Car Care Tips for Beginners: A Little Goes a Long Way

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By Wendy Migdal

Having maintenance done on your car should be added to the list of life’s certainties, along with death and taxes. If you’re one of those few people out there who still keep a notebook in the glove compartment and faithfully record the mileage each and every time you fill up, you probably don’t need any tips. The rest of us, however, could probably use some reminders from time to time.

Advice From the Trenches

We all know about the maintenance schedules, but to get a perspective from the front lines, Prince William Living magazine asked some locals to give us some of their top pieces of advice for keeping your car in good shape and avoiding problems. John Filippone of Piedmont Tire and Auto offered a few tips.

The first thing he recommends is to walk around your car and examine it, every time, before you get in. “That’s something that nobody does, that everybody should do, and especially new drivers. A lot of things could be prevented by just walking around the car,” says Filippone.

Some people may have gotten out of the habit of doing this important step now that rear-facing cameras eliminate the safety issue of accidentally driving over a child or an animal, but it’s still important from a maintenance perspective. Drivers can spot problems with a tire, a piece of trim that’s coming off, and any damage that’s occurred.

Next, Filippone recommends checking your air pressure. Although new cars have tire monitoring systems, older cars don’t, and they’re also not something that people tend to replace when the sensors stop working. Filippone says they see a lot of blown-out tires from low pressure.

His third tip is to make sure you know how to properly check your oil level. “I can’t tell you how many times people come in and say, ‘My oil light came on so I just put in three quarts of oil,’ which just makes the problem worse. You can do all kinds of damage to your engine by putting too much oil in,’” says Filippone.

Resources for Information

Your car’s manual, of course, is the best place to look for maintenance schedules. If it’s still under warranty, you’ll need to follow those schedules and keep good records in order to keep your warranty valid. But outside of that, knowing when things need to be replaced can be difficult since individual usage varies greatly. Several local automotive repair shops, including Piedmont, G&C Tire and Auto Service, and Stan
Rollinson’s Automotive have detailed information on their websites that can help you decide if it’s time to get something replaced. So, don’t overlook your favorite mechanic’s website as a source.

The Prince William Public Library offers two services on automotive care through their Digital Library that patrons may not be aware of. is a digital resource that is available for anyone to use from home. Chilton published its first automobile journal in 1911, and for years they have been the go-to guides for DIY auto mechanics. Now, of course, they’ve gone online.

If you don’t have a library card, you can register instantly online, then put in your card number. Next, enter your year, make, and model, and Chilton will hook you up with a host of information about your vehicle — from maintenance schedules to bulletins and recalls and even diagrams of your vehicle’s specific parts. There’s a video library with short videos that explain how parts of the car work, how to spot problems, and
information on how to repair them. Some of these assume some prior knowledge, so a total beginner might need additional help.

The second service offered by the library is, which contains wiring diagrams, a parts guide, and tech bulletins and recalls. Due to licensing restrictions, you’ll need to visit a branch to use that one.

Of course, there’s always YouTube, but for a more vetted online course for total beginners, there are several at for less than $20. These will go over the basics, such as how to check fluids, change the oil, fix a flat, and more.

Hands-On Instruction

Some of us may need a little help telling our windshield washer reservoir from our radiators. It’s pretty difficult to locate hands-on instruction these days; that is, if you don’t want to become a mechanic. One overlooked option is your local auto parts store. No, they don’t offer Saturday morning demonstrations like Home Depot, unfortunately, but they will come out to the car and help you with a few basics, such as
replacing windshield wipers, lightbulbs, and batteries. They’re limited for liability reasons on what they can touch on your car, but they can talk you through it, which is the best way to learn. Learning a few basics like these can save money too, such as when a $5 light bulb that you found out about during your annual inspection ends up costing $30 to have installed at a shop.

Learning a few basics of auto maintenance will help you become a more attentive car owner. It can also be a source of pride and satisfaction to feel a bit of mastery over the unknown.

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star and also works for online educational companies. Wendy enjoys traveling around the area to learn about parks, restaurants, attractions, and especially history.


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