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Car Maintenance For Non-Car People: 4 Easy Things You Can Do Yourself

Maren explains climate, environment, problems and possible fixes and calls you to action.

DIY For Cars


1. Know How To Open the Hood (Bonnet)

The lid, called a hood or a bonnet, on the front of the car protects all those moving parts and fluid containers. Car hoods have a latch so that the hood won't fly open and block the view while you are driving. There are different ways to get this hood unlocked to be opened. You will need to do this to perform car maintenance.

Check to see if your car has a button or lever inside to release a lock on the hood. Release it from inside the car, then go outside for the actual unlatching. Usually the latching mechanism is near the front middle or slightly off center. One may need to squeeze it or push sideways to do the unlocking. Check the car manual OR just play around with it. (I recommend the manual.)

[These days it is rare to receive a paper manual for one's car. If you do have one, good for you. Keep it in your glove compartment. If you do not have a booklet manual, go online and download it to your hard drive or to somewhere you can access. I do not think it is necessary to print it if you have the file saved and stored.]

After getting the hood unlocked, lift it up and secure its weight on the rod provided in your car. This is often attached along one side of the front of the car. It swings up and the end has a knob or bump which fits into a hole on the underside of the hood. The system secures the rod and prevents it from slipping out, which would allow the hood to fall quickly and violently.


Opening The Hood

The picture on a lever for releasing the car hood.

The picture on a lever for releasing the car hood.

Hood latch on this car is centered behind the red square.

Hood latch on this car is centered behind the red square.

Rod to keep car hood up shown in "resting position."

Rod to keep car hood up shown in "resting position."

Rod holding up car hood.

Rod holding up car hood.

2. Pay Attention To Picture-Lights On The Panel

They're there.

They're annoying to decipher.

But, they give you important information.

Most often, none of the lights stay on after you have started your car. A few may light up for ten seconds as a way of saying "Hello Driver, let's go" or something of the sort, but then those pictures disappear. However, when a light comes on and stays on while you are driving, take note of what the picture is. When you are at your destination, check the manual to see which light is on and what the car manufacturer recommends for action.

Fluid Levels

It is often easy for the average non-mechanical person to keep various car liquids at the right amount. You already do it with your fuel!


DO NOT drive with low oil. Stop at the FIRST garage or petrol station and buy oil. If you ignore your Low Oil light, you can destroy a big part of your car engine called the engine block. Don't laugh. I did it.

The oil level is one of the easiest, yet most important, parts of the car to check and fix. The checking equipment is called the dipstick. The handle of the dipstick is close to the front of the car as you are looking in at the engine. You should have a couple of paper towels or a cloth rag with you.

Open the hood and secure it with the rod.

Find the dipstick handle and pull the dipstick out.

Scroll to Continue

Wipe it totally dry. Study the markings at the bottom inch of it. You will need to read this very soon.

Put the dipstick back in ALL THE WAY and then pull it out and rest the tip on your rag or paper towel. Do not wipe it. See where the highest point of oil is on the dipstick.

If it is in an area which iindicates Low or Empty or a similar idea, then put in one quart of motor oil.

Repeat process. Add another quart if the level remains too low.


This cap has the Oil icon.  Open it to add more oil.

This cap has the Oil icon. Open it to add more oil.

The dried end of an oil dipstick.

The dried end of an oil dipstick.

DANGER: Fuel Tank Near Empty

Petrol empty? I actually ran out of gas when on a medication which made me a little mentally fuzzy. Try not to do this.


Too hot is no good. If this light comes on, you must immediately divert heat away from your engine. Turn on your heat. Unfortunately, it may be a roastingly hellish summer day, but you must apply this temporary solution. Of course, after arriving at your destination, make an appointment with your trusted mechanic to fix your vehicle.

To Ignore Or NOT Ignore "Check Computer" Light

I have known folks who have the check computer light on as a constant presence. They drive in confidence knowing (or thinking that they know) that this particular warning is about some teeny weeny fuse controlling a light in the glove box which they would not miss anyway. I say: Go to your trusted mechanic. At the very least, talk to her/him over the phone about the situation.

Most of us feel that the car manufacturers have gone overboard hooking up the vehicle to computer warnings which may force us to fix the problem at a dealer's service department - always more costly, those sons of camel droppings! In the long run, however, car maintenance is about being safe, not sorry.

3. Right Air Pressure In Tires

Tire pressure is similar to one's weight: there is an ideal point and then there are tolerable amounts both slightly below or above the ideal. However, extreme lack of pounds is dangerous for humans and car tires. In the United States, the ideal pressure is expressed in a number of pounds per square inch (psi). The car manufacturer states what the ideal is for each car. This number can be found in the manual and sometimes on a sticker attached to one of the car doors or inside the glove compartment.

To check pressure and put more air into a tire,if needed, you must open the tire valve and have a pressure gauge. A traditional pressure gauge looks very much like a chubby ballpoint pen.

Manufacturer chart of tire pressure requirements glued in the bottom of glove box.

Manufacturer chart of tire pressure requirements glued in the bottom of glove box.

A traditional tire gauge.

A traditional tire gauge.

Here is the stem to unscrew to check air pressure and for adding air.

Here is the stem to unscrew to check air pressure and for adding air.

4. Have A Working Spare Tire

Hoo-Boy! Am I a blockhead sometimes!

I was cheated by the last car dealer I used. I wanted a spare tire with my used car and they threw one in -- from the scrap heap, I think. I didn't know better. But, now I do!

Carefully examine your spare. Whether it is a small "donut" tire or a full-sized one, it better be able to work when you need it (which will probably be late at night when you are far from your home.)

A Worthless Spare Tire

Can you spot the defect?  It is a bent wheel rim.

Can you spot the defect? It is a bent wheel rim.

A close-up of a bent rim on a spare tire.

A close-up of a bent rim on a spare tire.

I Learned The Hard Way - You Can Learn From Me

The school of hard knocks can be quite an effective teacher. My ignorance about car maintenance resulted in over $1000 to repair the engine block back in the 1980s. One can only imagine what the cost for a similar repair would be today. As I was not a car person, and newly divorced with MUCH more important things to worry about than lights coming on at my car dashboard, I ignored those lights. I am telling you now: DON'T DO THAT. Then, more recently, I had a flat tire and learned in the middle of that "adventure" that my spare was no good.

Learn from my experiences!!!

I am happy to share them it if it saves someone else grief.

Squeeze the time in to consult someone when a new icon starts flashing in your car or anything else just does not feel right.

© 2014 Maren Elizabeth Morgan


Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on October 19, 2019:

SophieBird52, thanks! I believe that as long as we keep breathing, we can keep learning. You sound like you'll do just fine with your car.

SophieBird52 on October 19, 2019:

Thank you so, so much. I want to do right by my car but mostly know only oil changes and wiper blades.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 13, 2014:

Peggy W, thanks. Some of us older gals never got to have woodshop or auto shop in school. This article is our catch-up learning.

BDhire, thank you so much.

BDhire on July 12, 2014:

these are quick great tips :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 12, 2014:

I know very little about cars but you made this step by step tutorial about these very basic maintenance things easy to understand especially with your step by step photos. I heard on the news recently that some new cars no longer furnish spare tires. Amazing! If and when they are needed...they can be invaluable! Happy to share this article and will also pin and G+ it.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan (author) from Pennsylvania on July 12, 2014:

randomcreative, thank you very much. I think most of us non-mechanical folks can do these things and save ourselves future headaches over car repairs.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 11, 2014:

Great topic for an article! I love the detailed photos. Thanks for putting together such an excellent resource.

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