You have spent thousands of dollars on your vehicle, so you need to make sure that your vehicle is taken care of properly. Professional maintenance can be expensive, and some tasks are simple enough that anyone can do them with just clear written guidance. If you want to take a larger part in your vehicle’s upkeep, you owe it to yourself to learn more about some of the common tasks that cars require.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Routine Car Maintenance
- How to Care for Your Tires
- How to Change Your Car’s Oil & Fluids
- Checking & Replacing Car Lights
- Replacing Windshield Wipers
- Changing Your Air Filter
- Inspecting Core Components Regularly
- Schedule Regular Checkups
The Importance of Routine Car Maintenance
There are a number of reasons why you want to complete routine car maintenance.
Extend the Life of the Vehicle
With a regular schedule, you are able to keep many vehicle problems at bay. When using your car, the last thing you want is for your car to break down, and regular maintenance can help you avoid costly breakdowns. This also keeps your car’s value higher, because one of the first things people look for when buying a car is the internal condition.
A car breakdown at night can be dangerous, and regular maintenance reduces the chances of your car breaking down. Doing something like checking the tire air pressure is important for making sure your car has a good grip on the road, and it also plays into the comfort of your journey.
Reduced Repair Costs
Regular maintenance may not cost you much, but replacement and repairs can be expensive. It’s important to note that engine and other components don’t fail without reason, so when you are neglecting maintenance, you are letting these parts break down easier. Fixing minor issues before they turn into larger repairs can also make a difference in your repair costs.
How to Care for Your Tires
Caring for your tires is an important part of maintaining the vehicle. With the right care, your car tires can last for a longer time, keep you safe on the road by improving the traction, and reduce your stopping distance.
Check Air Pressure
Your vehicle will have unique specifications for how much air pressure should be in each of your tires based on the steering design, suspension, weight, and other factors. Look up the recommended tire pressure in the owner’s manual or on the white-and-yellow sticker on the doorjamb on the driver’s side. Be sure to check the pressure in each tire using a gauge. If the pressure is lower than it should be, you can fill the tires using an air compressor.
If the pressure in one of the tires is either lower or higher than the recommended pressure by more than 5 PSI, you need to address it in order to prevent excessive wear. You should check tire pressure when the tires are cold before you have driven or at least three hours after you have driven, because the heat generated from driving causes the air in the tires to expand. Tires can lose 1 PSI every month, so check your tires about once a month or before a long road trip. Don’t forget to check your spare tire, as well.
Rotate Your Tires
The tires on the front of your vehicle will usually wear out faster than the back tires because they turn when you go around turns. You need to rotate your tires about every 6,000 miles in order to make sure that all four tires are wearing at the same rate.
Before you rotate your tires, you need to know what pattern you are going to use when you have them rotated, and this will depend on whether your car has non-directional or directional tires. Directional tires have a one-way thread pattern that is designed for either the left or right side, and non-directional tires can be used on any wheel and you should use those with a cross pattern.
Check Tire Alignment
Hitting potholes and bumps on the road can knock wheels out of alignment and even if you only drive on smooth surfaces, the wheels can shift out of alignment over time. When the wheels aren’t in alignment, it can cause excessive wear on the tires and reduce their lifespan, so you should check the tire alignment once a year. If your tires are misaligned, you may notice that the steering wheel vibrates while driving, the car naturally pulls in one direction, or that the car moves straight ahead while the steering wheel isn’t centered.
To fix your car’s tire alignment, check the car’s front-end suspension—problems with the suspension can throw off your measurements. The next step is to measure the car’s toe and camber. Once you have the proper measurements, you need to correct your toe. You can adjust the two in different ways, depending on the different steering you have. Once you have fixed the issue, you need to make sure you test-drive it. If you still have issues, you’ll want to consult a professional.
How to Change Your Car’s Oil & Fluids
When to change your oil and fluids will depend on different factors, such as what sort of driving you do, what kind of engine you are running, and the climate where you live.
Changing Your Oil
You should be checking your oil regularly, because a low oil level can severe damage your engine. You should be changing the oil every 5,000 miles for synthetic blends and 10,000 miles for full synthetic. You can also stick by the old standard of 3,000 miles for conventional oils and 5,000 miles for synthetics, if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Many cars will have a dipstick, so you can inspect the oil on your own. Look at it when the car has been turned off for 10 minutes. The dipstick is marked with minimum and maximum indicators to show how much oil is in the engine, and it should be near the maximum. The level of oil is one thing, but it’s also important to check the condition. To do this, you have to get your hands dirty by smearing the oil between your fingers. You want it to feel slick and smooth, and the color should be amber or yellow. If it’s black or a darker brown, you need an oil change
Generally, you only need to change your power steering fluid every 30,000 miles or three years. Keep in mind that each manufacturer has different specifications when it comes to type of fluid and interval. If you have a newer car, it will have an electric steering system, so you don’t have to worry about this issue. Just like with the oil, there should be a reservoir or dipstick in the engine bay and the process is similar with markings. If the fluid is low then you want to top it off. If you find the oil is frequently low, there could be a leak.
