Proper and timely maintenance to your car will save you from having to make costly repairs when something goes bad after being neglected. Your vehicle is one of the largest investments in your life, and that should be reflected in the amount of care you give it. Even short daily drives can put great wear on your ride. These easy maintenance tips will prevent you from running into serious trouble in the future.
Before diving into the maintenance, you may want to have a couple aids to help you along the way. Keeping amaintenance log book or a blank diary in your car will help you keep track of all the checks and routine maintenance you've performed. This comes in handy when it's time to sell your car, as prospective buyers will see this as evidence that the car has been given proper care over a long period of time. Although most of these routine maintenance checks are quite simple, you may benefit from purchasing the repair manual for your specific year and model. A repair manual will give you step-by-step directions for a variety of common repairs.
Things To Check Often
These items should be checked on a monthly basis, or when refuelling your vehicle for a long trip. They are simple checks, but important for the safety of your car.
Check the air pressure of your tiresby using a tire pressure gauge. This needs to be checked more frequently during colder temperatures, but should be done monthly in warm temperatures. The tyres should not show uneven wear, cracks or cuts on the sidewalls. Check for a safe tread depth, and replace immediately if the tyres are heavily worn or damaged.
Keeping the right amount of clean oil in your engine is the best way to protect its internals from damage. Always keep your oil level between the minimum and maximum marks on the dipstick. Some cars are known to 'burn' through more oil than others cars that rarely need to be topped up. In any case, it's safer to check your oil and replace just what you need between oil changes. If your car needs oil to be added frequently, it may be time to inspect for oil leaks. Also check engine oil for colour. The darker it is, the closer you are to needing an oil change. Milky-looking oil may indicate the presence of water or coolant in the oil, which could lead to severe internal damage. In a healthy motor, your oil will be golden when added and a dark golden brown when it's flushed.
Have your mate help you check your lights by using the turn signals and pressing the brakes while you walk around your vehicle to check that the turn signals and brake lights are working properly. In some areas, having a bad tail light or brake light will get you a traffic ticket. For assessing your headlights, park about two car lengths away from a wall or garage door. Shine your lights on the surface, and adjust so that the left and right lights are evenly set. The centre of light from the low beams should be on the wall at the height your head rests while driving. You can then do some test driving and adjust according to your preference.
Obviously, you can still drive without washer fluid in the reservoir, but it's recommended to keep this fluid topped up. You don't want to lose clear vision of what's ahead from dirt accumulating on the windscreen.
Check Every 3 Months
The next components should be checked about once every three months (or sooner), depending on how often you drive and your driving habits.
The typical range to change your oil is after 5000km/3000miles. Of course, the way you drive and what oil you're using can affect this, so it's always good to check your oil regularly. When the time does come to change it, you will need replacement oil, a plastic funnel, a new oil filter, an oil drain pan to catch and dispose of the old oil, an oil filter wrench and (preferably) a new oil drain plug gasket.
Automatic Transmission Fluid
For automatic cars only, check the automatic transmission fluid as often as you perform an oil change. The fluid measurement works just like engine oil, with a dipstick and high/low indicators. Add fluid if low, and flush completely every 56,000km/35,000mile
Belts should be checked against signs of wear or damage such as cracks and fraying. Noisy belts can be a sign of wear, but it can sometimes be the pulley making the noises. A good belt should fit tightly, make no screeching noises and have no cracks. A belt conditioner is often used to soften squeaking belts, but be aware that this is only a temporary fix. Eventually, the belt will become dry or brittle again, and the noises will resume. When used properly and before the belt squeaks, a belt conditioner can prevent slippage and drying, prolonging the belt's life.
So many people put off checking their coolant until extreme weather hits, or when their engine overheats. It is crucial to check that your coolant is filled to the right level, and that it is not contaminated. Floating oil spots could be a sign of gasket failure, and a frequent need to fill the system means there is a leak somewhere. Additives and liquid sealants promising to stop radiator leaks will only prolong the problem, and could damage other parts of the cooling system. If you take the proper care to check your coolant level often, and only use approved fluid when refilling, your radiator and the entire cooling system should have a long and healthy life.
There's no excuse for your wiper blades going unchecked. They are the easiest to inspect, whether in use or while the car is parked. If you are driving and your wipers leave streaks on the windscreen or have begun to make a new noise, it is time they are replaced. It's safer to check your wiper blades routinely, perhaps while washing your car, before their bad condition impairs your vision during bad weather. Cracks or tears on the rubber blade mean you are ready for a replacement. Check Every 6 Months
Check if your engine filter shows signs of wear, is torn or is saturated in water or oil. Most oil change shops will sell you an air filter plus installation at every oil change, but a simple inspection will show you when it's needed. The cabin air filter is not a crucial part of car safety, but it does keep outside contaminates such as exhaust fumes and dust from being blown through the interior air vents. You can extend the life of your cabin air filter by using a vacuum to pull out debris between replacements and adding an air freshener or dryer sheet to give a clean scent in your ride.
Power Steering Fluid
It's simple to check your power steering fluid, and it is not often that you will find a problem. After a drive or period of engine idle to warm up the car, shut off the engine and open the power steering pump reservoir. If the fluid doesn't reach the fill line, just add a bit more. This should not be something that needs to be filled regularly. If you find yourself adding fluid often, then it's time to inspect the hoses, seals and possibly the pump for damage.
Check At Least Every Year
Keep an eye out for cracking or loose hoses. A brittle hose with cracks will need to be replaced, and hoses are typically inexpensive. Sometimes, the hose clamp or fitting may become damaged or loose. In this case, a simple replacement hose clamp should do the trick.
Chances are, you will already know when you need a wheel alignment by the feeling when you drive. The frequency of needing a wheel alignment depends greatly on your driving style and the road conditions where you drive (curbs and potholes are your enemy). Driving with poor alignment can cause the tyres to wear quickly and unevenly, and can damage the suspension and steering systems. There are alignment tools available for the confident DIYer, but most drivers prefer to have an auto shop do the work with digital alignment tools. It's a good idea to have your vehicle aligned when you purchase a new set of tyres so that they last longer and give you the most comfortable ride possible.
You should really be inspecting your brakes more often, but at the very least check the entire system annually. This includes the brake pads, rotors, callipers, or shoes and drums and fluid. Between inspections, be alert to any new noises when pressing the brakes. Easy DIY brake pad changes will save you from costly shop repairs if the rotor becomes warped or damaged.