Today’s vehicles require little maintenance between services, giving us an excuse to avoid “popping the hood”.
Mechanics occasionally encounter bonnets that are seized closed, or have a broken release mechanism. This is when they know they are dealing with a car owner who probably hasn’t checked anything under their bonnet for a while. But some of us don’t know what we should be looking for under there.
If you own a vehicle, it’s a good idea to know what’s going on up front. You don’t necessarily have to be able to work on it, but knowing the essentials will go a long way to keeping you safe — especially if you’re planning on heading out on a long journey.
The engine area of many vehicles is shrouded in covers so you can’t see much. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that there are a few level check sticks and reservoirs to keep an eye out for. Usually, these will be attached to a red or yellow handle. These are dipsticks to check the level of the engine oil — and the transmission oil, if you own an automatic. It should also have engine or transmission written on the handle to help with identification.
Pull the engine oil stick out and check the level is between the two lines scribed into the end of the dipstick. Take careful note of where you pulled the dipstick out from to ensure you put it back in the correct place. Since every vehicle is different, it’s a good idea to refer to your trusty vehicle handbook in conjunction with any under-the-bonnet inspection.
You should also check the windscreen wash bottle. This is pretty much the only reservoir you’ll need to fill. It can have a large lid and the bottle that contains the liquid may not be completely visible as it can be hidden deep inside the bumper or the inner guard.
The lid of the windscreen washer system can also be identified by the symbol on top of it. It’s always a good idea to keep a bottle of windscreen detergent handy in case you need to top it up while on the road — try to avoid using just water or dishwashing liquid.
The other two important reservoirs to inspect are the brake fluid and coolant containers. Though you don’t need to top these up yourself, checking them will make you aware of any low levels, which can then be resolved by taking your car to a garage.
The brake fluid reservoir is usually behind the engine, near the firewall, while the coolant bottle will be found in front of the engine bay, near the radiator. The coolant bottle will commonly display a green or red liquid which can be seen through the plastic container.
Even though vehicles need little maintenance between services, it’s important to keep on top of any fluid levels to make sure that they are between the minimum and maximum levels.
Low levels could indicate a potential problem. Identifying this early gives you time to get the car checked by your garage, before it turns in to a bigger and potentially expensive issue.