Protecting and maintaining your car is an important step in responsible car ownership. If you had access to a car back in the day when you lived at home, you probably didn’t have to think much about the maintenance on the car and what needed to be done to protect it. Your parents probably took care of those things and made sure your car was running smoothly for you. However, once kids leave the house for college or other endeavors it can sometimes be a shock to them that their cars don’t magically maintain themselves. In fact, it’s reported at least 1/3 of college students don’t even take their cars in for routine oil changes regularly like they should. Honestly, we should probably add a car protection and maintenance course to every United States high school curriculum out there, but at last- the state of the public school system and what is or is not being taught is a topic and debate for another day. Suffice it to say, maintaining your car is important if you want it to run smoothly, keep working and maintain it’s value.

The good news is, that technologies have changed and with those changing technologies, the qualities of most cars on the market today have gotten better and it actually takes less service these days to keep these cars running well compared to what it used to. Back in the day (ok, maybe just a few short years ago) every season you would have to change your condenser, breaker points and spark plugs. These days though, many spark plugs can easily go 100,000 miles between changes, assuming they have been installed correctly. Also some transmissions, suspension systems and chassis now come lubed for the life, which is a very nice added benefit and perk- so with some cars you won’t even have to worry about lubing up those systems.

In earlier days most people just had to expect and accept that their cars were rusting terribly. It was seen as an unfortunate part of the car aging, but now many cars come with rust-through warranties that last six years or longer so we don’t have to just accept that our cars are rusting away. Cars have also become more efficient and reliable over the years and now most vehicles if they are up kept properly and the proper normal maintenance is done they will easily run for 200,000 miles. This is all very positive for car owners. However, there are some things that need to be done regularly to ensure your car will run efficiently and be kept in tip top shape. We wanted to put a list together for you to reference to make sure you aren’t missing anything important. We want to help you keep your car running at it’s best. Routine inspections and maintenance should not be ignored. Not only will you extend the life of your car, but you will also maintain its value. If you ever decide to sell your vehicle, you will be able to get top dollar if you’ve kept up on the maintenance.

Easy Checks At Oil Changes

A lot of these tips can be done at any time, but we’ve found it’s easy to keep track of what needs to be checked when you apply it to your oil change schedule. Most automakers suggest that your oil and filter should be changed every six months or 7,500 miles- whichever comes first. Those recommendations may change for you if you have driving patterns that are more frequent than that or involve other conditions. It’s a general guideline that if you are towing a trailer a lot, drive a lot, start your car in cold weather all the time without letting it warm up, or drive in severely dusty conditions, or drive in stop-and-go traffic frequently then you will want to change your oil and filer more often, like every three months or 3,000 miles (whichever comes first). If you have questions, it’s always a good idea to talk to a dealer or consult your owner’s manual for more guidance. We should also point out that special engines like turbocharged engines or diesels might require more frequency oil changes as well. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be checked or maintained-it is a pretty good list to get you started.

  • Check your engine oil. You’ll probably want to check it at least monthly if your car is newer and in good condition. If its an older car or is leaking oil, you will want to check it more frequently than that.
  • Checking your tire air pressure should also be done at least once a month or before any extending driving trips. Driving a car where the tire pressure isn’t where it needs to be could raise you risk of having an accident and can also wear your tires incorrectly and cause you to have to replace them. That’s an expensive proposition. Also be sure to check your spare tire as well. You can use a digital tire pressure gave that will give you an exact and accurate reading or you can use the old standard pencil-type gauge as well. You will want to check your tires while they are still cold and before they have been driving more than a mile or two. Every vehicle manufacturer has their own guidelines for where your tire pressure should be. As a rule you should use the manufacturer’s guideline and not the guideline that is printed on the sidewall of the tire. That is a maximum pressure. Check the front doorjamb for a sticker or place card that will have the manufacturer’s suggested tire pressure. You also want to check for bulges in the sidewall of your tire or cuts, foreign objects like nails or screws that are stuck in the tires or uneven or abnormal wear.
  • Check your brake system. Your car’s owner’s manual will give you a brake maintenance schedule that is designed to keep your brakes in tiptop shape. Follow that schedule to avoid expensive repairs or even worse, a catastrophic brake failure event. As a general guideline, you should have your brakes inspected at least once a year. Most people don’t know what they are looking for so it makes sense to have your local repair shop or dealership check and service your brakes. Most cars today have disc brakes in the front of the car and drum brakes in the back. The use of brake pads or shoes supplies the car with friction for the brakes and allows your car to stop or slow down. The drum brake pushes the brake shoe with the drum wheel, against the inside of the spinning drum to slow or stop your car. The disc brakes stop the rotor or spinning disc by using a caliper that is fitted with the brake pads and will grab the spinning wheel to slow it or stop it from spinning when you press your brake. Most brakes will give you a warning sign when they need special attention like a spongy or low brake pedal that signals that there is air in the hydraulic system. An imbalance in the hydraulic system is often met with a red brake-light warning signal on your dashboard. Other warning signs (that most definitely need to be checked because it’s very abnormal for healthy breaks) are strange noises like grinding sounds, squeals, and chirps. Usually it means that you needs new brake pads or shoes but can be indicative of a more serious problem. Get your brakes checked out whenever you notice something abnormal. If you drive a lot of miles you may also want to get them checked out more frequently. If you are going to take care of the changing/maintenance on your brakes yourself then be sure you remove all wheels so that you can examine and check the entire brake system. If you have badly scored drums or rotors you will need to have them replaced or machined. Always replace worn linings or pads.
  • Check the air filter. The best way to do this is to remove the filter and hold it up to a good, strong light. If you can’t easily see the light through the filter then it’s time for a new filter. Always follow the recommended guidelines for the service intervals.
  • Check the exhaust system. If you take your car in to have its oil changed, ask the shop to inspect your exhaust system. You will want to tighten loose bolts and check for rusted exhaust parts. Listen for changes in the exhaust noises your car makes, it could mean that something needs to be fixed. If something does need to be fixed, it usually makes sense to change the entire exhaust system instead of trying to fix it in pieces.
  • Check the fluids. If you have a car where the automatic transmission is not sealed, then you will want to check the transmission dipstick with the engine running and warmed up. Transmission fluid never needs to be changed on some cars, but on others it needs to be changed every 36,000 miles or sooner if the fluid starts to tint and change colors. The filter should also be changed and usually can go about 100,000 per filter (check your vehicles owners manual for guidelines on this). Check the brake fluid as well and if it’s low, top it off and make sure there aren’t any leaks in the brake fluid system. Also, you will want to check the power-steering pump dipstick, which is usually located and attached to the fluid-reservoir cap. While you checking fluids, it’s also a good time to check your windshield wiper fluid and make sure it’s topped off as well, obviously this is not a necessity but nice to have when you need it. When you are checking the fluids, it’s also a good time to check your coolant fluid levels. The coolant pumps between your radiator and engine and helps keep the temperature in an optimum level to keep your car running smoothly. You may also want to check hoses for wear and tear and do a flush of the old dirty fluid and a refill of clean coolant. Disposing of old anti-freeze can be a pain however, so you may want to leave this job up to a repair shop.
  • Check the radiator. Debris can sometimes build up in the radiator and you’ll want to remove it with a mild detergent solution and a soft brush to help prevent over-heating.
  • Check the battery. It’s important that your terminals and cables are secure, attached and aren’t corroded. The battery stores the energy that your car is going to need so you’ll want to make sure it’s working properly. If your battery has removable caps it’s a good time to check the fluid and water levels.

