What Does TLC Mean For Cars?

What does TLC mean in relation to cars? Is Tender Loving Care important? Here's the ultimate guide to what TLC really is all about.

Tending Loving Care – TLC – is a term most people are familiar with. We usually talk about showing TLC to people or animals, but it is also applicable to cars and other vehicles.

Okay, there’s no need to sit down for a heart-to-heart with your car. It’s a mechanical object. However, cars and other vehicles do need caring for. In a sense, they need to be loved.

For cars, TLC means regular maintenance, servicing, and care. Combined, these help it last longer, perform better, be more reliable, and save money. What’s not to like about that sentence?

There’s a generally accepted principle when it comes to TLC for cars: if you put the effort in now, you’ll save money further down the road. Keeping on top of the minor, insignificant-looking faults means they don’t develop into big, expensive problems like engine or transmission seizure or blown head gasket.

So, TLC for cars. What’s involved?

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TLC For Cars – Basic Maintenance

Summer Car Washing

Many people easily fall into the habit of neglecting their cars. It’s an easy trap. We get up and head off to work or take the kids to school. By the time we get home, we’re either exhausted or have twenty other things to do.

However, basic car maintenance should be higher up the list of priorities. Everything’s fine until it isn’t, as they say.

These are several aspects of essential maintenance you can check – and perhaps work on – yourself.

Fluid Levels

Man service mechanic maintenance inspection service maintenance

Your car’s fluids are vital to keep on top of. The levels should be between the minimum and maximum marks. If any are low, top them up using the correct type of oil, coolant, etc. If you’re unsure, take the car to your mechanic and ask them to do it. It shouldn’t take them long.

Check these fluid levels with the car on flat, level ground:

  • Oil (using the dipstick)
  • Transmission fluid
  • CoolantWindscreen washer fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • Power steering fluid (if applicable)

Tire Wear And Condition

New Car Tire

Use a basic tire pressure gauge to check the PSI within each tire.

They should be at the reading specified in the owner’s manual/car door frame – not the values on the tire itself. A quick glance should be enough to see if any are flat. Lean down under the car to do a basic check of the wear pattern.

If any of the tires are under- or over-inflated (both cause serious problems), use an inflater to top the air up. You could go to a gas station and use the one they have there or invest in a 12-Volt in-car pump.

This will mean you’re ready for any potential problems developing with your tires, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Noticing uneven wear early can save you big problems in the future. Look for smooth parts of the tire, particularly on either edge of the tread. This indicates that you need the wheel alignment adjusted.

Visible metal wires or low tread depth (consider investing in a tread depth gauge) are also a cause for concern.

Often, you’ll need a new tire to solve the problem.

Exterior Lights

Car rear lights, closeup

Everyone knows about headlight or rear light problems other than you as a driver. The best way to check your lights is with a friend every few months.

Ask your friend to sit in the driver’s seat and turn the engine on. First, stand at the front, checking the following:

  • Sidelights
  • Headlights
  • Full beam
  • Fog light
  • Turn signals/hazard lights (remember to check the wing mirror lights too)

At the rear, examine these lights:

  • Sidelights
  • Rear lights
  • Fog light
  • Brake lights
  • Turn signals/hazard lights

If any don’t come on, you’ll probably need new bulbs.

Bounce Test

View from the bottom of a car

The bounce test is a quick suspension check. Stand over each wheel and push down firmly on a solid part of the car. Make sure you don’t break any plastic trim or body panels.

The suspension should make the car bounce back up and immediately resettle into position. If it starts bouncing up and down without stopping for a while, you have a problem.

Take your car to your local mechanic.

You might need new wishbones, springs, or shock absorbers.

How Does The Car Feel To Drive?

Driving car

One of the best points of reference is how the car feels to drive. It’s your car, and you know it best. If something feels off, go with your gut and take it to an auto shop for a look over.

You might feel the car being any of the following (and much more):

  • “Sluggish” under acceleration
  • “Spongey” brake pedal
  • Strange noises (grinding, screeching, squealing, etc.)
  • Lurching
  • Veering to the left or the right
  • Trouble stopping
  • Heavy steering
  • Electrical issues

Part of car TLC is spotting the issues early, so don’t be afraid to take it in.

Car Servicing And TLC

Repair

Regular servicing is much more critical than some corners of the internet would have you believe.

During a service, the mechanic will check your lights, fluid levels, and tires and change your oil and filter for you as standard. They’ll also inspect the brakes and exhaust.

You can usually also purchase optional extras/more in-depth services. These might include replacement air, cabin, fuel, and diesel particulate (if applicable) filters, tracking checks, and brake tests.

Car servicing is essential for TLC. It’s the closest look at your car you can get – unless you have a four-post ramp at home, of course.

A mechanic has access to a whole range of specialist equipment that isn’t worth your buying. This makes servicing a sensible investment.

Why Washing Your Car Is Important For TLC

How Often Should You Wash Your Car

Washing your car isn’t just a vain activity to show off your paintwork (although it can be that too!).

It actually has some genuine TLC benefits for your vehicle.

Hand washing your car is much better than taking it to an automatic car wash. By their very nature, these will scratch your paintwork – no matter how many “scratch-free guarantees” the company claims to have – and cost ten times as much.

Although washing your car by hand takes longer, it’s much better TLC. Take your time and use a car wash that includes wax. The dirt-free paint, combined with the protective layer of wax, provides significant protection from rust and other damage.

It’s also important to clean your car’s interior. Your vehicle’s cabin picks up a lot of dirt surprisingly quickly. You’re probably breathing in more and more every time you get in. Use a shop vac (or just your regular one) to clean it out. This means that TLC for your car is TLC for you too.

What Good Car TLC Means Back For You

Car and money value

If you look after your car with good TLC, it’ll look after you. Invest in preventing the problems rather than solving them once they happen. This is much cheaper in the long run.

Of course, some things are unavoidable. You might take your new car for its first service and crash it on the way home. Unfortunately, that’s just bad luck. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan on keeping every vehicle you own for a long time.

Good car TLC also means it’ll have a higher resale value. If you can show that the vehicle is in good condition and has had regular servicing from an approved dealer, it’ll be more desirable to buyers.

Thus, its value increases.

Keep on top of regular maintenance and TLC by setting reminders to check your car. Once per month should be enough.

Good TLC means long-lasting health and financial viability for both you and your car.

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Benjamin Kitchen

Ben is an automotive author from England. With experience in a fast-fit garage, he's an IMI-qualified light vehicle technician. He aims to help drivers worldwide with common automotive problems. You’ll often find him working with his 1.2 Vauxhall Corsa – it may have a tiny engine, but in eight years it's never once let him down!