Filling time while filling your tank

From MSN Auto
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Pumpside Service Checks
When you're filling up, take time to look under the hood.

by Peter D. duPre

It's a shame that the service station has been replaced by the convenience store and self-service pump. Gone are the smiling, uniformed attendants who gave our vehicles the once over every time we pulled in. These days, stopping at a "full service" pump means only that an attendant will pump your gas. I would trade the ability to buy a hot dog and a bag of chips while I fill up for a good, old-fashioned service station any day. Self-service may save us a few pennies at the pump, but it means fewer checks under the hood, and, in the long run, that can cost you more in expensive repairs. It is important, therefore, to take a couple of minutes to perform your own check every time you fill up.

First, familiarize yourself with the engine compartment. Your vehicle owner's manual will tell you the location of the battery, coolant overflow tank, power steering and brake fluid reservoirs, and the dipsticks for checking transmission fluid and engine oil, as well as what types of fluid are needed.

When pulling up to the pump, put the vehicle in "park," set the brake and turn off the engine. Put the fuel nozzle in the automatic-fill mode. As the tank fills, check under your hood. At busy stations, fuel up first, then pull to the side to perform your check.

A routine checkup
Start by looking at the coolant overflow tank (Never remove the radiator cap; escaping steam could burn you). Top up to the fill line as necessary with a mix of coolant and water. Most convenience stores still sell anti-freeze, oil, windshield washer fluid and brake fluid, so getting what you need shouldn't be difficult.

Next, check engine oil. The dipstick should read between the "full" and one-quart low marks. If the level is below the one-quart down mark, add oil.

Look at the side of the brake fluid reservoir to monitor fluid level. If the level is low, you'll need to top up with the specified fluid type. Wipe the cap clean before removing it to keep contamination out.

Make sure the battery terminals are free of corrosion. Most cars come with maintenance-free batteries that need no filling, but if you have a standard battery, check under the caps to make sure the fluid comes up to the bottom of the fill circle. Top up with distilled water only.

To accurately check the power steering and transmission fluids, you'll need to start the engine. The power steering fluid dipstick (inside the reservoir cap) registers levels for cold or hot engine. Transmission fluid should be checked only when the vehicle is warm, while the engine is running and the gearshift in the "park" position.

An ounce of prevention
Once your check under the hood has been taken care of, check the tires. Ideally, air pressure should be checked when the tires are coldóbefore you've driven more than a mile or so, but that's not always practical. Add or bleed air from the tire to meet the air pressure recommended for your car (usually listed on the tire placard located on the driver's doorpost). If the tires are warm, adjust pressure only when it is well below the recommended pressure.

After you have performed the essential checks, wash the all the windows (don't forget the outside mirrors). Then, examine the wipers for cracks, or missing 'hunks.' Finally, give the headlights and taillights a quick wipe so you can see and be seen.

While the above may sound like a lot, it only takes a few minutes. Cars and car repairs cost big money and with the ever-increasing number of miles we drive each year, regular service checks are vital. Next time you pull in for a fill up and a hotdog, take a couple minutes to give your vehicle a full-service checkup.

Peter duPre has been writing about cars and car care for over 30 years. He has authored automotive technical manuals and been published in numerous automotive magazines.

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