Anyone who buys a new or used car has an expectation of getting the most out of it. That’s where car maintenance becomes a very important step that every car owner must follow in order to maintain a brand new look and increase the car life span.
To make sure your car is always in the best condition, always follow your maintenance schedule and never procrastinate or ignore it. In order to increase the car’s life and also save money on repairs, preventive maintenance is extremely important.
After all, “Prevention is better than cure”.
Having said that, we’re left with some obvious questions:
What should be your preventative car maintenance program?
What exactly needs to be done to ensure that your car will remain road-ready?
We will provide a detailed car maintenance checklist that has shown to be highly effective in promoting good car health.
Benefits of car maintenance
There are a lot of compelling reasons why maintaining your car is very important.
- Improves safety
- Enhances reliability and performance
- Minimizes roadside emergencies
- Saves you expensive repair costs
- Contributes to a cleaner environment
- Higher resale value
The Three Pre-requisites of Car Maintenance:
1. Check Your Owner’s Manual
Owner’s manual contains make and model-specific information about your vehicle which makes it one of the most important documents in your car’s glove compartment.
If you don’t get this manual as part of car purchase, as is often the case in used cars, you can get a copy of it from the car manufacturer or search the internet for owner’s manual of your vehicle.
Owner’s manual helps you answer all car related queries. Some of them are below:
- How to optimize the performance of your car?
- What car parts need to be checked regularly?
- How these car parts should be checked?
- When do you need to perform these checks?
- What signs and symptoms lead to problems in your car?
- What type of parts and accessories is recommended on different models on your car?
- How to check tire pressure, lights, oil condition, engine drive belts, etc.?
Using the wrong accessories or replacements can seriously undermine the car’s reliability and roadworthiness. It may not be apparent immediately, but over time, the problems will arise and you might have to go through expensive repairs that include replacing critical vehicle parts.
So it is highly advised to read the owner’s manual thoroughly.
2. Inspect your Car regularly
If you know what you are looking for, performing an inspection is quite easy. Again, your owner’s manual can give you lots of information on what to look for and when you should perform these inspections.
This is a simple process of assessing different components of your vehicle so that you will know what you need to do next. If the required action can be accomplished by you, then you’re performing basic car maintenance.
If you require advanced tools or an extra pair of hands, then taking professional help will be a great idea. So, if something looks confusing, the professional would either confirm it or dismiss it as normal.
The fact that you will be poking your nose in the car will greatly increase your knowledge of different components that make a car such a magnificent beast.
3. Understand the meaning of various Warning Light Indicators
Even after careful inspections, it is inevitable to be aware of all components in a car and maintain it. In these cases, it becomes imperative to learn the meaning of different warning lights in a car.
Here are a few of them.
- Check engine light – If your Check engine light flashes, then it is advised to go to a technician unless you are a professional who knows how to use an OBD2 scanner tool. This warning light indicates a problem in car’s motor components that has sensors connected to and actively monitored by an OBD 2 interface.
- Oil warning light – This warning light flashes because of low oil pressure, oil pump failure or even oil filter/strainer blockage. Its highly recommended not to drive your car with this light on as it can severely damage your engine.
- Brake warning light – If this is on, then maybe your parking brakes are engaged or your brake fluid levels need a top up.
- Service engine light – This indicates that your scheduled maintenance is near.
- Electrical fault light – This indicates that your car’s electrical charging system has issues that need to be assessed.
- Coolant warning light –If your Coolant warning light flashes that mean your engine is overheating. Best thing to do is to pull over, open your engine hood and allow it to cool down.
- ABS warning light – If this is on, you’d better take your car to a professional for proper diagnosis. In sudden stop situations, Anti-lock braking system keeps your car controllable and stable.
Top 20 Car Maintenance Checklist
We have come up with a very comprehensive car maintenance checklist so that you keep your car in optimum operating condition. We’ve collected about 20 basic car maintenance tips, both exterior and interior, that will make your life a lot easier if properly followed.
1. Check Your Tire Pressure
Tires that are improperly inflated can cause blowouts that can cause accidents. Additionally, the wrong level of inflation disturbs your fuel efficiency.
One seriously underestimated issue is underinflated tires that wear out faster than properly inflated ones which lead to poor car mileage. At the same time, you need to make sure that your tires aren’t overinflated. This increases the risk of a blowout, which is not desired while traveling 90 mph down the highway.
It is recommended to keep your tires inflated according to manufacturer specifications. Also, it’s a good idea to check your tires once a month.
Buy a tire pressure gauge that will give you more precise data about what’s going on inside your wheels. Some cars also have tires pressure monitoring systems installed from the factory. Also, smart gadgets have come up that connect with mobile phones and constantly monitor tire pressure as well as send out notifications in case one or more tires need attention.
2. Rotate Your Tires
It is crucial to have your tires rotated, aligned and balanced according to the mileage that was indicated in your manual. Tire rotation involves taking off each tire and putting it back in some another location: e.g., switching the left and right tires. This process ensures that the tires sustain wear evenly, which extends their lifespan.
