CARS 101


Understanding your Car 101 | Jim's Automotive

Engine Oil - Service intervals have been changing. 3,000 or 3 months used to be the standard. Now with synthetic lubricants this has become a controversial subject with mounting evidence that more frequent changes are needed than the Manufacturer's recommended higher mileage intervals. *When checking oil on the dipstick, make certain the car parked level and then allow the engine to sit a few minutes after running before checking the oil level. The level should be between 2 marks on the stick, try not to overfill. (Google search "engine oil sludge problems" if you would like to learn more.)


Cooling system - Antifreeze mixed 50/50 with clean water. Antifreeze keeps the engine from freezing in the winter, overheating in the summer and protects internal parts from corrosion. Radiator caps are important to keep the system under pressure. The boiling point will be raised when liquids are under pressure. Radiator hoses should be soft and pliable, not hard and crackly, give them a squeeze and look for obvious leaks. There are 4 or more coolant hoses.

Brake fluid is used in brake systems and it is hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air) and should be exchanged (flushed) periodically.

Power steering fluid is used in the power steering system and needs to be exchanged (flushed) periodically. Check your owner's manual for fluid type needed.

Transmission fluid - Nearly every make and model of car uses a different type of fluid and needs to be exchanged (flushed) periodically. Check fluid types for your vehicle before adding and avoid overfilling! Check your manual for type needed.

Differentials or Final Drives have fluids that need to be changed also, check your manual for type needed.

Air Conditioning systems should be checked annually, the refrigerant is a gas that makes it work and can slowly leak out.

Spare tires should be checked before a trip, they are often hidden and the air slowly leaks out.

Air filters can be difficult to get to but should be checked every 3,000 miles. Gas mileage and engine life can be affected. They should always be discarded and not cleaned if they are found with lots of dirt in them.

Cabin air filters are inside the car in the duct work, not so easy to get to however they filter the air for you and your passengers. They get very dirty and are filled with pollen, dust and debris and can prevent your fan from working well.

Fuel filters are disappearing from the serviceable item list. Now they are being built onto the fuel pump, inside the fuel tank. This is in part due to fuel handling techniques changing over the last few decades. However if your car has one it should be replaced every 30 to 60,000 miles. Fuel system cleaning with chemicals keeps varnish and carbon build up under control.

Fan Belts

Fan belts can be easily checked with a keen eye and a flashlight. Look for cracks, fraying, weathered looks, the rule of thumb is no more than 4 cracks per inch on serpentine belts, and no cracks on V belts.

Batteries contain acid and should be handled with care. The water levels in today's lead acid batteries hardly ever need to be adjusted. Some batteries don't even have fill caps that can be removed. Cleaning the top of the battery with an old tooth brush and a quart of water with 2 heaping tablespoons of baking soda mixed in, will clean the acid vapor off and corrosion build up around the terminal ends and posts. Corrosion comes from the battery "breathing" acid vapor through the vent caps as it charges and discharges.

Wiper blades - Clean the blades with warm soapy water and a soft cloth this will remove organic material that can cause streaking. If the rubber is torn or hard or they make chattering noises, its time to replace the blades and this can turn into an IQ test. Simple but difficult.

Washer Fluid and Nozzles - Windshield washer fluid is almost always toxic due in part to the type of alcohol used for freeze protection. Some mixes contain enzymes that help dissolve insect parts and other organic material. Plain water will freeze and doesn't clean as well. To clean spray nozzles remove a bristle from a steel wire brush with a pair of pliers and gently insert it into the nozzle to break up the calcium and deposits. This works best with a helper to turn them on while you are cleaning. Wear safety glasses so as not to get sprayed in the eyes while working because it really stings and it is toxic. Some nozzle are aim able. Its like a little eyeball and a clothing straight pin pushed into the jet hole will allow you to move it. A little movement does a lot and you may need to apply some patience! Aim them mid to low windshield due to compensate for air flow.

Wiper blades - Clean the blades with warm soapy water and a soft cloth this will remove organic material that can cause streaking. If the rubber is torn or hard or they make chattering noises, its time to replace the blades and this can turn into an IQ test. Simple but difficult.

Tire Tread

Tire Tread Wear - How to check a tire for maximum wear. Stand a penny on Lincoln's head, down in the tread. If you can see the top of his forehead or higher its time to replace the tire. Wear bars are set at 3/32" of tread remaining and are in regular intervals around the tire for a visual indication. Cracks and weather checks are also an indication that its time to replace them due to UV damage or age.

All tires have date stamps on them, example is above on the right, after the year 2000 they are 4 digit numbers. They are next to a number that should have a D.O.T. code. The first 2 are the weeks of the year and the last 2 are the year. Ie: 5107 was made around the Christmas holiday in 2007. They can be on either side of the tire but only on 1 side. They are made when the tire is still hot with a branding iron type stamp.

Penny Tire

Tire air pressure - Set to vehicle manufacture specs found in the owners manual or placard on the door post. If you go by the tire manufactures recommendation found on the side wall of the tire reduce that number by roughly 10% and monitor the tire wear for over or under inflation wear patterns.

Alignment and balance makes the ride smoother, more comfortable and tires will last longer.

Signs of uneven tire wear | Jim's Automotive

Signs of uneven tire wear - image #2 | Jim's Automotive

Changing a flat tire - Probably the most dreaded occurrence for any driver. Get out the owners manual and familiarize yourself with the section dealing with jack, tools and spare locations. It is not uncommon to have the jack and tools in one location and the spare tire in another. Make sure you are parked on a level, firm surface. Not gravel, sand or loose dirt and follow the instructions in your owners manual.

Alternative: Use your cell phone and call AAA (if you are a member), husband, boyfriend or significant other for assistance. Visit the videos page. Click on the images of the people and another window will open up with many different topics to choose from. Scroll down the left side and each one is a 3-5 minute informational video.

Google search;

"Basic Auto Maintenance for Women"

"Toyota engine oil sludge" All most every make of engine is having problems with sludging due to extended oil change intervals, substitute "Toyota" with your make of car and see what comes up.

A recommended book to have "Vehicle Maintenance for Women"

Safety Inspection Report:

Click here for a printable version

Circle the answer that best describes the results of the inspection.

Oil Level: Good/low Clean Dirty/questionable Black as tar

Belts 1 2 3 4, Serpentine V Belt OK Bad Questionable

Battery Ok Corroded Hold Down problems Questionable

Antifreeze Ok Contaminated Nasty!! Too low to test

Hoses OK Bad Hard/Questionable OEM

Water pump Ok Leaking Can not see its location

Light Check: HLT R. L. High Low

Tail R. L. Brake R. L. Cyclops

T/S R. L. License Reverse Lights

Spare Tire present? Y / N Jack Y / N Tire tools Y / N

Wipers_____Ok / bad_________Rear Y / N Ok / bad

Windshield Washer Good / Bad Need to clean and aim

Brake lining Life % LF RF LR RR Drum Brakes

Tire Pressure ____ ____ ____ ____

Suspension Front Struts Rear Struts

Front shocks Rear shocks

Frt bushings Rear bushings


CV boots LF RF LR RR Weathered Torn

Exhaust system: Frt. Rear Muffler Good / Bad

Catalytic Converter, Pipes, Hangers

Fluid Flushes:

P/S___Y / N_____Brake__Y / N

Transmission___Y / N_____

Differential_Y / N_ 4X4 Transfer Case_Y / N_____

Notes:__________________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________________________

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