;
  • Check condition of the tyres;
  • Check for proper operation of all lights, wipers etc.

Always make sure you have all the correct parts before you take your car apart. You don’t want to be that person. Any basic car part that needs replacing can be found at your local autospares store, such as AutoZone or Midas, and they will be able to help you out if you know the exact model of your car. 

On that note...

Repairing And Servicing Your Own Car – The Essential Tools

It's often been said that most DIY projects only require a hammer, a saw, a first-aid kit and a good lawyer. Performing your own car service requires a much larger inventory than that, unfortunatrely, but almost certainly works out far more affordable.  

When starting from scratch, the initial layout for good quality tools may be quite expensive, but its an investment that could serve you well for the rest of your life. 

It’s important to use the right tool for the right job, however, so to save you time and money, we put together a list of pretty much everything you would need to do the most basic repairs / services on your car:

  • Adjustable Wrench & Torque Wrench;
  • Socket and Ratchet Set;
  • Star & Flat Screwdrivers;
  • Pliers;
  • A dependable Car Jack;
  • Wheel Spanner;
  • A digital multi-meter;
  • A couple of C-Clamps;
  • Sparkplug Gap Gauge Tool;
  • A Sparkplug Wrench or Socket;
  • An Oil Filter Wrench;
  • Rags;
  • A Hammer;
  • An Oil Pan;
  • A Wire Brush;
  • Funnel;
  • A Vacuum Cleaner;
  • A Fire Extinguisher (I once owned a ’77 VW Beetle. Trust me on this).

In Part Two of How To Service Your Own Car, we'll give you a step-by-step guide on how to perform your own basic car service.

There are a great number of resources, how-to guides, general purpose videos and sources of diagnostic assistance online for almost every common car problem, but in order to ensure that you have a firm idea of what you’re doing, it's important to read through the job directions or watch the walk-throughs several times before diving in. 

CompareGuru has you covered.

During the pandemic, lockdown and beyond, CompareGuru recognises the uncertainty and anxiety you may be experiencing, and to do our part, we are offering the assistance and guidance of our expert Gurus at absolutely zero cost, to answer any and all questions you may have regarding the protection of yourself and your family.

NEED A CHAT? REACH OUT TO A GURU HERE

Our Gurus are assisting anybody with queries relating (but not limited) to the following: 

  • Life Insurance and Funeral Cover;
  • The insurance T's and C’s;
  • How best to structure your insurance at this critical time;
  • And any other queries, where possible.  
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