There are many new drivers out on the roads every day. Many of which have the mindset that as long as there is gas in the tank and you turn the key, you’re good to go! As long as your vehicle takes you from point A to point B, What else do you need to know?
Your vehicle is your means of transportation, getting you to school/work, the grocery store, various appointments, and family vacations. We spend a lot of time in our vehicles going to and from…and here to there, Why not get to know it better?
These tips will come in handy if your vehicle overheats, leaks fluid, or you should get a flat tire on the Interstate. In no particular order, here are the 10 Things Every Vehicle Owner Should Know:
1. Know Where To Locate Your VIN#….. Your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is located in many places on the vehicle itself. There are 17 characters to your VIN, each is significant in the sense that it is like the vehicle’s fingerprint and no 2 are the same.
The VIN to your vehicle can be seen if you look where the windshield meets the dash on the drivers side. There is also a sticker with the VIN and other information on the Drivers door jamb, also known as the A-pillar. There is a metal plate on the firewall with your VIN. If by some chance you find it hard to read you can always find your VIN is on your registration/ title/ insurance paperwork.
The VIN is made up of 17 numbers/letters and each digit has a meaning. For example, the First place identifies the Country in which the vehicle was manufactured. The USA uses a 1 or a 4, Canada uses 2, Mexico uses 3, Japan uses J, Korea uses K, England uses S, Germany uses W and Italy uses Z.
Although you don’t need to know how to decipher your VIN, you should have it handy when you call a Dealership looking for parts. Their parts catalogs use the VIN to filter out the options your vehicle has, so they can look up the correct part for you.
2. Have A Spare Key… With technology advancing more with every day, there are more keys that have built-in microchips. Even though you may not think your key has a chip in it, chances are it does if the vehicle year is 2002 and newer.
Does your key have integrated buttons on it to lock/unlock your doors? If so, you have a chip key!
Do you own a Lexus, BMW, or another high line vehicle? Then you probably have a chip key.
If you are like many people and are prone to locking your keys in your car, Do yourself a favor and have a spare key made. Purchase a “Hide a Key” container and find a good/accessible hiding place for it. At the very least have a generic key made to get you in the door.
For those of you with a chip key, a generic key will work in your doors but it will NEVER start your car. I can not stress that enough! If you are unsure as to whether you require a chip key, call your local Dealership and have your VIN handy.
Just a note about the chip keys: Through a Dealership, these keys have a price range of $50.00 up to $250.00 each. The chip key WILL have to be programmed before it will start your vehicle. If you are buying a vehicle the requires a chip key, I suggest you make sure it comes with 2 keys and not a generic spare to get you in the door as that will not help you if you lose the only key that starts your vehicle. Some of the high line models need to have their keys sent out to be laser cut and could take a few days to come through the mail.
3. Know How To Check Your Fluids… Seems pretty basic, right? But there are many vehicle owners that don’t know how to check their fluids properly.
Let’s start with the Engine Oil:
It’s best to check the Engine Oil while the vehicle is cold (off). As that will allow the oil to settle to the oil pan and the dipstick will give an accurate level reading. Once you’ve popped the hood and located the Engine Oil Dipstick, have an old rag/towel or even an old sock handy as you pull out the dipstick. Use the rag to wipe it clean and then look at the dipstick and notice where the “FULL” line is marked. Place the dipstick back down into the tube all of the way and pull it back out. Try to hold it level and look at the end of the dipstick to get the reading. If the dipstick reads “FULL” you are all set. If the dipstick reads less than full, well you may want to add some fluid a little at a time being careful not to overfill it. Should the oil go passed the “FULL” mark, you may want to drain a bit. But only if you have the proper tools/equipment to do so and you can dispose of the excess oil properly.
Antifreeze/Coolant…This fluid is also best checked while the engine is cold (off). The best place to check your coolant level is by looking at your recovery/overflow bottle under the hood. This bottle may look similar to your windshield washer fluid bottle, usually, a white plastic jug that the cap will be marked, “Coolant Only” or “Antifreeze Only”. Once you’ve located the correct bottle, you will see that the bottle itself is marked with a “Min” (minimum) and “Max” (maximum). You want your coolant to be as close to the “Max” without going over. In most cases, you should be able to open the cap and add your coolant to the bottle. Again, make sure the engine is cold and OFF whenever you deal with checking your coolant. This system is under very high pressure, so open the cap vert slowly to release the pressure and avoid getting a splashback of toxic coolant. Any coolant spills should be cleaned up, the sweet smell attracts wildlife/pets and if they ingest it, it could kill them. Always wash your hands after handling coolant.
