The car check: Things to look over every week, month, and year

Atlanta has plenty of great places to get your car fixed , but a routine car check can...

Atlanta has plenty of great places to get your car fixed, but a routine car check can alert you to problems before you absolutely have to see the mechanic. Here are the things you should check on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Every week: This weekly check is quick enough to do while you're filling up at the gas station. Pop the hood and check the oil level. By doing this every week, you'll take note of any gradual (or not so gradual) loss of oil. Oil consumption of more than a quart every 1,000 miles indicates a problem.

It's also a good idea to check your tire pressure while you're filling up. Keep your tires inflated to the pressure noted on the label in the driver's door jamb, and don't forget the spare. There's nothing worse than getting a flat tire, only to find out that your spare tire's flat too. Finally, examine your windshield wipers, replacing them if they show any cracks, rips or missing chunks. If they look good, wipe down the blades with a wet paper towel to remove any grime, and don't forget to top off your windshield washier fluid.

Every month: Find a dark place and get a helper to sit in the car and operate the turn signals, high and low beam headlights and brake lights as you circle the car. Burned out lights are dangerous and can get you pulled over, so a monthly bulb check keeps you safe and legal. Next, check your fluid levels: power steering, brakes, cooling system and automatic transmission (if so equipped). Make a mental note if any fluids need topping off--steady fluid loss should be checked by a mechanic. Take a peek at your tires, using this guide to make sure they're in good condition. Look over your intake air filter and replace it if it's visibly dirty--a clogged filter will hurt your fuel economy and acceleration. Finally, check your oil change sticker: Most manufacturers recommend oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, so make sure you're not overdue.

Every year: In addition to the weekly and monthly items, the annual car check examines long-wearing but still vital parts. With your car turned off and cool, examine the rubber belts and hoses under the hood. Any brittle, cracked or dried-out rubber parts should be replaced by your mechanic. Look at your fluids: if anything looks cloudy, dirty or contaminated, it's time to flush and refill. Most manufacturers recommend flushing the coolant and brake fluid on a regular schedule (perhaps every one to three years)--good to keep in mind on your annual check. If you haven't had your tires rotated during oil changes, an annual rotation is a good idea. Beyond this, it's a good idea to have your mechanic check over your engine, transmission and brakes. Look to your owner's manual for specific suggestions about what to check and when.

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