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Know Your Car Basics 101: 4 Things I Learned On Car Maintenance


The breakdown of Tesla car components, do you know the components of your car and what it takes to maintain them in good working order? Image source:

When it comes to car maintenance or car service, most of us would be glad to hand over the keys to our mechanics. We would then proceed to the air-conditioned and get busy on our phones (or go off for shopping or home) until the service center customer rep calls to inform that the car have been serviced and we can collect the car.

For most of us, we really don’t care what happens in between us passing the key to the service center and until we get the key back.

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I have been driving a car for the past 18 years and before that motorcycle for 15 years and during that time, I have spent considerable time in workshops and over time, start doing my own minor servicing & repairs.

So I don’t wait till the time comes to do car service at the workshop for things that I could do myself such as ensuring the tires properly inflated, checking the condition of the tires, cleaning up the air conditioner filter, refilling the water for the radiator and wiper wash, checking for leaks from gaskets, condition of the shocks, eliminating squeaky sounds from the cabin, etc.

And here are the 4 main things that I have learned on car maintenance over years:-

Lesson 1 – always read the car manual

Every car (or bikes) sold comes with a rather comprehensive manual that covers from almost everything that an average driver should know to ensure that the car runs well. How many of us actually run through line by line and double checking the explanation or the diagram in the manual with the actual thing in the car? Is it the same thing? Or the buttons and parts in the car looks different from the one illustrated in the manual?

Many, many years ago, I had to do a site visit to a customer’s place in Sungai Buloh. My boss asked me to take the company car since it was not possible to take my bike all the way there or take the public transportation. I took the company’s Perodua Kancil for the site visit. Once my meeting was over, I was driving back and had to stop for fuel. This was when I realised that I don’t know how to open the fuel cap. I had to sheepishly to walk to the next car and ask for help from another driver. It was obvious that I did not read the manual.

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When I got my first car, it was not a complicated car – it did not have many of the high tech gadgets & features that the modern car so it was easy to learn up the various parts in the car. But when I changed my car a few years later, it got a bit more complicated especially when checking for the fuse box when I had a problem with the car radio and I had to check the fuse (it had 2 different locations for the fuses).

Lesson 2 – always check out the forums & social media

Another excellent source of knowledge and to share what others have experienced with their car is through auto forums and social media.

I started off with Autoworld Forum – at least doing nothing but reading other’s pain and gain driving their car (this also helped me to filter my list of cars that I wanted to checkout when I wanted to change my old car).

And then when I had problems with my own car, I started posting my problems in the forum and good enough, I got some replies – either they had the same problem and somehow managed to resolve it or they know what was the problem and know how to resolve it. I really learned a lot here even though sometimes advise given is not professional or technical.

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After a few years, I discovered Apeng Impian Auto Service’s posts in Facebook (there are also videos in Youtube) which was more educational. Apeng uses actual cars with problems and troubleshoots them and provide the fix. He provide a good explanation as he works on the car and always advise fellow mechanics not to take short cuts that will further cause more damages.

YouTube player

By the way, one of the valuable things I learned from Apeng is never to put your gear on Park (P) when parking down or uphill and then pull up the handbrake – the car is now holding on the strength of the gear and not the handbrake. This will damage the gear box in the long run. The right thing to do is put the car on Neutral (N), pull the handbrake and then put on Park (P). The car is now holding on the strength of the handbrake.

Lesson 3 – identify and stick to a competent service centre

There are hundreds of service centres within the vicinity and not all is truthful, cost effective and do a good job. Too many con-jobs, parts are of sub-quality and simple fixes are charged with hefty bills – I have experienced it many times.

So when I decided to change my car, I decided that I would stick with the manufacturer’s authorised service centres till the end. To check which ones did a good job, I had to turn to the reviews in the internet to pick the best service centre.

But mind you, not authorised service centers are good to bring your car in. For my wife’s car, the authorised service center near my house seriously lacking the quality and urgency to do a good service. Luckily I found a private workshop that does a better job and still uses genuine parts.

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For my own car, I eventually settled down on 2-3 authorised service centres where I know that only the original & genuine parts were used and the mechanics has been trained well to handle all types of fixes required for the car.

And even so, I would see how competent the car service center would be – from the customer service when making appointment, availability of spare parts, the charges imposed and how skilful their mechanics are.

Nowadays I stick to one authorised service center which takes me almost 45 minutes to drive where they have done a superb job since I started with them almost 9 years ago.

Lesson 4 – always talk to your mechanic

How many of you actually go to the place where the mechanic is working on your car and have a chat with him to identify the problem with the car and what the mechanic will do to rectify the problem?

When I was riding motorcycle, the service centre is not like a car service center. Firstly they are often small workshops where they had to stuff half of the place with the new motorbikes that they need to sell whilst the other half is stuff with office, storeroom and a small place to service the bike. There is no air conditioned room for the customer.

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So I would often have to stand next the mechanic whilst he is working on my bike. I learned about the working of my bike as I chat with the mechanic.

I continued with this practice when I got my first car – I did not go to the air conditioned room but instead I strolled around near the working area and see what the mechanic is doing. At least they ignored me but after a while, they got used to me and soon I managed to get closer to where they are working.

Slowly I started chatting with them and they start to explain on what they doing and the problems they notice and decide whether to fix or replace the part. Sometimes our chat has nothing to do with the problems but general maintenance of the car.

Final Say

Car maintenance goes beyond car service, replacement of parts and some DIY fixes. Sometimes it is not possible to do our own DIY fixes even though we know what the problem is and know what to do to fix it – reason being availability of tools. But at least, when the mechanic talks to me on the car parts and problems, it does not sound Greek to me.

The other part of car maintenance I did not cover is washing & polishing car so that it remains looking good (and new) on the outside. I usually try to get a comprehensive waxing & polishing done at least once a year to preserve the paint – at a friendly car wash center in Taiping (since I know these guys personally, they take the time to do a good job done).

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