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Adjusting to Your New Life
In Canada and the USA

Doing preventive maintenance on your vehicle

Excellent advice above. However, never touch anything connected to the engine for the first time without hand protection such as gloves in case it is overheated..

Once purchased, you need to do preventative maintenance and learn the "ins and outs" of your vehicle, in order to save money and avoid driving hassles.

The tips you learn here will help prevent emergency breakdowns and keep your car running well.

To start, park your vehicle on a flat surface with the emergency brake fully on. Be sure its engine has had several hours to cool.


  • Have the owner's manual available to help identify items. If no manual came with the car, you can order an inexpensive one through a new car dealer. (You can probably get by today without it.)
  • Have groves and some paper towels available.
  • Have a tire pressure gauge that you can find at an auto parts store or at a Canadian Tire or Sears Auto Store.
  • Have separate funnels ready to be able to add water to the battery, oil to the engine, and windshield washer fluid to its container. You can't use the same one for all these tasks without damaging your vehicle. (You may not need any of these today, but you should own them.)

Opening the hood

Locate how to lift the hood (bonnet). There is usually a lever either to the left of the driver's seat on the floor or just under the dashboard near the steering wheel, which you may have to use before attempting to lift the hood.

Next, find the actual hood lever just under its front end within the air-intake grill. With the engine off, use this, and then lift the hood and support it with the bar provided.

Checking the coolant

If you are sure that the engine is cool, after not being run for awhile, gingerly touch the radiator cap (directly in front of you) and then slowly unscrew it while holding your face away, in case of steam.

Once opened, if you can see water, all is well (except perhaps in cold weather—see below) .

If not full, fill with clean water to the mark.

If water shows missing after checking again within a day or so, see a mechanic. You may have a leak in the radiator or elsewhere. Check under the car once it has rested awhile, in order to try to determine the location of the leak.

If you plan to drive in winter cold areas, which includes all of Canada and much of the U.S., have a full-service gas bar (gas bar in Canada or service station in the U.S.), Canadian Tire, Jiffy Lube, or Sears Auto Centre-type place measure and adjust your anti-freeze.

NOTE: A few vehicles (e.g., the old VW "Bugs") do not use engine coolant.

Checking engine oil

Now, find the oil measuring dip stick. Some cars have multiple measuring sticks, but the one you're looking for has a handle extending out of the engine block. If not sure, see your owner's manual.

Pull it out, and then wipe it clean with a paper towel.

Insert the dip stick back in all the way and then pull it out again. The oil level should be between the marks.

If below the mark furthest from the handle, consult the owner's manual for the type of oil to use. Buy some at Sears Auto, Canadian Tire, or another store, and then, using a funnel, pour in some of it, and re-measure. Keep adding a bit at a time until the oil comes between the marks on the dip stick.

If your car continually uses a significant amount of oil, you may have a serious problem.

Checking windshield washer fluid

Next, check the windshield wiper fluid, which should be visible through a plastic container near a side of the engine compartment.

Inexpensive replacement jugs can be purchased at Canadian Tire, Sears Auto, or any supermarket. Have on hand a separate funnel to use for this.

Checking battery fluid

Now, check the battery with the engine still off.

With the battery caps still closed, carefully brush off any corrosion on top on the battery. Take care not to get these particles on you. After cleaning, you may wish to spray on a bit of marine oil to prevent corrosion buildup, which you can buy at a hardware store.

Carefully screw off the battery caps. The caps are not where the wires connect! Dr. Voyageur uses gloves or thick towels while doing this, as there is dangerous acid in the battery.

The battery liquid level should come up to the marks below the caps.

If not, using a CLEAN funnel, VERY CAREFULLY pour in some DISTILLED water available at any supermarket being very careful not to pour too fast or to splash. Do not insert the funnel end into the battery. When done, screw back on the caps.

Checking tire pressure

Next, close the hood, and then check that the tires are filled to the air pressure level recommended in the manual.

This should always be done when the tires are cool.

If too low, drive to the nearest gas bar, where air use is usually free. If really low, however, see Changing your tires before driving, in order to avoid damage to your wheel.

If you live where salt is used on roads in the winter, be sure to thoroughly spray the underside of the car and around the tires when washing the car. Do this fairly frequently to prevent corrosion. This will help maintain the resale value and appearance of your vehicle.

When washing, never attempt to clean the inside of the engine department when the engine is still hot from running. If fact, you are better off to ignore the engine compartment when washing.

Jump starting your vehicle

Knowing how to jump start is really helpful when your engine will not start because you have accidentally left your lights on or the weather is extremely cold.

Have a friend explain how to jump start your battery. Have this explained by someone in person, as doing it incorrectly can be dangerous to you and damaging to your vehicle.

All of this preventive maintenance and "do-it-yourself" knowledge prevents or diminishes problems on the road.

Oil changes and lubrications

Your owner's manual tells you how often to have your engine oil changed and vehicle lubricated.

Because of important environmental issues regarding the disposal of old oil, have your oil changed and lubrications done at a full-service gas bar, Canadian Tire, or Jiffy Lube, instead of trying to do these yourself. These places will also check the condition of your air filter.

For more tips on adjusting to life in the USA and Canada:

Go to >> Adjusting Introduction

Go to >> Doing your laundry

Go to >> Buying a car

Go to >> Changing your tires

For more discussion about interacting with Americans and Canadians:

Go to >> Interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Making friends

Go to >> Handling complaints

Go to >> Dealing with prejudice

Go to >> Avoiding sexism

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