Wiper & Brake Fluids
Many people don’t know they have to change out their brake fluids. The rule of thumb with brake fluid is that it should be changed every two years. However, if you buy test strips that read the copper content in the fluid, you can change the fluid when it reaches 200 ppm. Many cars have a brake fluid reservoir in the engine bay and you can look at the color and level. If you aren’t able to see through the brake fluid, replace it. Even when there are several varieties of color, brake fluid is always translucent.
Wiper fluid is much more simple than brake fluid, and have likely already replaced it in a car before. Top off the wiper fluid reserves when they run low with replacement wiper fluid—never use plain water. How long your wiper fluids last will depend on how often you clean your windshield. When dealing with fluids, you may want to wear safety goggles or safety glasses to protect your eyes from splashes.
Figuring out when to change your transmission oil can be a bit trickier because different vehicles require different types of this fluid. For example, many manual transmission vehicles will require you to use differential gear oil. You also need to decide if you should just drain the oil and change the filter or do a full flush by removing and replacing all the fluids in the automatic transmission.
The guideline used to be to change this fluid every 30,000 miles or three years, whichever came first. However, the best option on newer vehicles is to see what your manufacturer recommends. Some cars allow you to check the automatic transmission fluid with a dipstick but others require that you have a professional inspect it.
Always check with your car manual for how to change these specific oils and fluids in your car. While this task can usually be done by yourself, sometimes you may need to get a professional involved.
Checking & Replacing Car Lights
Vehicle lighting is important for safety but the inspection and replacement is not hard to do. Headlights are easy to check, but for taillights, you might want to have someone stand behind the vehicle while you operate the lights to check. You can also check the function of these by backing up near a window.
You can easily check the manual on how to access the lights and the type of replacement you need. On some vehicles, you can get to the taillight just by pulling the socket out from the trunk but some need to be accessed on the outside. Be sure to wear safety gloves while handling the lights. Check your car lights every six months so you don’t get pulled over for having lights out.
Replacing Windshield Wipers
If your wipers don’t work properly then it can be hard to see hazards and the road when it snows or rains. Blades should be inspected regularly and replaced about every six months. Wiper blades take a beating in winter months, so you may need to replace them more often. In order to replace the blades, determine the blade size, remove the old one, and attach a new wiper blade. When the new wiper blade is placed into the arm, you will hear a clicking sound. Run a test to make sure they are working properly.
Changing Your Air Filter
Your engine air filters should be replaced between 15,000 and 30,000 miles, depending on your driving conditions. If you have a turbocharged engine or drive on unpaved roads, you will likely need to change it more often. Even if you don’t drive a lot, your air filter should be replaced every three years as it can become brittle as it ages.
In order to replace your air filter, keep your vehicle on a dry, flat surface and locate the air filter housing and open it—you may need a screwdriver from your household toolkit. Remove the old air filter, along with any debris. Note how the older filter is installed so you can do the same thing when installing the new air filter. Match the direction and placement of the old housing once you install the new filter and you are done.
Inspecting Core Components Regularly
While you may not be able to perform some maintenance by yourself, when it comes to certain parts of the car, you should be regularly checking your vehicle.
Your radiator should be looked at every six months or when you think there is a problem. You should be checking for erosion around the hoses and caps. Look at the ground where you park your car to check if any radiator fluid has leaked out, and check the temperature of the engine. If there is a frequent rise in the temperature that hasn’t happened before, it could be a sign that something is wrong and your radiator isn’t at the ideal operating level.
You also want to have your radiator and cooling system undergo a test once every two years. These tests will include the pressure test on the radiator cap to make sure the appropriate pressure is released. There is also a thermostat test, fan test, and pressure test on the system overall.
If your battery seems like it is giving you issues, it could be due to the battery cables and not the battery itself. Feel each battery cable after a run, and if there is one that feels hot, this could mean a problem. An overheating cable will also give off a smell, so you can use this as an indication. Give your cables a gentle bend—if one crackles or resists, you have likely found the problem.
Another thing you can do is use a multimeter ohm scale in order to test for resistance. More than an ohm could mean trouble for your cables. There is no set time on when to test the battery cables but it should be something you do on a regular basis.
Schedule Regular Checkups
Scheduling regular checkups can help you prevent any big problems before they happen. Many vehicle manufacturers recommend a 30-60-90 schedule with certain items need to be inspected, replaced, or changed at 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and then 90,000 miles. Some other items, such as hoses, wiper blades, and tires, also wear out at regular intervals, and this is why it’s important to get them checked on a regular basis.
For other items, the maintenance guide can explain what you should do and when you should do it. If you want a more precise maintenance schedule to be able to schedule regular checkups, check the car’s owner manual. You also should consider how you are driving as aggressive driving can cause parts to wear out faster. City driving is also harder on cars than highway driving.
If you want your car to last then you need to maintain your investment. Thee are a number of things that should be done as part of routine maintenance, including caring for your tires, changing the fluids and oils, checking car lights, replacing windshield wipers, and changing your air filters. It’s also important to check core components of your engine so you can prevent unnecessary problems down the road.