For most of us, monthly checks are usually more of an “I’ll do it when I think of it” sort of thing, fit somewhere between sweeping the driveway and cleaning the gutters. But keep in mind that car maintenance will help you avoid accidents and keep your driving record clean. A spotless driving record will be valuable to get an affordable coverage plan like first month free car insurance while avoiding the high costs of claims for injuries to third parties or damage to third-party properties.
Knowing the exact levels and condition of your car’s vital juices and the state of its softer wear items is paramount every month to keep it healthy.
Engine, transmission, and support system fluids aren’t static things; they degrade, burn, and otherwise break down over time. But along the way, they can either pick up contaminants or subtly transform into other substances. This gives you an opportunity to monitor the system conditions the way a doctor can monitor your kidneys with a blood test.
Taking Engine Oil as an Example
Most oil contains some sort of liquid paraffin wax, and those wax molecules will eventually break down into their constituent parts: hydrogen and carbon. Hydrogen is colorless and odorless, but carbon is quite black. Since wax is generally one of the thermally “weakest” parts of the oil, black oil is usually an indicator that other important compounds are compromised.
If you take a good whiff of really black oil, you may notice a familiar burnt odor. That’s because you’ve probably encountered pure carbon and other thermally modified chemicals in the form of charcoal, oven and frying pan deposits, or burning candle wax. The point here is, how your fluids look, smell, and feel are just as important as how much of those fluids you have. Bear in mind, though, that monthly fluid checks are really only appropriate for brand-new cars. If your car is anything other than showroom fresh, you should check fluids more frequently, like every week.
There Are Two Schools of Thought When It Comes to Checking the Oil
There are two well-arranged trends when it comes to checking the oil: Checking with the engine hot and with the engine cold. “Cold” proponents rightly claim that hot oil has a harder time sticking to the dipstick; it can run down the dipstick a bit and cause it to read artificially low. A “Hot” proponent – which you’re about to be – counters with the argument that cold oil doesn’t release all those telltale odors, and that worn-out or cheap oil can feel slipperier when cold than it does at operating temperature.
Park the car on a level surface, shut it down, and wait about two minutes for all the oil to drain back down into the pan. Pull the dipstick and wipe it on something convenient that won’t leave lint on the stick. A paper towel or clean rag will work. Push the dipstick back in, all the way down until it stops, and quickly but smoothly pull it back out. For most engines, the hatch-marked area represents a quart; if your dipstick reads a little on the low side, it won’t hurt to add a half-quart or so to keep things topped up. After all, it’s not like you can’t just screw the cap back on your quart of oil and keep it in the trunk. Just don’t overfill.
What Color Should the Oil Be?
The oil that has about 3,500 miles in a well-maintained car will be golden brown near the tip, fading to amber at the thinnest point in the “safe” zone. Light amber to a golden brown is normal, while brown to black indicates that it’s time for a change. If you find you’re trying to convince yourself that the oil isn’t really brown – “I’d call that more of a russet” – then you’d probably be better off talking yourself into that oil change instead.
What Is the Proper Smell of The Oil?
A slightly burnt smell is somewhat typical. Oil operates at 500-plus degrees in some places in the engine, so some of it’s going to cook. But keep a nose out for other smells, too – essentially, anything that doesn’t smell like new oil. Solvent odors that reek of paint thinner or cheap vodka indicate degradation or corruption, while fuel odors may indicate worn piston rings. If you notice any particularly strange odors like sulfur or the sickly-sweet aroma of hot antifreeze, then head to a shop to have your engine checked out.
What Texture Should the Oil Have?
Rub the oil between your thumb and forefinger, and show it no mercy in terms of pressure. Press hard. If your finger loses traction completely and slides off of your thumb, then odds are good that the oil is still doing its job. If your forefinger sticks to your thumb when you try to slide it, then dump that useless oil and get something better immediately.
Hot oil shouldn’t run off of your dipstick like water. If it does, then you can bet that’s also what it’s doing in your engine, and there’s nothing good about tap water protecting your bearings.
Buying Good-Quality Oil
Consider switching to heavier-viscosity oil – perhaps a 10W-40, or even a 10W-50 – or buying a higher-quality oil that won’t thin out so much when it gets hot.
Keep in mind that you get what you pay for when it comes to oil, and nefarious cheapsters have ways of making even the lowest-grade sludge look top-quality to those who don’t know what they’re looking for.
Keep an eye not only on your oil level but on the rate of consumption as well. Suddenly going from 1/2-quart a month to two quarts a month could indicate some kind of internal engine problem or a leak.
Get on your way to driving safely and get cheapest ignition interlock device. We have detailed one of the factors that must be checked each month to keep your car working correctly and avoid possible accidents. It depends only on you.