Do-it-yourself (DIY) car care is catching on as a way to save money on routine service visits to mechanics, and that's a good thing. Doing your own maintenance isn't just good for your wallet, but it helps you learn about how your car works. Being familiar with what you see under the hood will empower you to investigate and ask the right questions should something go wrong. To help you DIYers out there, here's a list of some common "forgotten" maintenance items.
You may remember seeing a tangle of belts under the hood of your family car, but most newer cars have simplified the whole mess down to two belts: the serpentine belt, or S-belt, and the timing belt.
The serpentine belt provides power to almost everything in your engine, including the air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, cooling fan, and air injection pump. S-belts can fail as they age, particularly when they approach 50,000 miles, so if you haven't had yours seen to, there's no time like the present! You can actually inspect this yourself: the S-belt is about an inch wide, black, and has little ridges running along the side. What you're looking for are little cracks in the belt, which happen naturally as the belt wears and can weaken it. Replacing it at home is easy if you're careful and have a good set of instructions; if you are unfamiliar with belts, however, I recommend finding a professional. S-belt maintenance is a pretty affordable piece of preventive maintenance that could save you a bundle down the road.
The timing belt is even more critical. It's a belt with lots of little plastic notches on it that allows the crankshaft to turn the camshaft (In other words, it makes your engine "go.") If the timing belt fails, your engine stops dead, which can cause catastrophic damage. That sounds pretty scary, but the good news is that timing belts are pretty resilient little things. Still, they do wear over time like any other moving part, and should be checked, if not replaced, at around the 50k mark. Since the tiny notches on the timing belt must be placed precisely, this is a replacement best left to a professional.
Much like belts, your vision of engine hoses might involve a mess of black rubber under the hood. There are still a bunch of hoses, but thankfully you don't really need to know what they do to check them for damage and weak spots. When your engine is cool (that's important -- those hoses get hot!), lightly squeeze the hoses and feel for "squishy" spots, especially near the clamps. The hose should be firm, but not completely hardened either. Visually inspect for cracks, and when in doubt, have a mechanic take a look too. Replacing a hose before it fails saves inconvenience and potential further damage to your engine.
We all know we have these, but strangely we don't check on them. Instead, we just trust a mechanic, or wait for the grinding to start -- and that's expensive! On most cars you should be able to see the brake pad yourself, through openings in the wheel / rim assembly, but on some occasions you'll have to remove the wheel. The big shiny disc should be smooth, and at the top of you you'll see the outside pad. You're looking for where the pad touches the disc. Is there's less than 1/8" left, it's time to replace those pads (that's about the height of two stacked pennies). If you wait for the grinding, the sound you hear is that metal caliper grinding straight against the disc, which damages both parts and will cost you more money.
We're sure you keep a clean car, but properly maintaining your car's finish means more than just looking good. Your finish is your car body's one-and-only defense against the enemy of everything metal: rust. It's critical to wash your car and use a cleaner wax regularly to avoid corrosion. Keep your vehicle's underside as clean and dry as possible, and keep a look out for foreign materials including salts, road oil, tree sap, bird droppings, and chemicals and remove them as soon as possible.
I hope this article encourages you to look under the hood. If you see something that looks cracked, worn, or otherwise damaged, investigate, and avoid headaches and extra costs down the road!
About Women & Co.:
Women & Co.®, a service of Citibank, is the go-to personal finance source for women. Women & Co. delivers financial content with sharp, insightful commentary and a female point of view. Sign up for free at womenandco.com.