Car care

The A-Z of car care

The lifespan of every component in your car usually comes down to one thing: maintenance. To expand your automotive knowledge and learn how to take appropriate precautions, here’s an A–Z to keep your car on the road for many miles ahead.

In order to show that an engine oil meet carmakers’ standards of fuel economy, oxidation, engine sludge, component wear, piston deposits and oil consumption, it is classified by the American Petroleum Institute (API) using a two-letter code.

Gasoline engine oil categories start with the letter S, originally standing for "Spark Ignition".

Diesel engine oil categories start with the letter C, originally designated "Compression Ignition" engine oils.

The second letter is a sequential designation of improving quality levels over time. In other words, when a new industry quality level is established, the next letter of the alphabet is used (so SJ replaces SH).

We don’t mean to alarm you, but without brake fluid, your brakes won't work.

You see, when your foot touches the brake lever, hydraulic pressure is pushed down to your vehicle’s brake pads. The more pressure applied, the more it will cause your vehicle to slow down. But with less brake fluid, there’s less pressure.

While brake fluid change intervals may vary according to the make and model of your car, a good rule of thumb is to change the fluid every other year.

Over time, contaminants such as water, dust, and dirt can enter your engine through its air induction system. This causes the engine oil to oxidise or thicken, decreasing its performance. Make sure that you regularly schedule oil changes to protect your car from expensive and easily preventable damage.

If your car was made after 1996, it will have an onboard diagnostic (OBD-II) port located somewhere near the steering wheel. Using a diagnostic scanning tool, you can read the codes your vehicle generates when it detects a problem. You will then be able to use software or search online for the trouble code before identifying and fixing the problem yourself or with a mechanic’s assistance.

Converting heat from burning gas into the force that turns wheels, the engine is the beating heart of your car.

The oil inside the engine is its life blood, which must be regularly changed before it can become contaminated. Even small deposits will significantly decrease an engine's lifespan over time.

Often measured in miles per gallon, fuel economy refers to how far a car can go using a set amount of fuel. The speed you drive and accelerate has a negative effect on fuel economy. You can offset this by driving more slowly and keeping your tires inflated to their recommended pressure.

Under the hood, between the engine block and cylinder head lurks a cylinder head gasket with holes cut out for engine cylinders, bolts, oil passages and coolant passages. There’s not much that can be done to prevent this gasket from one day “blowing”. Replacement is a very labour-intensive job that involves deep disassembly of the engine.

Over time, motor oil breaks down, losing its effectiveness so it can no longer properly protect your engine. Oil should be changed before the contamination level reaches the point where it damages your car’s engine.

Because it can be difficult for you as a motorist to determine when the contamination level is too high, carmakers provide recommended oil change intervals. Consult your owner’s manual to confirm the length of your oil change interval.

Sometimes, car maintenance means reaching the underside of your car. A mechanical or hydraulic device known as a “jack” is designed to do just that, whether in the comfort of your garage or stranded on a mountain road.

Before you carry out car repairs, it’s very important to learn how to use a car jack and ensure that it’s properly rated for your car’s weight.

As a driver, having some basic maintenance knowledge and repair skills can mean the difference between getting home and sleeping on the back seat.

Try to familiarise yourself with the fundamental steps of changing flat tires, spark plugs, air filters, windscreen wipers and, of course, the battery.

Making sure there's always enough oil in your engine is the easiest way to avoid engine failure and the huge repair costs that go with it.

Open the hood and check the oil level before turning on the engine or 5 to 10 minutes after shutting down for an accurate measurement.

The intake manifold is the part of a gasoline engine that distributes air from outside the car to the individual cylinders, where the air and fuel are burned to produce power.

Vacuum, coolant and oil leaks and carbon build-up are all common problems, but unless you have plenty of manifold experience, you should leave this one to your mechanic.

A range of conventional, semi-synthetic and full synthetic oils have evolved to address the specific needs of different engine types. If you’re unsure which type of oil your engine uses, it’s best to check your owner’s guide recommendation before purchasing replacement lubricant.

It pays to be protected. In addition to lubricating moving parts, oil protects your engine by carrying combustion by-products away from the pistons and cylinders. Make sure that you select an oil that also deals with the small amounts of water that form as your engine heats and cools while tackling the formation of acids.

Your engine’s radiator transfers the heat from the fluid inside to the air outside. This cools the fluid, which in turn cools the engine. Your car’s coolant system and radiator should be inspected together at least every 12 months, or every 19,000 km.

Smoke pouring out of your hood or tailpipe is never a good sign. First, pull over and determine if your car is safe to drive and always place safety first.

A black cloud indicates that excess fuel is being burned. If the cloud is white, it may simply be the moisture in the cold engine and exhaust system being burned off. If this continues for a long time, you may have an internal coolant leak.

Extreme temperatures can cause motor oil to flow either too slowly or not at all, taking a huge toll on your engine. Mobil 1™ synthetic motor oil flows at temperatures as low as -40⁰C so that your car gets the oil it needs immediately at start-up.

Viscosity is a measure of a fluid's resistance to flow. The viscosity index (VI) number is a measure of the relative change in viscosity of oil over a temperature range.

The higher the viscosity index, the smaller the viscosity change over temperature. Generally, multigrade oils (0W-40, 10W-30, etc.) will have high viscosity indexes while monograde oils (SAE 30, 40, etc.) will have lower viscosity indexes.

Reasons to see your warning light flash include a low oil level, failing oil pump, faulty oil-pressure sensor, blockage in the oil system and excessive foaming of the oil. Whatever the cause, you should safely leave the road and investigate as continuing to drive with low oil pressure can seriously damage your engine.

When the alphabet is said and done, you should always pay attention to what your engine is trying to tell you. When you see a light flash on your dashboard, take the car to a mechanic you can trust. In the meantime, remember: perhaps the most important aspect of car care is keeping the lubricant your engine needs clean and fresh.

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