The thumb rule is to get it rotated every 5,000 miles although it’s recommended to double check with the manual for better accuracy.
Ensure that the tires are always perfectly aligned as non-aligned tires can make you lose control of your vehicle and cause accidents.
3. Check your tire tread & depth
We don’t have the luxury of an F1 pit crew to change our tires when the weather suddenly changes. So, we need tires that are functional in all types of weather conditions i.e. dry, wet, or freezing cold. This is where tire treads come into play. If you look at your tires, you’ll see tread patterns with wider contact patches with more versatile rubber.
Check if tires come with tread wear indicators that eliminate the need to check whether your tire treads are still deep enough to help channel water away from the tires, especially in wet conditions, and maintain excellent surface contact. So it’s recommended getting a new set of tires if your current tires don’t come with these tread wear indicators. It may sound expensive but “better safe than sorry”.
4. Check your Brakes
Don’t wait for the screeching sound to tell you that the brake pads are getting old. Brake dust is another issue that makes your wheels a little bit unpleasant to look at though it doesn’t affect the functioning of your braking system.
So, it is important to clean the dust off your wheels with a damp sponge and clean cold water because brake dust typically clings to your wheels via static electricity. It’s recommended to get your brakes checked by a mechanic as part of regular maintenance.
5. Inspect and Replace Engine drive belts
Engines, along with drive belts, generate power for your car wheels as well as other parts and accessories. Drive belts transfer power from your crankshaft or cam to the car’s air conditioning compressor, alternator, power steering pump, water and air pump, and any other device that relies on mechanical power. Unfortunately, these belts lose their integrity and degrade because these belts are made of rubber or other polymers that wear a lot even with normal use.
So, timely inspection of these belts looking for visible hairline cracks or any change in integrity is important. It is highly recommended to get it checked every 40,000 to 60,000 miles but you should always refer the owner’s manual to get the inputs for your car. This should reduce your average car maintenance costs by avoiding costly repairs.
6. Check Oil Levels
Car owners are generally told to replace their vehicle’s oil every 3000 miles or every three months. In reality, cars don’t need oil change that frequently.
So, how often should you change car oil?
Your car’s engine generates a lot of heat and this can lead to a reduction in the engine’s performance. This happens because a lot of mechanical moving parts in a car create friction as they brush against each other.
So it becomes imperative to minimize friction from these mechanical moving parts in order to ensure smoother operation and better fuel economy. Checking your car engine oil should thus be made an integral part of basic car maintenance.
Oil level change depends on different make and model types. For the most part, cars can get away with an oil change every 5000 miles or 6 months. But if the car spends a lot of time in traffic or other tough driving conditions that means the car should go through oil change much sooner than that.
Click here to learn how to change oil in your car on your own.
7. Change Your Engine’s Air Filter
Engine’s air filter will clog up quickly if you are frequently driving in harsh conditions. If this is the case with you, consider a replacement earlier than scheduled.
The air filter is another component whose maintenance schedule will depend as per your owner’s manual.
8. Fill up the Engine Coolant
Coolant keeps your engine from melting down from excessive heat while in use, and that’s why this should never be ignored. If the coolant is running low, then the heat won’t get dissipated into the environment from the engine that will lead to overheating.
You also need to watch out for leaks that slowly drain your engine coolant. If this is not taken care of properly, your temperature gauge will suddenly rise to dangerous levels.
Checking for leaks is also easy since most cars today come with coolant reservoirs with appropriate level markings on the panel and are somehow translucent. Even if you don’t open the lid of the reservoir, you should be able to see whether it is running low or not.
It may be a good idea to keep some 50/50 coolant for those occasions where you’re running a little low.
Be sure not to check your coolant while your engine is still hot. You could get burned easily by the fluid.
9. Replace spark plugs
Malfunctioning of the spark plug can lead to lack of acceleration, misfires, trouble starting your vehicle, high fuel consumption and engine surging.
It is recommended to change your spark plugs after every 30,000 miles if it is the standard copper type. You should change it after every 100,000 miles if it is the more advanced iridium spark plug.
Again, refer your owner’s manual for better details on replacing the spark plug.
10. Maintain bodywork and keep it covered
We all love and miss the way our cars looked when they first came out of the showroom. The smooth paint finish without any scratches or stains made us feel so happy.
One can keep the car in a similar state for a long time by caring for it correctly. And, it’s never too late to start caring, for polishing alone can get rid of most paint imperfections, scratches, and stains. Although polishing is best left to the experts, you too can try your hand at polishing your own car at home.
Covering your car when not in use has a major impact on maintaining your car.
The paint and outer material stay stronger by keeping it away from the sunlight making your car look more stylish and brand new for a longer period. So its highly recommended to cover your car when not in use and may be in your garage whenever you can.
