Pre-Garage Checklist – What to Ask Yourself Before Going to the Mechanic
When you’re experiencing serious car trouble, the best idea is always to go to a garage and let a professional mechanic take a look. Some people worry about this, however, because they are afraid of the mechanic discovering some major component that needs replacing or major repairs, and a major bill coming at the end of it.
Well, if you use reputable mechanics, that won’t happen, of course, but an additional idea is to familiarise yourself with a few steps to take before you decide to take the car to the mechanic. Some things that you might perceive as major faults might actually be minor things you can check or deal with yourself. Alternatively, you can identify some key issues before you go to see the mechanic so that you can report your findings and give the mechanic a head start on maintenance and repair. Below is our “Pre-Garage Checklist: Things to Ask and Check Yourself Before You See a Mechanic.
1. Check Your Maintenance Schedule
When you buy a car — new or used — you should first familiarise yourself with that car’s maintenance schedule. It will tell you how often, usually in months and/or miles, certain routine maintenance has to be performed, like tyre rotation, oil changes, other fluid changes, wheel alignment, and so on.
Knowing your maintenance schedule offers insight into what jobs you should be doing on your vehicle. If your car’s oil is in bad condition and it has been 5,000 miles since your last oil change, then that would explain it.
2. Check Your Oil Level and Condition
One of the easiest and most basic maintenance points we learn as we start driving is how to check our oil. The oil dipstick is located in a prominent location under the bonnet. Remove the stick, wipe it off with a rag, replace it and withdraw it to get a fresh level. You can check the oil level against the markers on the dipstick, and also the condition of the oil at the same time. It should be smooth, glossy and light/golden brown in colour.
If the oil has become viscous, and/or filled with grit, dirt or other contaminants, then you could be due for an oil change. You can report the condition of the oil to the mechanic.
3. Check Your Coolant Levels
When the engine is switched off and cool, you can unscrew the radiator cap safely and take a look at the level of coolant/antifreeze you have in there. If levels are lower than they should be, it’s easy enough to top it up yourself either by mixing a concentrated coolant 50:50 with distilled water, or by using a pre-mixed bottle and just adding it in directly. You should keep the coolant at its recommended level.
4. Check Your Tyre Tread
You can do the 20p test on your tyres, placing a 20p coin into the tread and seeing how much of the outer border of the coin you can still see. If your tyres have the proper legally required tread, you shouldn’t be able to see any part of the border on that 20p piece. Knowing that the tread is too worn is a key thing to be able to tell your mechanic.
5. Check Your Dashboard
Your dashboard alerts you to many common issues via the “Check Engine” light, as well as brake warning light, oil light, and many others. If you see yellow or red lights appearing steadily on your dashboard, then it indicates that there’s a serious or potentially serious problem in the car that needs attention. Green or blue lights indicate normal functions.
The “Check Engine” light is especially important, but also the most ignored as people right it off as the car’s sensors being inaccurate or problematic. Well, even if it is faulty sensors, you still need a mechanic to look at it because your sensors also need to be in full working order.
6. Check for Strange Sounds
When you’re on the road, listen for unusual noises coming from either the engine or transmission. They may also come from under the car if it’s an issue with suspension, tyres or wheel axles. If you drive your car a lot, strange noises are easy to spot because your ear is often well tuned to the regular noises the car makes. A sudden new addition will seem very out of place, and it often indicates trouble.
If you hear noises, identify what they sound like and when they occur. Is it a grinding, knocking, or whining sound? Does it happen when you’re driving slow, or fast? When you’re steering to the left or right? Or when you brake? All of these things are important to note.
7. Check for Leaks
Leaks of any sort are bad news on your car. The most common fluid to leak from anywhere is engine oil, since there are potentially so many places it could be emanating from. Check for pooled oil under your car, or within your engine bay. The most likely culprit is broken gaskets and seals. Oil leaks are akin to excessive bleeding in the human body. If left unchecked, it will lead to catastrophic engine failure.
Other common leaks include coolant leaks, transmission fluid leaks, and leaking windscreen washer fluid. Any of these can cause serious problems and have serious safety implications for your vehicle on the road. Keep one eye open for leaks at all times.
8. Check for Heat, Pull, or Slippage
Finally, three more things to look at while on the road are excessive heat coming from either the engine or your transmission (especially an automatic transmission). Increased friction due to poor oil quality, leaking transmission fluid or other causes creates massive amounts of excess heat. In your engine, you’ll detect that from the engine temperature gauge on your dashboard. In the transmission, you will likely feel the heat being sent up through the shifter or around the shifter area.
As for pull and slippage. Take note if your steering pulls to one side when you’re driving in a straight line. This could indicate improper alignment or some other issue with your wheels or axles. If you ever notice the engine roaring away but no acceleration being forthcoming, then you’re experiencing clutch and/or gear slippage, which can do real damage to the transmission.
We hope this checklist arms you with more information to take to the mechanic, or even the ability to avoid the need for a mechanic’s assessment altogether.