Windshield Washer Fluid…This fluid is the easiest to check since the blue color is easy to see through the bottle, assuming there is fluid in the bottle. Once you’ve located the correct bottle, open the cap and fill.
The only advice I can offer here is using an additive. If you live in a region that sees the temperature get down below 32F/0C you may want to consider buying an additive. I believe Prestone and RainX make one. The additive is a fluid you add to your washer fluid bottle and it will prevent your fluid from freezing. Nothing worse than needing to clean off your windshield from the winter debris and hearing your washer pump humming and no sight of fluid coming out of your nozzles.
Automatic Transmission Fluid… First off, pop your hood and locate the dipstick for your transmission. In most cases, the handle may be red in color and may be found between the engine and the firewall. If you’ve spent a good 10 minutes searching and you have not found the dipstick, don’t be alarmed. Some of the newer vehicles are not equipped with a dipstick for the transmission.
For those of you that do have a dipstick, the next step is to start the vehicle. The proper way to check the fluid level is by starting the vehicle, apply your foot to the brake and shift through each gear. Allow the vehicle to run for a few minutes, continue to shift through the gears with your foot on the brake then put the transmission in PARK.
Get an old rag/towel or that old sock with holes and pull out the dipstick, wipe it off, locate the “FULL”/ “Hot” mark, and put it back in the tube all of the way, then pull it back out to check the reading.
Power Steering Fluid… The easiest way to locate your Power Steering Pump is to look at your drive belts. The power steering pump is belt-driven, once you locate the pump, the power steering reservoir should be close by. In most cases, it is attached to the pump itself, but sometimes it is set off separately, but will have a hose that attaches it to the pump.
Once you’ve located the power steering pump reservoir, you will see a cap. Usually, a ¼ turn is all it takes to open it and there may be a tiny dipstick built on to the cap. Otherwise, the opening may be large enough to see down in and you can see the fluid level. But in the event that the reservoir is in a tight spot, you may have to resort to using your finger as the dipstick. If that‘s the case, stick your finger in, if it comes out dry, more fluid is needed.
Brake Fluid… Locating your master cylinder couldn’t be any easier. Pop your hood and look on the Driver side. It’s sitting opposite of your steering wheel with skinny metal tubes running off of the bottom.
For the most part, the brake fluid reservoir reads similar to your windshield washer fluid bottle. You may see the “Max” and “Min” stamped on the outside. In many cases, you should be able to see the fluid level from the outside without having to open the cap. Only take the cap off if you absolutely have to. This system is sensitive to air, moisture, and debris. If you have to add fluid, wipe the area around the cap clean, add more brake fluid until the level reads “Max” and carefully put the cap back on.
4. Know Which Fluids To Use… All Fluids are NOT created equal! If they were there would only be 1 weight of engine oil, 1 type of transmission fluid, 1 fluid for all axles and 1 version of coolant. But there is not and with good reason.
Please don’t fall victim to “it’s all the same”. That mentality could cost you a few hundred dollars in repairs if you use the wrong fluid or mix & match the wrong fluids. Please refer to your owner’s manual or have your VIN# handy and contact your dealership to confirm the proper fluid for your vehicle. Now I’m not going to cover every make and every fluid option, but I will give a few examples just to give you an idea.
For Engine Oil: The most common weight of oil is 5W30 and 5W20. The 5W30 is considered to be an “All Season” motor oil and is used in many vehicles from 2005 and older. The 5W20 is being used more in the newer vehicles and are recommended in the 5.7 Hemi MDS engines. The Chrysler “World” engines also take 5W20. While the Nitro takes 10W30 Mobil One synthetic and the Crossfire takes 0W40 Mobil One synthetic. Most Diesel engines use 15W40 oil.
For Automatic Transmission Fluid: Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep has its ATF+4 for most of their vehicles with an Automatic Transmission. The Caliber takes a special CVT+4 fluid and the Crossfire has its own fluid. Never mind the various types of manual transmission fluid. GM uses Dexron III for many of their models. I believe Toyota has its own special ATF and more than likely the high line Acura, BMW, and Mercedes have their own too.
For Coolant: Well, it used to be that all we had to choose from was Green Coolant or the Low Toxic Coolant. Now there are more varieties with can not be mixed & matched. Most vehicles older than 2001 will probably have green coolant.
