10 Essential Car Maintenance Tips
By Kimberly Graf. Published on October 13, 2023
There are quite a few things that you can do to keep your car in perfect working order. Not least among these is personal car maintenance. There's no need to take your car to a shop for a lot of smaller things – you can do them yourself and save a lot of time and money.
So to prevent frequent repairs or trips to the shop, here are ten things that you can do to keep your car running without anyone's help!
Read the Owner's Manual
This is perhaps the most important thing that you can do to help you understand your car. The manual will tell you all sorts of important information, such as what types of fluids to use, how often to do maintenance, what all of your buttons and levers mean, as well as acting as an index. Anytime you have a light pop on that you aren't familiar with, you can use the owner's manual to find out exactly what your car is trying to tell you.
If your car was bought used, you can acquire an owner's manual from any dealership that works with your Make and Model. It will have to be ordered for you, but it's an invaluable resource for figuring out what your car needs.
Inspect Your Car
Most inspections can be done yourself – at least on the outside. You can walk around the car when it's on to check all of your lights, to make sure that they are working. You can also check your windshield wipers for any wear, any exterior body dings that you weren't aware of, and do routine tire checks. But we'll get to those later!
If anything on the outside of your vehicle is not working or needs repaired, you'll be the first to check it out. Don't get pulled over for a missing taillight – know when it goes out, instead!
Know Your Lights and Sounds
Your dashboard is full of indicator lights that tell you when something's not quite right. This includes ABS and brake alert lights, engine and service indicator lights, and low fluid warnings. But these are all represented by symbols, so you're going to need to learn what each of the symbols mean and how to decipher what you need to do about it.
The Owner's Manual is a great resource for telling you exactly what is needed. Newer cars also make different sounds to tell you what's wrong – like the alert that dings when you turn the engine off without turning the lights off. Knowing what these lights and sounds mean can help you figure out what your vehicle is trying to tell you.
Always maintain your tires! This includes frequently checking tire pressure with a handy tire gauge. This is inexpensive at most gas stations and auto stores, so you should always keep one on hand. Check the tread often to see when you need to replace the tires, and be mindful of anything that is stuck in your tires. Checking these often can prevent you from getting a flat while you're driving.
You also want to get tire rotations and alignments right on schedule to keep your tire system working properly.
Check Fluids and Belts
This requires nothing more than a quick check beneath the hood. You will be able to tell if there are any belts that are fraying or slipping from a glance beneath your hood. Fluids can be checked in less than five minutes, and it will tell you when you need to add certain types of fluids. This can't be overstated, because keeping the engine oil topped off will prevent serious damage to your engine and other parts around it.
It's an asset to know how your car normally acts. Keep an eye out for any changes to this behavior pattern. Is your fuel economy plummeting? Engine misfiring? Funny noises? There might be something wrong, but you won't know unless you have some idea how your car normally functions.
Keep a Schedule
A huge tool will be your repair schedule. If you know when things need to be done, there is less of a chance that it will go unchecked and end up causing a problem. Know the last time the oil was changed, brake pads were changed, or the spark plugs replaced. This will give you a leg-up on upcoming repairs, and might also indicate another problem.
For example, you might have an electrical problem if you are frequently replacing bulbs. Know which bulbs have been replaced at what date can help determine if there's something more serious going on. This is true for almost all car parts – they all work together, so if one part routinely wears out more often than it should, there is likely a deeper problem.
Wash Your Car
This might seem like it doesn't make sense, but the truth is that the build-up of dirt, dust, and grime can sometimes affect the way your car works. By cleaning your car regularly, you can prevent a lot of problems from occurring –anything from rust on the body to the build-up of brake debris. A clean car is a happy car!
Battery terminals can get dirty. It is essential that you take a brush and clean these frequently – especially if you live somewhere that's dusty or dirty. Check the cables to make sure that you're getting proper connections. Another thing you can do is to keep the contacts clean. This will extend your battery life a great degree!
Keeping all of these tips in mind will prevent you from incurring major damage – or alert you when something needs to be fixed. Keeping really good care of your car can really keep it from breaking down without warning. Avoid serious repairs by taking care of smaller ones. Don't skip out on any maintenance appointments.
The key to avoiding problems is prevention – as well as preparation. Even a well-maintained car can break down with no notice, though it does become rarer. Always keep your car in mind, and follow these steps to keep your car healthy for longer!