Are you someone who knows how to change the oil on your car but not much else when it comes to car maintenance? Or perhaps you avoid taking your vehicle in for service because you worry that it won’t be done correctly or don’t know what needs to be serviced.
Car maintenance can seem like a daunting task for those who are unfamiliar, and it’s easy to put off taking your vehicle in for servicing or attempting to decipher instructions. However, regular maintenance will ensure that your car lasts longer and runs better.
Being able to take care of your own vehicle will save time and money, as well as give you peace of mind. To help make this process easier, read our list of best practices so you can keep your car running smoothly without having to rely on a mechanic to fix minor issues.
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Basic Maintenance Tasks For Every Car
Every car, whether new or old, benefits from the following maintenance tasks. Think of it as the bare minimum, even if you drove a new car off the lot.
Change Your Oil
Your owner’s manual or your car’s manufacturer’s website will explain how often you need to change your oil, usually every 3,000-5,000 miles. Engine oil reduces friction and keeps the engine working smoothly. With time, old or dirty engine oil may not lubricate the engine as cleanly; changing the oil ensures your car continues running well. Keep an eye on your dashboard’s oil indicator. If it lights up, it’s time for a change.
Check the State of Your Tires
Tires with poor tread, air pressure, or alignment increase your risk of an accident, which could eventually increase your auto insurance rates.
- Tire pressure: Low tire pressure could lead to a tire blowout and loss of control over the car, and ultimately an accident. Check the tire pressure to ensure it’s within the manufacturer’s requirements using an air pressure gauge.
- Tire tread depth: Tread depth helps a tire grip the road and prevent skids. Tread only lasts 3-4 years, even with routine maintenance. To check the tread depth, put a penny with Lincoln’s head facing down into several tread grooves on all your tires. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you need to replace your tire.
- Tire balance/alignment: Imbalanced tires can lead to car damage, advanced tire tread wear, and associated issues. Misaligned wheels are often caused by potholes or hitting an object and can lead to a tire blowout. An auto shop can check your tires for balance and alignment simultaneously.
Check Your Car’s Fluid Levels
Do not let low fluid levels cause a frozen or dead engine which can leave you stranded in the cold or an unsafe area. Take your car to a service center roughly every 3,000 miles to get your fluid levels checked:
- Engine oil: Check the oil with the dipstick to ensure you have a normal amount, as low oil levels could damage your engine.
- Coolant (antifreeze): Check the antifreeze reservoir level at least once a year and refill if below the line. You may need to flush coolant every few years.
- Transmission fluid: Check your transmission fluid using the car’s dipstick, and get a change if you notice dirty transmission fluid. Low or poor-quality transmission fluid can lead to costly transmission problems and repairs.
- Windshield wiper fluid: Keep your windshield vision clear of dirt, grime, and glare by ensuring the fluid reservoir is full.
- Brake fluid: Read your owner’s manual to find out how often to replace or refill the brake fluid, which may need to be replaced every few years. Low brake fluid levels could cause a less-responsive brake pedal.
Make Sure Your Spare Tire Is Still Usable
Your spare tire puts you back on the road after a flat tire; an unusable one could lead to an expensive tow home. In addition, an underinflated tire could put you at risk of a dangerous tire blowout due to too much friction. Once a year or when in for an oil change, haul out your spare tire and look for cracks and use a tire pressure gauge to check for underinflation.
Replace Windshield Wipers
Windshield wipers that smear rain versus removing it won’t help to provide a clear view while driving in a storm. When in for an oil change, ask the mechanic to check your windshield wipers to see if they need replacement. Note that you may need to replace them more often if you live in a rainy or snowy area where they’re often in use or in a location with strong UV rays, which break down the rubber. Watch for streaking or squeaking wipers.
Basic Maintenance Tasks For Older Cars
If you’ve driven your vehicle for several years or purchased a preowned car or truck, keep an eye on even more maintenance items. You’ll likely want to take your car in to be checked during an oil change or at a maintenance shop to ensure the job is done properly.
Inspect Belts and Hoses
Cooler and heating hoses and accessory belts keep your vehicle running well at the right temperature, inside and out. Vehicle age can lead to tired belts and hoses, so keep an eye, ear, and nose out for signs of trouble, including squeaking noises under the hood, a burnt-rubber smell, and a lit dashboard light. Belts may need to be replaced at around 60,000 to 90,000 miles in any case.
Check Battery Performance
Your vehicle’s age and mileage can wear down the battery’s performance, along with repeatedly turning it on and off, such as when idling. Get your car checked immediately if you notice the “Check Engine” or battery light illuminated or dimmed interior lights or headlights. Batteries may need to be replaced after three years.
Filters help trap dirt, dust, and other particles that can damage your car and make your interior less-than-optimal. Watch for signs of filter issues, including bad gas mileage and musty/moldy-smelling interior air. Read your manufacturer’s recommendations for replacement.
- Fuel filter: Captures contaminants that could create trouble for carburetors or fuel injectors.
- Air filters: These filters trap dirt and particles before they damage your car’s engine.
- Oil filters: Traps contaminants that could slow or trouble engine oil.
- Cabin filter: Captures airborne pollen and dust before particles circulate inside the cabin.
Check Ignition Systems
Spark plugs may need to be replaced at 30,000 miles but may also last to 100,000 miles. Get your ignition system checked around 30,000 miles to stay safe. If it becomes challenging to start your car or you hear knocking or rattling noises, you may be dealing with an ignition system issue.
Check Lights and Indicators
As your car ages, lights may burn out. The problem with this is that lights provide visibility on and off the road, increasing your safety and your chance of avoiding a ticket for having a headlight out. Clean your exterior lights and replace burned-out bulbs as soon as possible.
In addition, watch for turn signals that flash too quickly or not at all and nonworking hazard lights. Inside the car, dashboard indicators, such as the check engine light, can point to real trouble but may also flash or stay on due to a sensor issue or another malfunction. Get your car checked ASAP if an indicator hints at an issue.
Does Car Insurance Cover Car Issues Because of Maintenance?
Standard car insurance won’t cover vehicle problems due to lack of proper maintenance. For example, if you don’t change or check the oil regularly, leading to engine damage, you won’t be able to make an insurance claim for a new engine.
Some insurers offer a type of coverage called “mechanical breakdown insurance” for new cars. This insurance does cover some repairs if your new car breaks down or needs new parts. But mechanical breakdown insurance doesn’t cover routine maintenance costs nor any required repairs resulting from improper maintenance, wear and tear, or neglect. It’s more like a new-vehicle extended warranty than a policy that protects you from ignoring maintenance.