5 Things to Check Before Taking Your Car to the Garage
If the time is coming up where you’re getting ready to take your car to the garage for a service or for routine maintenance, there are some things you should check for yourself first. The following things to check aren’t a matter of repair, but rather about better understanding the state and condition of your car before you take it to the mechanic.
1. Odometer Reading
First of all, it’s a good idea to check out the reading on your odometer and how it compares since your last service. Keeping track of your odometer is important because so many of the service intervals recommended by the OEM are defined in terms of your car’s mileage. For instance, oil changes are meant to happen from every 3,000-4,000 miles up to 7,500 or sometimes 10,000+ miles depending on the type of oil that your car uses.
If you haven’t been keeping track, you need to go back to your old service receipts and get a handle on what the odometer reading was the last time you took it to the garage. This is why it’s crucial to keep hold of maintenance and service records. Check the service record and it should tell you, and then you can see how far you’ve come since then.
As a habit, however, it’s best to track your mileage all year round as closely as possible!
2. Oil Condition
Another pre-service check is the condition of your oil. Most of us learn how to do this check on the level and condition of our engine oil when we are learner drivers. Open the car’s bonnet, locate the oil dipstick, remove it, wipe it clean and then replace it before removing again. Check that the level of the oil is at the indicated range, and then inspect its condition.
Your oil should be glossy in appearance and light brown in colour. There should not be any signs of grit, dirt or other contaminants, nor should the oil show signs of clumping or caking. If you spot anything wrong with the oil, then it could be a sign that you need an oil change. It’s at least something you can tell the mechanic when you go to the garage.
3. Transmission Fluid Condition
In many cars — but not all — there is a transmission dipstick that allows you to check the condition of your car’s transmission fluid in much the same way that you can check the oil. The transmission fluid should be a deep, rich red in colour, and also free from similar contaminants that are naturally picked up as the fluid does its work lubricating and cooling.
Take note of your transmission fluid levels and condition, and if there’s anything to report to the mechanic, you can do so. The garage mechanic will undoubtedly check these things for themselves, but it’s a good idea to report things that look wrong so perhaps they can get to it sooner and perhaps identify other problems with the car while they’re at it.
4. Tyre Pressure
You can use a simple tyre pressure gauge to get a reading on your current tyre pressure. You can perhaps save yourself some money at a service by pumping up the tyres to the correct pressure according to your car’s manual before you go to the garage. The ideal PSI rating will be listed in your OEM manual.
5. Coolant Level
Finally, with your engine switched off and fully cooled, you can take the lid off your car’s radiator and take a look inside at the current coolant level. If the coolant level looks good, that’s one more thing you can report to the mechanic before a service. Alternatively, you can once again make a small saving by topping up coolant yourself.
Engine coolant comes in either pre-mixed form, or in concentrated form. If you purchase the former, you can pour it into your radiator directly until it reaches the right level. If you have the latter, you need to dilute the concentrate with distilled water before pouring it into the radiator. Each concentrated coolant product will have instructions on how to do that.
Additional Things You Can Check
The above five things are things everyone can do before taking their car to the garage. The following are some additional things that you might do depending on the age or condition of your car.
If your car has more than 60,000 miles on the clock, you might take it out for a drive and make sure that the transmission is working properly, especially the automatic transmission. You should look for signs of wear and tear, or of a transmission quickly to be in need of repair or replacement: trouble shifting, excess heat, grinding, clutch slippage, and more.
Report any apparent issues to the garage mechanic, because repairing the transmission quickly and early before small problems turn into bigger ones is one of the best things you can do.
While driving to see if your transmission is working properly in a higher-mileage car, don’t forget to also listen for signs of excess engine noise, knocking sounds, clicking when trying to start the engine, and other signs of problems. Also look to see if there’s a “Check Engine” light.
How hard is it to keep your car moving in a straight line? Does the steering wheel centre itself? Is your car pulling to the left or right? Have you been in any accidents recently, even minor ones? All these things could point to bad alignment, damage to your axle or suspension components. If you have experienced issues with steering, it’s another useful thing to report to the mechanic at the garage.
Finally, if you have your own OBD-II scanner at home — as some do, because they’re not expensive — you could plug it in and do your own scan of your vehicle before you go to the garage and give a copy of the report or error codes to the mechanic on arrival. It might help to speed things up if the mechanic has a verified OBD-II error report from the get-go.