There are other maintenance items that only need to be done every two to three years instead of needing to be done all the time. These are regular maintenance items that will make sure your car functions smoothly for years to come. For example, every two to three years it’s a good idea to change your drive belts and hoses even if they aren’t showing any wear and tear. They can also be adjusted if they are noisy. It’s only a matter of time because these belts and hoses may break or tear and changing them even if you don’t think they “need” to be changed is just a good habit to get into.

You will also want to change your timing belt every 60,000 to 80,000 miles. It might vary slightly, so you can check with your dealership or owners manual for more specific guidelines. This is not something you are going to want to ignore because if you don’t change these belts when you are supposed to it can turn into a very costly repair if the timing belt breaks. You can also make sure your heating and air conditioning system is working correctly. We’ve all been there before when we jump into our cars in the sweltering heat of the summer and go to turn on the air conditioning to cool us off, and find that it’s not functioning the way it should. If the air conditioning isn’t working or blowing hot air, sometimes that’s a sign of a leak in the system. It pumps Freon through an evaporator in your dashboard. You have also experienced the moment when you get into your car and the heater isn’t functioning properly in the dead of winter. It’s freezing, and suddenly it makes for a very uncomfortable ride. Keeping your air conditioning and heating system working properly is going to make your driving experience so much better. Get your system inspected regularly to ensure it’s working properly. Trust us- you will thank us later.

Also, it’s worth checking out your suspension system, which includes your tires, struts, steering, springs and shocks. A good place to start is to look at your tires. You can tell a lot of about what’s going on by looking at your tire wear. Tires that are wearing unevenly may be a symptom of low or high tire pressure. If your tire pressure is too low, then the heavier wear will be on the edges. If your tire pressure is too high, then the heavier wear will be in the middle of the tires. If you are having an alignment issue with your car then you may see heavy and excessive wear on just one edge. If you do encounter that, get your vehicle into the repair shop to get it fixed as soon as possible so that you don’t continue to wear your tires. There can be other symptoms like pulling or steering vibrations, which usually is directly tied to the suspension system. Be sure to check all of the major suspension components and parts and listen for unusual noises while the vehicle is in motion. You can also check the power steering fluid.

As a matter of esthetics, it’s also a good idea to keep your car washed and vacuumed out regularly. Not only will it look nicer and help you get a top price for a sale or trade in, but washing your car regularly will actually remove dirt, debris and especially salt off of icy snowy roads during the winter that if left unchecked can actually start to eat away at your paint job. Keeping your car vacuumed out will make it more comfortable to drive, helps keep it smelling cleaner and will keep vermin out that might other wise be attracted to eating the crumbs and other things left behind.

Another good idea that is simple to implement to safely and cheaply protect your car is using a good car cover. There are some that cover the entirety of the car if you are going to leave it parked outside and in the elements (or it even provides good protection from dust and dirt if you part it inside). It’s like a big tarp that is specially made to cover cars and protect them. You can also consider a car bra that attaches to the front of the car to protect the hood, fender sides, and bumper from scratches and dents.

Doing these things will ensure that you are spending a majority of your time on the road and getting from point A to point B instead of spending a lot of time in the shop. Your car will also thank you for taking the time to keep it running smoothly.