Dubai: Car ownership and daily usage is extremely high in the UAE. Cars are a necessity here, and not a luxury. In order to keep your vehicles going and to minimise those dreaded trips to the mechanic, here are a few basic things you can do to get hundreds of thousands of trouble free kilometres out of your cars. These tips include checks that you can carry out yourself, right at the place where your car is parked.
Fluids and filters
a) Engine oil and engine oil filter
No matter what else you forget when it comes to maintenance, do not neglect changing your engine oil and engine oil filter with the right kind of oil and filter, and at the appropriate time (every 5,000km or every 10,000km or every 15,000kms). Information on the oil-change intervals is right there in your owner’s manual. Often times, this information is also provided on top of the engine oil cap. In most GCC specs cars, the duration is every 5,000km. This is one of the simplest and cheapest service-related jobs, which can be done at many petrol stations. And even at home. Bad (burnt) oil in the engine or no oil in the engine is a sure-shot way of destroying your engine.
b) Automatic transmission fluid (ATF or ‘gear oil’)
More than 90 per cent of the cars in the UAE are automatic transmission vehicles. And this means they need automatic transmission fluid change every 40,000km or 60,000km. Each vehicle has a specific duration and, again, this information is to be found in the owner’s manual. Change the ATF and filter on time, and use ONLY the transmission fluid recommended by the manufacturer. Dirty or burnt fluid will lead to eventual transmission failure and will result in repairs or replacement costing thousands of dirhams. In older cars, this often means totaling the vehicle, as the cost is simply too high to justify a new transmission.
Changing the transmission on time is the right thing to do. But what if you have not changed it in a really long time? Like 120,000km or more? In that case, you might be doing more harm than good by changing it now. As the friction provided by the metal particles in the bad (burnt) fluid might be the only thing keeping your gears moving. (But still, your transmission might be on its way out now.) Changing the ATF now with smooth new fluid may result in the gears slipping. So, check with your service adviser.
Coolant is, obviously, the most important aspect of the engine’s cooling system. Most coolants last a long while, 5 years or 100,000km. But it is important to still check the coolant from time to time. Depending on the vehicle, you can check coolant levels by opening the radiator cap or the coolant reservoir. There is a MAX and a MIN level. The coolant should be between the two. If it is not, then you can top it up yourself using a funnel. If you do not have a funnel, just cut a plastic water bottle in half – and bingo, there’s your funnel!
d) Power-steering fluid
Most cars is the UAE are power-steering vehicles. And underneath the bonnet, you will find a power-steering fluid reservoir. There is a MAX and a MIN level. The fluid should be between the two for your steering to be easy to steer. It’s advisable to keep a bottle of power steering fluid in your boot (it is inexpensive) so that you can top it up whenever you see the level is down. If you are not the type that gets his hands dirty, make sure you tell the service technician to check the power-steering fluid levels when you take your car for an oil change. In most cases, they top it up without charging you extra for it.
Note: Some modern cars have ‘electronic’ steering; in such cars, there is no power-steering fluid reservoir. And some very old cars do not have power-steering at all.
e) Brake fluid
Also underneath the bonnet, you will find a brake fluid reservoir. There is a MAX and a MIN level clearly indicated. The fluid should be somewhere in between, ideally closer to MAX. It’s advisable to keep a bottle of brake fluid in your boot (it is also inexpensive) so that you can top it up whenever you see the level is down. Or ask the chap at the engine oil change service station to top it up if it is low.
You will find the information about the right tyre pressure on the inside of your door-jam or in your owner’s manual. You want to ensure that your tyre pressure doesn’t get too low as that will result in uneven wear (meaning you will have to buy new tyres sooner) and also give you bad fuel economy. You can also carry out another check: Rotate your steering wheel and inspect the tyre. If you notice that there is more wear on one side of your tyre than the other, it means your wheel alignment needs to be redone. Such uneven wear on tyres will result in failure at the annual car registration inspection. In other words, you will have to buy new tyres. So, make sure your wheel alignment is correct.
Typically, a new brake pad will be between 10 to 12mm thick – i.e. it will have 10 to 12mm of pad material on it. It is possible to measure this with a scale without removing the wheel. If you notice that the thickness of the brake pad is getting lower than 3mm, it is time to change the brake pad. In modern brake pads, when the pad material goes below 3mm or so, you can hear screeching sound while braking. This is a clear indicator that it is time to change them.
Again rotate your steering wheel all the way right, and visually inspect your shock absorber with a torch. The idea is to ensure that there is no fluid leaking from the dampers. Also, check to see if there are any cracks on the springs. Now, rotate your steering wheel all the way left, and check the shock absorbers from behind the wheels.