The first thing I learned when I got my original Micra was how to do my own routine engine maintenance checks. It’s a process that takes all of two minutes, costs one tissue, and stands to save me a lot of money in costly repairs, as well as keeping me safe from the inconvenience of being stranded.
The routine engine maintenance check is something anyone can do, even if they have very little mechanical aptitude. Imagine you telling the mechanic what is wrong, instead of the other way around. You could tell your mechanic whether you need a new belt or if there’s a problem with your cooling system with confidence, your mechanic will know you are right, and there will be little room for “Misunderstanding.”
You’ll be able to find small problems before they turn into big problems. You’ll gain a better understanding of how your car works. Most importantly, you’ll look like a champ every time you raise your hood and perform your basic maintenance check.
Raising the hood
Many people avoid the basic engine maintenance check because they don’t know how to raise the hood of their car properly or safely. That’s too bad, because it’s really a simple process once you know how. The first part, which everyone knows, is to pull the appropriate lever located next to the fuel filler door lever:
Most people soon discover that this is only one step in a two-step (well, three step) process. The hood will pop up, but there is a safety mechanism that prevents the hood from fully opening. This is to protect you; if you were to inadvertently pull this lever while driving down the highway, the hood would otherwise fly open and smash into the windshield. And so, the trick is to release the safety mechanism, which is very easy to do once you know where it is.
Find the right side of the Nissan emblem on the front of the car. Directly up from there, in between the hood and the front of the car, is the release lever. Simply push it to the left (towards the center of the emblem), and lift up on the hood. Hold the hood up with your right hand.
I’ve circled the prop rod above so you’ll know what to find. It sits right inside the fender, and pops out quite easily. Raise it, and ease it into its slot in the support bracket, as shown:
Just like that. This is the most difficult part of this process, and it really wasn’t that hard at all. Everything else is just knowing where to look, and what to look for, which I’m going to show you now.
You can “Read” the engine bay like you’re reading this page, from left to right. I’ve labelled the points of interest in the image above of the left side of the engine bay, towards the front.
A is the windshield washer fluid reservoir. There’s nothing to check here, but if the low washer fluid light appears on the dashboard, this is where to pour in a bottle of fresh windshield washer fluid. This is for both the front and back window washers.
B is the belt. All you’re looking for here are cracks or signs that the belt is fraying. If you see small cracks or signs of fraying, don’t fret; these belts are very well engineered and can run for a little while with a few cracks or frays. However, you will want to make arrangements to have the belt changed in the near future, because it will eventually break if you don’t change it.
C is the dip stick. Stick your finger through the yellow loop, pull up to extract the dip stick, then wipe the dip stick clean with a tissue or paper towel. Since the engine had been running, oil had been splashed up all over the stick, so it needs to be cleaned first. Now, stick it back in all the way, then pull it back out. Keep the tip pointing downhill, and read the tip.
There are two letters, L and H, separated by a space marked with crossing hash marks. L means low, and H means high. If the oil level is below the line at the L mark, you need to add oil, or have oil added to the engine. I’ve labelled that with “D” two images above. If the oil registers past the “H” line, there is too much oil in the engine. If this happens suddenly, there may be some other issue that’s causing this, and that needs to be addressed. Anything between these two points is ideal.
Another thing you can check is the condition of your motor oil. In the image I posted, the oil is a good colour and doesn’t need to be changed. If the oil is looking black, you’ll probably want to arrange to have an oil change performed.
Moving on to the right side of the engine bay…
E is the brake fluid reservoir. There is a “Min” and a “Max” line. Your fluid is probably at the “Max,” and will be clear if your Micra is new. However, if you can clearly see fluid below the “Min” line, you’ll want to address this as soon as possible.
F is the positive battery terminal cover. Lift this and check for corrosion. It looks like white fuzz. If you see no white fuzz, you’re okay. If you do, you’ll want to get that cleaned up before the car stops starting.
Now, look down towards the front of the car…
There’s a cap that has an orange warning. To the right of that is the engine coolant reservoir bottle. If you look down towards the side of that bottle, you’ll see it as a “Max” and “Min” line. You want to ensure the coolant falls between these two lines; if it’s above the Max line, there may be an issue with the engine that’s causing it. If it falls below the “Min” line, you’ve likely got a coolant leak somewhere, and, at the very least, you’ll want to top up the bottle with properly mixed coolant. Water can be used in a pinch, but the next stop ought to be addressing this problem.
That’s it for the check; all of this can be done in about two minutes. Now, take the pressure off the prop rod by lifting the hood gently with your right hand, move the prop rod out of the support bracket, snap it back down into its clip, and drop the hood. Literally. Hold it approximately 8 inches (20 centimeters) above the front of the car, and let it drop. If it doesn’t snap down on the first try, re-release the safety catch, raise it a little higher, and let it drop.
That’s all there is to it. I do this check with every other full tank of gas, or every 1,000km. It provides me with peace of mind and confidence.
To help further illustrate, I’ve made this video. Enjoy.