How to check the engine oil

Place your car at the level spot. Stop the engine. Wait for a while to let the engine oil to pour down to the oil pan. Pull the engine oil dipstick. If you don't know where is the engine oil dipstick, check your owner's manual, usually it has a bright handle saying "engine oil".

Wipe it off with a clean rag or tissue. Then insert it back all the way down into its place.

Now, pull the dipstick again and check the oil level. Normally it should be at "FULL" mark. For example, here you can see that it's a bit lower. It's not a big problem yet, but it's better to top it up. Check the oil condition: If it's way too black, it's definitely time to change it. If it's slightly-brown, it's O.K. If it's dark-brown, but still transparent, it's admissible but it's better to change it soon.
If it's white (coffee with milk color) it means the engine coolant mixes with the engine oil because of some internal engine problem, for example, blown head gasket - have your car inspected.

How to top up the engine oil:
It would be better to add the same type and brand of the engine oil as you already have in the engine. Add a little amount of the oil as it's shown in the image. Wait for a minute to let the oil to pour down. Check the oil level again with the dipstick. If it's still low, add some more. But don't overfill it. Don't forget to install the dipstick back and close the oil filler cap when you finished.

How to check automatic transmission fluid.

Place your car at a level surface and engage the parking brake. Start the engine. Set transmission shifter in "P" (Park) position, and let the engine idle (on some cars this procedure may be different, check the owners' manual for details). Pull the transmission dipstick. Check your owners manual to find where transmission dipstick is located in your car.

Wipe it off with a clean lint free rag. Then insert it back carefully all the way down into its place.

Pull again and check the fluid level. If the engine is cold, it should be within "COLD" marks. If the car was driven and is fully warmed up, the level should be at the upper end of the "HOT" mark. If it's just a little bit lower I wouldn't worry about it. Otherwise I'd top it up. Check the fluid condition also: If it's too black and dirty with burnt smell - your transmission is not going to last. Normally it should be clean and transparent, as in the image. The new fluid comes red. Over the time it becomes brownish. If it is brown, check your owner's manual, may be it's time to change it. Some manufacturers require to change the transmission fluid at 30,000 or 50,000 miles others specify that you never have to change it - check what's your car owner's manual says.

How to top up the transmission fluid:
It's very important to use only specified transmission fluid - check your owners manual or simply visit your local dealer, they alway have proper transmission fluid in stock. Incorrect transmission fluid can even destroy the transmission. Add a small amount of the fluid through the dipstick pipe as shown in the image. Wait for a few minutes - let the fluid to flow down. Recheck the level again. Do not overfill, it also may cause problems with your transmission.

Engine coolant

Low coolant level will cause engine overheating, which may cause serious damage to the engine.

How to check the engine coolant level:
The coolant level should be between "LOW" and "FULL" marks in the coolant overflow tank as in the picture. If it's lower, top it up. If there is no coolant in overflow tank or you have to top it up quite often, have your car inspected in the garage, possibly there is a coolant leak.
Never open the radiator or coolant overflow tank when the engine is hot!

When engine temperature is reduced (few minutes after the engine has been turned off) , simply add a coolant into the overflow tank to "FULL" mark.


Check the tire pressure regularly - at least once a month. If you don't have tire pressure gauge it's really worth to buy it. You can find recommended tire pressure in the owner's manual or on the tire pressure placard. The maximum pressure listed on tires is NOT the proper pressure! Refer to the owner's manual
Rotate tires at every second oil change - it will insure all tires wear equally. Feel vibration at cruising speed? - have your tires balanced. There is a safe limit of the tread wear. If the tire is worn below this limit it's unsafe to drive. Refer to the result of mechanical inspection. Uneven tire wear indicates alignment problem.
Improper alignment causes increased tire and suspension components wear and poor handling. In worst case improper alignment may throw your car into a skid, especially on a wet road. If a car pulls aside, wanders or feels unstable on the road, have the alignment checked. Properly done alignment will make your car's ride a lot more enjoyable.

CV joint boots

Most of modern vehicles are Front-Wheel-Drive, and they all have CV-joints (Constant Velocity joint) used to transfer the engine torque to the front wheels. The CV-joint is greased inside and sealed by a rubber boot that unfortunately, tend to break sometimes. If the CV-joint boot breaks, the grease comes out, the dirt and water comes in and the whole axle unit may become inoperative in a short period of time. CV-joint located on the internal side of each of the front wheels. You can check CV-joint boots visually looking inside the front wheel arch from the front of the car with the wheel turned outside. The boot should be dry. If it's broken you will see a grease splashed all over the area. If the boot is broken, it needs to be replaced. If not replaced in time, whole axle shaft will need to be replaced which will cost you few hundred bucks more than just replacing the boot.

Taking care of small concerns in time may save you a lot more

As soon as you feel there is something wrong with your car like any kind of irregular noise, vibration, shimmer, or you note some leak or any warning light comes on while driving or anything that seems to be irregular - have your car inspected at a dealer or a garage as soon as you can - it might be unsafe to drive. It's definitely better to check any small problem before it will cause something serious.

Regular mechanical inspection

For your safety, I recommend to have your car inspected regularly, at least once a year, by a mechanic. I mean not just visual inspection by one of the fast lube places, but a mechanic that can lift your car and check major components such as brakes, suspension, etc., while having your tires rotated, for example. This is because many components (e.g ball joints), can not be inspected visually.

