Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Nevada Department of Public Safety

Car care tips for teens and first-time car owners

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For any driver, keeping your vehicle in good condition is the first rule of safe driving.

Although committing to regular checks and knowing how to perform routine maintenance can be intimidating for many, it’s often a simpler process than you might think, and it can save you lots of money and time in the future. For people who are unable to do such checks on their own, any mechanic can help, but familiarizing yourself with the basic processes can come in handy, too.

Oil and filter

How often should oil be changed?

Depending on the make and model of the car and the type of oil used, oil changes can be recommended every 3,000, 5,000, 7,000 or 10,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual for guidelines specific to your vehicle.

What does the oil do?

Motor oil lubricates and reduces friction in a vehicle’s engine while helping to keep it cool. It is essential to the function of a vehicle.

How often should the oil filter be replaced?

Oil filters should be replaced every oil change.

What does an oil filter do?

An oil filter allows the oil to do its job by trapping metal particles, dirt and harmful contaminants within the engine.

What if I don’t change my oil?

Without oil, parts in the engine can’t move efficiently and can cause friction that could lead to the engine seizing and the car failing. Imagine hot metal parts forcefully scraping against each other without lubrication — that’s why you need to put oil in your car.

Wipers

Be sure to change your wiper blades and replenish your windshield wiper fluid routinely. You’ll know wipers have to be changed when the blades skip, streak or smear on the windshield. Fluid is low when you notice the liquid struggling to spray onto the windshield.

Tires

How often do tires need to be replaced?

Tire life varies depending on the model of your vehicle and the type of tire. Although tires are built to withstand a certain amount of normal wear and tear, environmental conditions in Las Vegas can accelerate wear. Checking your tires’ air pressure and tread depth is critically important for a safe ride.

How do I check my tread depth?

Take a penny and roll it into the tire’s tread grooves, with Lincoln’s head pointing into the tire. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, the tread depth is too low, and your tires need to be replaced.

How do I check my tire pressure?

Checking tire air pressure regularly is recommended in extreme climates. You can use a store-bought gauge, or go to a gas station. Most air pumps come with pressure gauges. To determine the ideal amount of tire pressure for your vehicle, consult the owner’s manual, check the driver’s side door or check the sidewall of the tire itself. Do not overinflate tires.

What happens if I don’t maintain proper tire pressure?

If your tire air pressure is too low, it could cause serious damage to your alignment or lead to crashes. Tire pressure can affect cornering, braking and the stability of a vehicle.

What happens if I don’t maintain my tires?

Your vehicle’s traction on the road will be greatly compromised, especially in inclement weather. The car could slide around on the street, endangering yourself and others on the road. In addition, tires with bare treads are more prone to flats.

Coolant

What does coolant do?

Coolant prevents the engine from overheating and protects engine parts. The cooling system is vital to a vehicle’s function.

How often does coolant need to be added or changed?

That varies depending on the model of your vehicle and your geographic location.

How do I check my coolant?

Your vehicle must be off, and the engine must be cool. It is not safe to open the radiator of a hot car. Pop the hood and find the coolant reserve tank, but be careful not to confuse it with the windshield wiper fluid, which might look similar. The coolant reserve tank typically is clear or white plastic and is connected to the radiator with a hose. There should be indicators on the outside of the tank to determine if the fluid level is high or low. If the fluid doesn’t reach the “Full” line, open the cap and add a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. Some coolants already are mixed with water, so check the bottle to be sure of the ratio.

What if I don’t monitor my vehicle’s coolant?

Your car can overheat on the road, forcing you to pull over until the engine cools. Cooling system failures are a common cause of mechanical breakdowns in Las Vegas.

Dashboard warning lights

Vehicles generally have dashboard warning lights to inform drivers of potential problems with coolant, oil and other fluids. However, it’s important to perform regular checkups as well.

Battery

What does the battery do?

The battery powers the vehicle’s electrical system. Your car cannot start or run without it.

How often does the battery need to be changed?

Vehicle batteries typically begin to decline after four years. A good indicator of the state of the battery is how quickly the engine turns over.

If it seems labored when you start your car, the battery may be nearing the end of its life.

How to check your battery

You’ll need a digital multimeter to check the voltage. Be sure the engine is off and the battery is cool. A charged battery will read approximately 12.6 volts. Next, inspect the outside of the battery and battery cables for corrosion, a white, chalky substance that can form on top of and around the battery. A battery with a lot of corrosion is a sign of age. Lastly, check the date code on the battery. If it’s older than three years and showing other signs of age or wear, you should get it checked by a mechanic.

What if I don’t change my battery?

If your car battery dies, you won’t be able to start your car.

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