GM uses DexCool (red in color) also referred to as Extended Life. Not to be confused with Chrysler’s Extended Life (also red in color) as they are NOT the same. Hybrids also have their own pretty blue coolant. I have heard about a magenta-colored coolant, just not sure who’s using that.
The aftermarket makes a “Universal” coolant and is said to be compatible with all coolants. If you are not sure what type your vehicle takes, the Universal can be used as a means of topping off. If your radiator is bone dry, you really should use the OEM coolant to put back in it.
Just a note about mixing the green coolant with the red extended life coolant:
Having witnessed this first hand, I will tell you the mixing the 2 in a bottle will do nothing but turn a rusty color. However; when mixed together and let run through until the engine gets to the operating temperature, the coolant mix becomes a gel and your whole coolant system has to be replaced.
For Power Steering Fluid: It’s getting to the point where we have a few variations of this fluid. Most vehicles take regular power steering fluid. Honda has its own, Chrysler has been known to use ATF+4 and Hydraulic oil along with regular power steering fluid.
For Brake Fluid: Most of the Vehicles on the road today will take DOT3 Brake Fluid. In recent years DOT4 has been introduced which means somewhere it’s being used.
Please don’t mix and match fluids. The Manufacturer recommends certain fluids for a reason.
Again, if you are unsure what type of fluid to use in your vehicle, your Owners manual is your new best friend! If you don’t have an owner’s manual then have your VIN handy and call your local dealership and they can advise you as to which fluid and how much you need.
5. Know Which Grade Of Fuel… Most of us have grown accustomed to seeing “Regular”, “MidGrade” and “Premium”. It seems like a simple choice, right? Well, it’s not so simple. With the new technology and the Hybrid cars on the loose, we also have E85 for the flex-fuel engines. Let’s not forget about those loud Diesel trucks and some European models like Volkswagen that also run on diesel.
Many of us are creatures of habit, my self included. So the next time you need to put gas in a rental, a U-haul, your buddy’s truck because he let you borrow it to move… Double-check before you go filling the tank with the wrong fuel. I have seen that a few times with a diesel truck that was filled with regular fuel. Another big job you don’t want to pay out of pocket for. I should also mention the fact that you may void your warranty too.
Whether you choose to lease a new vehicle every 2-3 years or you have the chance to upgrade from a 2000 Neon to a 2007 Prius, Please check with your owner’s manual to verify which grade of fuel you should be using. I’m sure that amongst your instrument cluster it will say “unleaded fuel” “Diesel Only” something along those lines…Otherwise have your VIN handy and call your local dealership. Also, the fuel indicator on the instrument panel will tell you which side the fuel door is on, pretty nifty, right. In this case, the fuel door is located on the left side.
6. Check Your Tire Pressure… Many drivers don’t check their tire pressure as often as they should. Did you know that in the colder weather each tire loses 1-2 pounds of air each month? Losing 1-2 pounds each month can really take a toll on the life of your tires, never mind the miles per gallon you are now losing. You should also know that your tires lose more air in the warmer months. So check your tire pressure at least once a month is recommended.
7. Don’t Get Stranded… Every vehicle should have an Emergency Kit! Whether you piece something together or you purchase a pre-made kit from your local retail store. You’ll be glad you did should you find yourself in a sticky situation.
If your vehicle requires special fluid that can only be purchased through the Dealer, I suggest you have a small amount on hand. You never know when a coolant hose may spring a leak. Sure, a helpful motorist may stop and see if he/she can help, but if you’re driving a Dodge Caliber and the motorist pulls up in a Toyota Prius, the only fluid in common may be the brake fluid.
The colder weather really puts a strain on your car battery. Be sure you know how to use Jumper Cables properly before attempting to jump-start a vehicle. Never cross the cables or hook up one end and touch the other end together!
Typically speaking, your emergency kit should contain:
Jumper/Booster Cables, A working flashlight, a flat head screwdriver, a slotted screwdriver, a small hammer, an adjustable wrench, a pair of pliers and a travel-sized First Aid Kit.
By all means, feel free to add more to your emergency kit. Depending on where you live, you may want to carry a blanket, some bottled water, a small bag of cat litter for traction or even look into becoming a member of AAA.
AAA has many great benefits once you become a member. Check out their website and you’ll see all of the perks you can benefit from.
Speaking of not getting stranded, do you know how to safely remove a flat tire and put on a spare? If not, then this next video is for you.
8. Glove Box Content… Looking for your Registration should not be a game of hide & seek. There are certain papers you should keep in your glove box and there are other important papers you should not carry.
