Simple Car Maintenance: Check your Tires

In honor of the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s “National Tire Safety Week” this week’s simple car maintenance tip is about tire care. Tires are not only one of the biggest investments you make in your vehicle, they are also among the most crucial components that will ensure your vehicle performs well and handles safely. Here are two maintenance practices you can follow to make sure you get the most from your tires:

1. Check Your Tire’s Pressure

Keeping your tires properly inflated is a very important aspect of tire maintenance, so check your tire pressure regularly. Find the correct tire pressure for your tires in your owner’s manual. You may see a tire pressure number stamped on the tire, but that number is the maximum pressure. You want to go with the recommended pressure instead. If you don’t have a tire gauge, you can pick up a digital model pretty inexpensively.

Remove the valve cap and press the tire gauge on the valve stem. You will probably notice a hissing sound when you first press down, but it stops once you press the gauge all the way down. Only a few seconds are needed to obtain an accurate reading. If your tires need air, you can fill them with either a portable compressor, or you can use the air pump at your local gas station for a nominal fee. The filling process is similar to checking  the pressure – instead of pressing the gauge to the valve stem, you’ll be pressing the fitting on the air hose to the stem. Check the pressure as you inflate until you reach the right pressure number. If your tires are over inflated, you can remove air from the tires using your gauge. Remember the hissing sound? When you hear it, let it go for a bit, then recheck the pressure. When you are finished, put the valve caps back on each tire.

2. Check Tire Tread

Make it a habit to check tires for tread wear or damage. The “penny test” is an easy way to check tread wear.

Hold a penny so you can read “In God We Trust” across the top. Insert it into five different sections of the tire and look at Lincoln’s head.  If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your treads are excessively worn, and it is time for a new set of tires. If Abe’s head is covered to about the forehead hairline, the tread is in good shape and you probably do not need new tires.

Simple Car Maintenance: Check for Engine Leaks

Small pools or leaks under your vehicle may indicate a number of problems, from transmission trouble to power steering system problems. You can perform a simple check on your own, before taking your vehicle in for inspection and diagnosis, so you know what to expect.

As long as the area below your engine does not have a protective cover beneath it, there’s a simple process for identifying the location and source of a leak. Park the car over a large, clean sheet of paper or card board and leave it there, ideally overnight. Mark the paper to indicate position of the vehicle. This will help you to identify where the leaks are relative to front, rear, right side, left side. It is extremely important to approach all checks with great caution, and exercise appropriate precautions to avoid injury. If you can’t identify your leak and it persists make a service appointment as soon as possible.

Here are common leak spots descriptions and what they may mean:

  • Clear, watery leaks located near the air conditioner are likely to be normal condensation from running the system.
  • Blackish, greasy leaks under the engine area are typically oil. Depending on where you see the stain, look under the hood for leaks around the oil filter and the engine. The leak might also be around the oil drain plug or crankcase and oil pan.
  • Thick, dark, oily leaks may mean a gear oil leak from a manual transmission, differential, an axle, or the steering gears. These leaks should be checked right away.
  • Slippery, watery leaks that are green, red, blue, or yellow and coming from under the engine or radiator are likely to be coolant. Check the radiator, pressure cap, engine, and hoses for leaks.
  • Oily leaks that are a reddish color or clear and located toward the front could be power steering fluid.
  • Light-colored or clear leaks could be brake fluid. Leaky brakes need immediate professional repair.
  • Battery acid leaks typically have an odor like rotten eggs. Avoid contact with battery acid and have the battery replaced.
  • Fuel leaks are usually recognizable by the gasoline smell. Look around the fuel pump and the fuel injectors. If the leak seems to be under the center of the vehicle, it could be the fuel lines, or if it is more toward the back, it could be the fluid tank.