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DIY at the Self-Service Pump
Pump-side engine checks are vital to your car’s well being
By Peter D. duPre
It used to be that when you pulled into a gas station for a fill-up, an army of trained, uniformed and smiling attendants would fill up the tank, clean your windows, check all vital fluids and make sure your tires were properly inflated. There was always a mechanic on hand to make any needed repairs. In fact, the service was so good people didn't call them gas stations. They called them service stations.
Today, the service station has all but disappeared, having been replaced by the convenience store with self-service pump, and “full service” no longer means getting an underhood check. Instead, a surly attendant pumps the gas and grudgingly wipes your windshield. True, you can buy a six-pack, a bag of chips and some candy bars, and you might save a few cents at the pump. The downside is that less service means fewer underhood checks and in the long run, that can cost you a lot more in expensive repairs than the savings offered by pumping it yourself. It is important, therefore, not neglect the underhood checks that used to be performed by service station attendants.
When you pull up to the pump, put the vehicle in park, set the brake and turn off the engine. Then, as the tank is filling, look under the hood. Check coolant level first by looking at the overflow tank (never open the radiator cap of a hot engine), topping 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 the supplies you need shouldn’t be difficult.
Next, check engine oil. You’ll need a paper towel for this; it is a good idea to keep a roll in the trunk in case the dispensers at the pumps are empty. If the dipstick should read between "full" and one quart low; if it's at or below the one-quart down mark, add oil but be sure not to overfill. Then, check brake fluid and the battery. Although most cars have maintenance-free batteries which can't be topped up, look for corrosion build up, a sign that the battery needs attention. Finally, start the engine and check the automatic transmission and power steering fluids.
Pump-Side Check List:
Peter D. duPre is iCARumba content editor.