This month, we address some common vehicle maintenance queries that firsttime car owners might have.

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How do I check the health of my car battery? There is a status indicator, with a label printed next to it, saying black is okay (green tick) and yellow is not okay (red cross).

Right now, the status indicator shows black. Do I also need to check the electrolyte level? It is difficult to do this as the battery compartment is cramped and the battery is too heavy to lift.

My car is an eight month-old Volkswagen with a Stop-Start system.

As long as the battery condition indicator is black, you need not worry.

Cars with a Stop-Start function demand a higher level of electrical energy because the frequency of starter motor operation is much higher.

Such cars come with more efficient alternators, heavy duty starter-motors and specially designed batteries.

In the case of your Volkswagen, its battery is designed to take in charge from the alternator at a quicker rate and it is capable of enduring multiple starts during a journey.

A Stop-Start system controller manages stop-start activity based on battery state and will never allow the system to operate if a low battery level is detected. It does not require higher maintenance.

Generally, car batteries should last at least one year, although neither car manufacturers nor battery makers ever define battery lifespan.

If you need to replace your car battery, make sure the new battery has the correct amphour (Ah) rating (stated on the original battery) and, more importantly, it is an Enhanced Flooded Battery (designed for Stop-Start functions).

If you are worried about suddenly running out of battery power, you might want to replace your battery every 12 to 18 months.
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My Mazda 3 is 45 months old and its mileage is only 23,000km. I did my 20,000km servicing more than six months ago.

If I wait till my mileage reaches 30,000km (recommended by the car workshop), it may take another year or so.

How should I schedule my car servicing interval in view of its low mileage?

Your car’s mileage is about one third of the distance clocked by the average car in Singapore.

Congratulations for being a “car-lite” motorist.

It is perfectly safe to stick to the servicing intervals recommended by the workshop.

Engine oil degrades gradually with use, with the rate of degradation being in line with the rate of usage. This is the same with filters, which will clog at a rate that is in line with the mileage clocked by the vehicle.

The rate of wear also applies to parts such as spark plugs, brakes and timing belt.

Having said that, a car that is left idle for extended periods will have some consequences.

For instance, the battery may weaken or go flat, engine oil may completely settle into the sump, transmission clutch may get sticky and flat spots may occur on tyres.

But if your car is used at least once a week, none of the above should occur.

The only thing you should keep in mind are the tyres, which should be inspected once they reach five years of age – even if they are not worn.

And they should be replaced once they turn 10, even if they are not worn. Rubber hardens over time, compromising the grip of tyres.

How will I know that the car problem I bring up with the workshop is properly addressed?

Occasionally, I find that a problem persists despite repeated visits to the workshop.

This is not an uncommon issue. The workshop will say it has put the car through the usual diagnostic tests and, as the equipment found that everything is within tolerable parameters, there is no problem.

You may also hear the service adviser informing you that the car’s engine control unit (the engine’s computer) has been “reset” and, hence, the fault is cleared.

Often, the root cause has not been identified.

In many instances, the workshop supervisor you consult may not have precisely understood your description of the problem.

You must provide a clear description of the issue that concerns you and not what you feel or think.

If the problem is something you experience while on the move, you should request that the workshop staff ride with you so that both parties can agree when the symptom occurs.

If the recurring issue or issues pertain to a new car that is still under warranty, insist on the company sticking to its obligation to fix the fault at no cost.
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Warning lights are there for a reason, so make sure that the workshop fixes the fault and doesn’t just reset the ECU.