Basic maintenance

Basic car maintenance is something every car owner should know. Being able to check the engine oil, the pressure of the tyres and the overall condition of the brakes can save you money, and you won't need to rely on the skills of a mechanic to do everything. All you will need is some basic tools to do the job and of course some time!


It's dangerous to drive on tyres that are in poor condition or incorrectly inflated. There's a legal minimum tread depth - crash while driving on illegal tyres and you'll be in trouble with the police and your insurance company.


  • Recommended pressure figures are for cold tyres, so you'll get a falsely high reading if you check them after driving for more than a few minutes. Always check tyre pressures cold.
  • Pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and the right amounts for your car should be listed in your owner's manual. It's common for different amounts to apply to the front and rear tyres.
  • If the amount on the pressure gauge is below that mentioned in your owner's manual, you will need to inflate the tyre. To do this, connect a pump or an air line on a garage forecourt and fill until the right amount is shown on the pressure gauge.
  • If you put too much air into the tyre, depress the pin in the centre of the valve to let some out.
  • Don't forget the pressure of your spare wheel. Your owner's manual should tell you the correct pressure.

Engine oil

If your engine doesn't have the right amount of oil, it could be seriously damaged, sometimes beyond repair.


  • Check the level at least once a fortnight, if possible when the engine is cold and the car is on a level surface.
  • The dipstick usually sticks out from one side of the engine. On more modern cars it may have a coloured handle: usually red, orange or yellow.
  • Pull the dipstick out and wipe it clean with a rag. Return it to the full extent, pull it out again and check that the oil mark is between the upper and lower limits on the dipstick.

Topping up

  • Make sure you use the right oil, and the same as what's currently in the engine. Your owner's manual will contain these details.
  • Find the oil filler cap - it's usually on the top of the engine and marked 'oil'. Unscrew this carefully and place to one side. Pour in a small amount of new oil and recheck the level with the dipstick. Repeat until the level is about halfway between the maximum and minimum marks on the dipstick.
  • Oil is usually replaced at every service inspection of your car. This is usually once a year or at a maximum of 10,000 miles. Refer to the owners' manual for details.


If the engine sounds rough or you can hear a blowing sound, the exhaust may have a leak. If so, have it checked.

The two emissions tested in the MOT are carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC). If your car fails on either of these tests you will need to get the problem solved by an authorised service centre.

Shock absorbers

Push down on each corner of the car and then release. If the shock absorbers are working, the corner of the vehicle will quickly settle into its normal position. If it bounces, the shock absorber at that corner will need to be replaced.


During the MOT your entire car will be examined for rust, especially in structural areas.


Pull on the handbrake. If it takes more than a few clicks before it will hold the car on a hill, the cable or rear calipers/drums need by an authorised service centre.

Check that there is no sign of brake fluid in the footwell, whether on the pedal, floor or carpets. This indicates a leakage.

Pump the brake until the pressure builds up and the pedal becomes rigid. Hold your foot on the pedal, feeling for any loss in pressure. If the pedal starts to give way, there is a leak in the system.

  • Likewise if there is a great deal of pedal movement before the brakes begin to bite, the brakes need adjusting.
  • If the pedal feels spongy and braking lacks sharpness, this indicates air in the system. A home brake bleed kit can cure this.

Brakes are crucially important for safety, of course, but complicated to fix. If there's a problem, avoid using your car until an authorised service centre can perform repairs and adjustments. Ask the service centre to check the overall condition of the braking system.

Long-term storage

If your car is going to be left unused for an extended time, there are some simple measures to avoid unnecessary damage:
  • If it's winter, make sure that there is sufficient anti-freeze in the cooling system.
  • Check that your battery is charged. Battery chargers are not expensive and it is worth giving it a boost. If you're going to be away for a long time (and you aren't using an immobiliser/alarm) disconnect the earth strap to prevent the battery losing charge
  • Remove all valuables.
  • Use a car cover to protect it from rain, dust and the habits of birds.
  • Fit a visible steering lock.

Theft prevention

Hundreds of thousands of cars are stolen or broken into each year. There are some simple steps you can take to make sure you're not the next victim:
  • Make sure you keep valuables out of sight when your car is unattended.
  • Always close and lock doors, boot and sunroof. If it hasn't already got one, fit an alarm and immobiliser.
  • Have the windows and windscreen etched with your car's numberplate.
  • Try to leave your car in the most visible location, especially if it's staying there overnight.
  • If your car is fitted with alloy wheels, replace one nut on each wheel with a locking version that needs a special adapter to remove.
  • If the driver's view forward is obscured in any way by windscreen damage, it will need to be repaired or replaced - likewise, if wiper movement is interrupted.
  • Your rear-view mirror should be secure and capable of being adjusted.
  • Your front and rear numberplates must be in good condition, securely fitted and easily read.
  • Under the bonnet there should be a small metal plate bearing the vehicle identification number (VIN). Make sure it's visible.

Additional Information

Taking care of your car can be a rewarding experience in more than one way, not only will you have the satisfaction of being able to fix things yourself, but you can also take pride in the knowledge you don't have to pay anyone to do it. If you feel you are out of your depth however, do not hesitate to take your car to your local service centre where they can check that your car is safe to go on the road. There are some good books on car maintenance available, but if you prefer the more practical approach enquire at your local schools that may offer evening classes.