By COREY WEINER
Most men aren't mechanics, and some men could care less about their car as long as it looks good and drives well. But a responsible driver should always take five minutes every other week or so to check the essential parts of his car. If you pay proper attention to your car's maintenance needs, you will save a lot of time, money and aggravation by avoiding some expensive repairs. Here are some things that you can do yourself:
Check the battery
Many batteries are so advanced they no longer require much maintenance. To be on the safe side, however, you should know where your car battery is located and check it periodically to make sure it is not leaking acid and has adequate water. Most batteries have a condition indicator that displays different colors to indicate how it's functioning: blue means it's OK, red means add distilled water, and white means charging is necessary.
Check the motor oil
For an accurate reading, check the oil dipstick while the car is turned off and parked on a horizontal plane. If the oil on the dipstick is black or deep red, have the oil changed by a professional or change it yourself if you're feeling confident. To check the oil level, pull the dipstick out and wipe it clean with a rag, then plunge it back into place. Pull the dip stick out again and hold it horizontally for an accurate reading. Be sure the oil on the stick is just under or right at the correct oil-level line or indicator hole; it should never be over. Putting excess strain on your hard-working car by not changing its oil will lead to trouble. An engine repair will have you dipping into your savings and leave you without car for as long as it takes for the proper repairs to be made.
Refill the antifreeze
Antifreeze keeps engine temperatures stable in all climate extremes and driving conditions. Always be sure you have the right level of antifreeze because fooling around with the cooling of your car's complex mechanical parts is an unnecessary risk. Invest a few dollars in a bottle and keep it handy in your trunk. Antifreeze should be added when the engine is cool. Use a funnel as you would when adding motor oil to avoid splashing this greenish, toxic chemical on other parts of the car.
Align the tires
To receive an accurate assessment of your tire alignment, bring your car to a professional and have it put on a computerized tester. Having this test done every few weeks, however, is not cost-efficient in the least. Instead, test the alignment yourself on a flat street. Drive the speed limit and leave a hand on the wheel for safety, but don't actually steer the car for a few seconds. If the car veers in one direction and you need to manually keep your car driving straight, make an alignment appointment with a mechanic.
Check for optimized tire pressure as well. Thirty-two psi to 36 psi on a gauge is about average for a midsized sedan, but check your owners manual. Slightly deflated or unbalanced tires will not only cause shakiness when you drive at highway speeds, but will eventually warp the tires and reduce your gas mileage. Always buy new tires in pairs so you can put the new ones on the front and move the old front ones to the back; this lets you get more use out of them and avoid blowing a bundle on four new tires -- unless a professional tells you it's absolutely necessary, of course.
Replace the air filter
The air filter is on the engine air intake and prevents dust and dirt from entering the engine. So, take care of your engine by replacing your air filter when necessary.
Checking the air filter only takes a few minutes. It is usually hidden under a plastic casing under the hood of your car and you have to unsnap the case to switch out the filter. Refer to your operating manual for precise instructions to avoid injury to yourself or harm to your vehicle. As a rule of thumb, make sure your car engine is off before lifting the hood to replace the air filter.
When it comes time to sell your car or make repairs, having maintained some of these basic areas will really pay off. Negligence is the most common and costly way to see your money go down the drain on repairs that could have easily been avoided.