11. Keep testing your Battery
Many mechanics and auto shops offer battery testing at a reasonable price which is a good way to spot problems before you get to a situation where you have a dead battery and have to pay for a tow truck. As a thumb rule, car batteries should be replaced every five years.
Also, it is recommended to check for battery leakage or any mineral build up and clean it with a battery cleaning brush.
12. Check your Light bulbs
Having any of the lights on your car not functioning properly is dangerous. Indicator or signal lights inform other motorists of the direction you are planning to go to. This way they will also know what to do. Be sure to check your turn signals, brake lights, reverse lights, and of course, your headlights on a regular basis.
In case of broken lights, it is important to use only the kind of bulb that is specific to your vehicle’s make. You can find these details in your vehicle owner’s manual that will also tell you how to access and replace these lights.
13. Clean your Windscreen wipers
Always ensure that your windscreen wipers are in best shape, especially during rainy days. Also, never use your wipers when the windscreen is dry as it can cause serious damage to glass and wipers. Damaged windscreen wipers or those that are not frequently cleaned can result in deep scratches into your glass.
It is highly recommended to use windscreen washers to wet the glass surface before using your wipers. A lot of people add just a small amount of shampoo or soap solution into windscreen washer fluid container so as to give the wipers a less friction prone surface.
14. Check and refill Power steering fluid
Power steering fluid is an essential element in your power steering.
If power steering fluid breaks down after constant use, it begins to break down and leave deposits in the system’s components. Excessive wear is caused by these deposits ultimately resulting in expensive repairs when a major component fails.
Like your engine oil, power steering fluid must be checked and refilled regularly.
15. Replace Cabin air filter
People who are allergic to dust and other airborne particles might want to replace the cabin air filter in their car. This may not improve your car’s overall performance, but it is the most practical way to keep everyone safe and comfortable inside your car’s cabin.
It’s advised to replace your cabin air filter in every 10,000 miles or every 12-15 months. Again, check your owner’s manual for the recommended schedule of cabin air filter replacement.
16. Maintain the Cooling system
There are many countries where temperatures can surge to over 45 degrees Celsius. So, a reliable and well maintained cooling system could be the difference between a well-running engine and one that can collapse.
You should always monitor and maintain car fluid levels. It is advised to keep a 100 percent coolant or 50:50 percent coolant to water ratio in your car.
Radiator hoses tend to wear over time as the utter pressure that the hot water exerts on the walls of the hoses can create leaks or cracks in the rubber which can cause major issues. This could lead to overheating of the engine. If you find a layer of green liquid or moisture of any sort, they might need replacing immediately.
17. Take care of your Seats
Your seats are what connect you to your car. Dirty and misaligned seats will not only lead to unhappy passengers but also lower resale value when you want to sell your car.
Most drivers have no idea on how to position their seats for an ideal driving position.
18. Maintain your Entertainment System
Many car enthusiasts get a new car entertainment or an infotainment system and want to keep it banging for years. The biggest factor that determines how long your entertainment system will last is the person listening to it.
Know the limits of your entertainment system. Nothing kills a speaker or fries an amp faster than distortion. You should not touch the gain knobs if your sound starts to distort at high volume.
Make sure your power connections are clean and tight. If you have a big entertainment system, then it can create a lot of vibration in your car. Just make sure they are still tight in order to keep that current flowing if you want to keep the music going.
Take care of any exposed speakers. Don’t let anything keep hitting it like groceries, luggage, bowling ball, etc. Put some grills on those speakers and keep the trunk clean.
19. Periodically clean your Carpets and mats
Most people are aware of the need to wash the exterior of the car periodically, but neglect to really clean out the interior. All modern cars come with a fabric-based carpet that covers the entire floor area.
It is highly advised to clean carpets and mats every few weeks, otherwise, the car becomes a paradise for dust, grime and moisture attracting mold and fungal material.
20. Carry the Automotive Tools at all Times
The best tip to maintain your car properly is to be ready to face any situation and gave the suited tools with you. If you delay repair, it can potentially cause more damage, which was already there and also increase the amount of repair. The best remedy is to inspect the problem yourself whenever you feel while driving that the car is not working efficiently.
Do take the help of the mechanic if the damage is severe. There is a set of tools, which is readily available and you can store it in your trunk. Do carry the best jumper cables to give that jump start to your car so that you are not stuck in a tricky situation.
Taking care of your car is relatively easy and should be done at all times. You must always remember that at the core of all these basic car maintenance activities is your vehicle owner’s manual. This will give you all the information needed to take the right actions on your car. Adhering to these car maintenance tips can help keep your car in the right shape.
Our fast-paced lifestyles have made us habitual to look in our smartphones in order to carry out our mundane tasks like searching, planning, and scheduling. There are so many apps that can help in tracking fuel, finding gas stations and planning maintenance schedule of your vehicle.
What is your car maintenance strategy? Are there any other car parts that you take care of?
Let us know in the comment section below.