It can really hurt if something in your car goes wrong. Usually, most pain will be in your wallet. Most new cars are not designed for the home mechanic and any invasive tinkering may well invalidate your warranty. This does not mean you should sit and wait for something to break.
Here are some basic steps to take care of your car.
Heed warning lights
If a warning light comes on and you don’t know what it is, pull over and check in the booklet. That light could signify anything from the need for attention soon to something will go wrong right now. Ignoring the warning light is not a sensible strategy.
Take a quick look before you go
It is all obvious and can be seen at a glance. Are all four tyres nice and round? One a bit flattish may signify a long term slow leak or a nail you picked up five minutes ago. Either way. it will need attention. A slow leak will damage the tire (expensive) and use more fuel (expensive). A nail can ruin your entire day. Anyway, please see the section on changing a tyre below.
Is the fuel cap closed? The bonnet latched tight? Door handles okay, ditto windows, wipers, lights, indicators? No ominous puddle of oil or other fluid under the car? (Hint: on a hot day, condensation can drip down in an ominous fashion.)
Is there a man with a balaclava sitting in the back seat? If so, it may be wise to not get into the car right then.
Check your tyres, oil, coolant and water reservoir
Depending on how much you drive, check all these things every now and then, more now if you drive a lot. After lockdown, my car looked fine, but all four tyres were down 0.5-bar just because of time sitting there.
Your car has five tyres, so check your spare too. Ask if any tyres were flatter than the rest and keep an eye on it. It may just have been filled carelessly, or it can be a leak.
Ask the guy to check under the bonnet, but get out and have a look too. He won’t try and cheat you, but it is your car and you should make sure everything is put back in place and the bonnet is closed properly. And if you ever need to know where to check for what, here is a quick way to find out. This is also the chance to make sure there is no surface oil on the outside of your engine. If there is, have it checked out – it may be an oil-seal leak.
Replace when need be
Things like spark plugs and oil filters should last the prescribed service intervals, but if your engine sputters or hesitates or even smell hot after driving, go to your dealer and ask them to check quickly. They should not charge you anything for a superficial look, but it can mean avoiding high fuel bills or even catastrophic damage.
Changing a tyre
The one time when you need to act the mechanic is when you get a flat tire in the wrong spot. You will need a few things: knowledge of how to do it – start with YouTube. You will need an inflated spare (see above). You will need to have a jack and a tyre lever. Very important: you will need to know the strong points under your car where the jack must fit. Get that wrong and you can push through the floor of your car or it can tilt over while you are busy.
Keep your car clean on the outside. A build-up of muck and dirt can start rust forming and rust is not your friend. Keep your car clean inside. Obviously, you don’t want wrappers and other icky things on the floor, but anything heavier than that will cost you money in fuel.
Wipers are incredibly important. Test them after a dry spell. Grease from the road can build up suddenly your windscreen is one large smear. Damage normally starts with one or two nicks. When in doubt, replace the blades. They are cheap enough, but if you cannot see properly, you are a danger to yourself and others.
But you are sensible, right?
When in doubt, check it out. Take your car to your friendly dealer and ask them to have a look. They will be more than happy to do so. It is usually cheaper to fix things before they break. And sometimes, when it is something major around the gearbox or other expensive areas, better to trade it in on something new and fresh.