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Basic Car Maintenance

In all of my mother’s 79 years of life, she never changed a tire or pumped gas into a car. My parents had clearly defined roles in their marriage. Mom cooked and cleaned (even while working full-time), disciplined the kids, planned social events, kept the financial records, and made/bought and laundered everyone’s clothes. Dad took out the trash, mowed the yard, did handyman repairs around the house, killed any varmints, and did all things pertaining to the family vehicles.


I am 65 years old, and I have also never changed a tire (I believe I could in a pinch), but I have pumped plenty of gas over the past half century. I’ve also let my car license and inspection sticker expire, driven a car that I had to jiggle the battery cable to start it, and had to walk when my car wouldn’t start or when I locked my keys inside. On the other hand, I have replaced my windshield wipers, filled the windshield wiper fluid, and checked the tire pressure and aired them up myself. Since living on my own, I’ve learned a few things, but often the hard way.


The best advice when it comes to car maintenance is to find a trustworthy business(es) to do your oil changes, fix flats, get the car inspected, and do repairs. I’ve been taken advantage of twice that I know of. The first happened in San Antonio where I took my son’s pickup to get the tires rotated and aligned (on my husband’s orders) at a well-known brake franchise. Instead of doing what I asked, the mechanic told me the pickup brakes were on the verge of failing, and that I wouldn’t be able to drive the 85 miles home without the risk of crashing. This was the days before cell phones, and I could not get ahold of my husband, so I told them to go ahead and fix it. Eight hundred dollars later, I drove home in the dark crying, and the pickup still pulled to the right because they didn’t rotate and align the tires like I’d asked in the first place. My husband called the company the next day and chewed them out royally for taking advantage of me, and we didn’t pay that bill. The company dropped it, too, because they knew what they’d done was wrong.

The second time I’m convinced I was taken advantage of was in 2019 at the dealership where I bought my last vehicle. I had paid for multiple oil changes up front to save money, and on the last oil change, a mechanic told me my back brake pads needed to be replaced because they had worn beyond the dangerous level, so I told him to replace them. The front brake pads had been squeaking and sounding like they were in worse shape, so I was surprised he didn’t mention those. That last oil change more than ate up any discount I’d gotten and cost me several hundred dollars more.


I collect ornaments from the places I've traveled, and I love this one from Blake Shelton's  Restaurant "Ole Red" in Nashville hanging out with my dear friends, sisters Janet & Sandra

I tried another business for my next oil change, and I asked them to check the front brake pads, saying that they probably needed changing. The mechanic came back and said they were a bit worn but not to the point they needed to be replaced yet. I realized I’d been had at the previous shop, so they lost any future business with me. 


You can ask around among people you trust for the name of a reputable mechanic in your area, and give them your business. But there are also some basic things you can learn to make sure you keep your vehicle in tip-top shape and dependable on the road. My nephew RJ Watson is a good mechanic and has years of experience working in the car parts industry. Along with recommending finding a good, trustworthy mechanics shop, he gave me some more great advice:


My nephew RJ knows his stuff, and he is always willing to help anyone who needs it. If you have any questions about your vehicle, use this website's contact form, and he will get back to you. 

“It’s important to find a reputable parts dealer, too, because they are a great source for automotive needs. They usually employ people with actual automotive knowledge, and are more prone to better customer service. They will generally replace regular maintenance items like windshield wipers, batteries, and such as part of their customer service.


“It is a good idea to learn general information about your vehicle as well, such as the year, make and model, and engine size. Take a picture of your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to store on your phone. The VIN can be found on a sticker on the driver’s door frame, outside through the windshield on the driver’s side bottom corner, or on some late model vehicles it is printed on the bottom corner of the door window. Just about every parts store and repair facility can figure out everything they need to know based off the VIN number.


“Get familiar with your vehicle. Pay attention to the way it sounds to be able to hear noises that weren’t there before. Pay attention to the way things feel. Is the brake pedal softer or harder? Does it seem to be pulling? Is it riding rougher? 


“Also pay attention to your gauges and warning lights. A fair amount of major repairs can be prevented by noticing when the gauges are not reading normal (i.e. temperature, voltage, etc.). If the 'Check Engine' light comes on, schedule time to have it addressed. If the light comes on and stays on, it is telling you there is a problem, but it should not affect drivability. If a light comes on and starts flashing, find a safe place to pull over and shut off the car as soon as possible. A flashing light usually indicates a catastrophic failure and continuing to run the vehicle could cause major damage. Most repair facilities charge a diagnostic fee, but will waive the fee if you get it repaired there.”     

Engine Advice by RJ

  • Regular oil changes prolong the engine’s life so watch the mileage on your driver’s side windshield sticker

  • If the “Check Engine” light is flashing, do not continue to drive it. If the light stays on, it’s drivable, but needs to be checked


Tire Advice by RJ

Look at your tires regularly for wear/damage: 

  • Excessive wear on the inside or outside edges, primarily the front/steering tires caused by:

        (1) not rotating the tires, 

        (2) being out of alignment, or 

        (3) a failed steering/suspension part.


  • Uneven wear in the tire center caused by: 

        (1) worn shocks

        (2) over or under inflation (check sticker in the                 driver’s door frame for proper tire pressure                 for your vehicle)

        (3) being out of alignment


  • Foreign objects or damage (screws, nails, dry rot, etc.)


Most any shop will air up tires for free, but it doesn’t hurt to tip the technician a couple of bucks for his trouble.


Rotate the tires roughly every other oil change to ensure even wear. 

Photos provided by RJ Watson

Annual Tasks

  • Keep your insurance current; keep proof of insurance in your car pocket

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to get your vehicle inspected, especially if you renew your license by mail.

  • You can renew your license 3 ways:     -  (1) online (most convenient)                  (2) by mail (convenient)                           (3) or in person (least convenient) at your local tax office or DPS office.

  • To get an inspection, you must have proof of insurance in hand.

  • Without current insurance, you can't get your vehicle inspected, and without a passed inspection, you can't renew your license. Once you pass your inspection, it is entered in Texas's inspection database. This is probably true in most other states, too, so check it out.

  • Your license renewal form usually arrives the month before it expires. Be sure to allow enough time to get your new sticker back before the old one expires.

  • When your license arrives, peel off the old one on the left side of your windshield and replace it with the new one.

Donna Van Cleve

July 2020

Home & Vehicle

Car clip art from Mac Pages

Jodi changing the oil.jpg

This gal is amazing! Jodi Rae Baird's brother-in-law taught her how to change the oil.

Photo by Bryan Cox

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