Here is a list of things you should keep:
*The Vehicle Registration
*Your Owners Manual
*Proof of Insurance
*Proof of Safety/Emissions… should that apply.
*Emergency Contact List. With a few names and phone numbers. Should something serious happen and you are taken to a hospital, I’m sure your loved ones would like a phone call.
*Master Key for Locking Lug Nuts… to be explained.
Now the list of things you should not carry:
*The Title to Your Vehicle… that is a #1 NO NO! Should someone break into your vehicle and get a hold of your title, or should your vehicle get impounded or catch fire, you now have a lot of work ahead of you to prove that you own that vehicle.
*Birth Certificates/ Social Security Information… there really is no need for those to be in your glove box, and it can be a hassle trying to get a duplicate copy.
*Touch Up Paint… makes an awful mess after it heats up and oozes out from the bottle.
It’s not to say that you can’t store extra napkins and straws from the drive-thru if you have the room for it. Store what you want in there, it’s your glove box. Just be sure that you have the important paperwork together and it’s accessible.
9. Wheel Locks… Wheel Lock kits are a great investment if your vehicle has expensive wheels, custom wheels, the spare tire is mounted on the outside like a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota Rav4. This is optional and many cars may not have these.
A Wheel Lock Kit will include:
* 4 Locking lug nuts or 5 if the vehicle has a rear-mounted spare tire.
* 1 Master Key to remove/install the locking lug nuts.
* Your Master Key number with the manufacturer’s information. This information should be kept in a safe place, just in case the Master Key is lost or damaged. Should this happen, simply contact the manufacturer and give them the Master Key number and they can send out a replacement. A nominal fee may apply.
Now it is not mandatory that you go out and purchase a set. It is important that you leave the Master Key in the glove box.
When you get your routine maintenance done, chances are your tires will be due for a rotation. If they (shop or dealership) don’t have the Master Key to take off the locking lug nuts, they may resort to cutting it off of the lug nuts/studs. Now you’re out a full set of wheel studs and lug nuts.
I know you’d hate to get stuck with a flat tire during rush hour, only to have your master key sitting in your garage.
Should you purchase a set, the Master Key should fit in the lug wrench for easy installation/removal. Just double-check to be sure you have something that will fit.
10. Routine Maintenance… For the most part the maintenance schedule runs in the same intervals. Keeping up on your vehicles maintenance is very important. You need air and water and blood to live, your vehicle needs clean air, clean fluids and spark to run.
* 3K At 3,000 miles you will be due for an oil change.
* 6K At 6,000 miles you will be due for an oil change and a tire rotation (if it applies) some tires are directional and can’t be rotated.
* 9K At 9,000 miles you will be due for an oil change.
* 12K At 12,000 miles you will be due for an oil change and a tire rotation.
During these services, the technician should also be inspecting your belts and hoses, checking the wear on your brakes, greasing your suspension, checking your fluid levels and the tire pressure.
* 15K At 15,000 miles along with an oil change, you will be due to change your air filter and PCV as well (if it has not already been done).
* 18K through 27K is the same as the 3K- 9K rotation.
* 30K Should be your first Big Service. This service should include an oil change, Air Filter, PCV, changing your Automatic Transmission Filter and fluid, Changing your Differential Fluids (if it applies) replacing your spark plugs(unless they are platinum) and a tire rotation(if it applies).
In a nutshell, your vehicle is due for an oil change every 3K
Every 6K the tire are scheduled for a rotation.
Every 15K the Air Filter and PCV is due to be replaced.
Every 30K comes with a big service like the Timing Belt, transmission filter, spark plugs, drive belts, fuel filter.
Hopefully I haven’t confused you too much. What I have posted is simply the rule of thumb when it comes to regular scheduled maintenance. Check with your local Dealer for a better break down for your vehicle. This information should also be in the owner’s manual as well.
Just be wary of the “Flush” services many dealerships are offering as an added service to your Big Services. Especially the Transmission Flush, rather than pulling down your transmission pan, replace the filter, reseal the pan and refill with new fluid. A machine is used to suck the old fluid out and to pump new fluid in. That’s it!
I can’t recommend something I wouldn’t do myself or to my own vehicle. Never changing your Transmission filter is like never cleaning the filter/ brushes on your vacuum and expecting it to perform like new.
This concludes today’s lesson! Now you are ready to hit the road. Please feel free to Share, Like, Retweet, or leave a comment.
*Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of the shared videos. Stock images were purchased from depositphotos