You need to check your car's vitals every time you get an oil change. Every three months or 3,000 miles used to be the recommendation. With today's higher-performance vehicles, recommended oil changes have changed to every every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Check your owner's manual for your particular car's tune-up schedule. In the meantime, check your oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant in between those longer oil changes yourself to keep your car running smoothly.
How To Check Your Car's Vitals
Your car engine's moving parts require oil to keep them lubricated. Today's higher viscosity synthetic and synthetic-blend oils are higher quality to allow for those longer periods between oil changes. Checking your engine oil between oil changes is simple:
- Park your car on a level surface. Don't check your oil until your engine is cooled so your oil sinks back into the crankcase. This takes about 15 to 20 minutes or so. Otherwise the oil level won't be accurate when you check it.
- Your oil dipstick will be encased in a tube next to the engine. After you pull it out, wipe it off with a clean rag, reinsert it. After a couple seconds, remove it again. Your oil level should be clearly indicated. It usually reads low, add and full. Moderation is the key here--too low of an oil level can damage your engine components, and too high of a level can flood your spark plugs creating difficulty firing the engine.
You check your transmission fluid the same way, except that your engine needs to be running. Some car's require you to put your car in neutral when you check your fluid. If your owner's manual requires you to do so, make sure that your car's wheels are chucked securely and that you are on a level surface before pulling out the red-tipped transmission fluid dipstick. You'll find the dipstick on the passenger side toward the back for rear-wheel drive cars, and on the driver's side for front-wheel drive cars.
Checking brake fluid is different since there's no dipstick. With your engine off, you'll have to look into its reservoir to see how much fluid is left. It should be around a half-inch from the top of the reservoir.
IMPORTANT: It's imperative to keep your brake fluid free of contaminants after you remove the reservoir lid. Dirty brake fluid can ruin your master cylinder seals in a heartbeat. Also check and close your reservoir quickly to avoiding adding moisture to the fluid. This can lead to water in your brake lines which can cause brake damage and trouble stopping your car.
Many newer car models employ a sealed system for coolant. If your car does not, you can check it yourself. You must check it at the reservoir in a cooled car much like you check brake fluid. If your coolant is low, you will need to find out why it's low. If you hear a hissing noise or smell an odor resembling burnt syrup, you need to get it to a mechanic as soon as possible. If you must refill your coolant, make sure that you use a 1:1 ratio of coolant and water.
Always follow your owner's manual for exact specifications when topping off your car's vital fluids.