What is basic car maintenance?

On the Road 3 min read

You can ensure the health of your vehicle all year long by performing basic car maintenance between routine visits to the local mechanic. Most car maintenance checks can be done visually, such as looking more closely at your tires, belts and hoses, and lights. Checking your fluids and air filters may require you to get more hands-on with your car.

For regular vehicle upkeep between your quarterly or yearly car maintenance trips, you can do car maintenance checks at home. These car maintenance tips will help you learn how to maintain your car in top condition.

Car maintenance checklist

Tires

Checking the air pressure on your tires is an easy place to start for basic car maintenance. But you can also learn more about your car’s condition from its tires. “Feel your tire treads and look out for any bulges or irregular wear,” says Jaime Boucher, an ASE-certified master technician and the shop foreman at Cantin Chevrolet in Laconia, NH. Issues with the tires, Boucher notes, could be early indicators of “steering or suspension component issues, or alignment issues.”

Learn more about when to replace shocks and struts for better tire suspension.

Wiper blades

Boucher says this is a simple item that car owners often overlook. “You can clean them with rubbing alcohol and generally replace every six months to a year depending on use.” Learn more about how to replace windshield wipers.

Light bulbs

Checking to ensure all your lights are working is a good idea. But with many modern cars, swapping dead lights out is not easy. “Many [light bulbs] are LEDs that aren’t serviced – they’ll require a complete assembly replacement,” Boucher says.

Learn how to clean your headlights to keep them shining bright.

Fluids

When checking car fluids, whether for used or new car maintenance, you should look at both the fluids’ levels and conditions. There are six you’ll be examining. Your owner’s manual (or a quick internet search) can help you find where to check them all on your car’s make and model.

  • Engine oil: Not all cars require a cold engine for this check. If you see sludge or particles in the oil on the dipstick, it might be time for an oil change.
  • Radiator coolant: Never open the radiator or coolant storage caps when the engine is hot; NEVER add coolant to a hot engine for your safety and to avoid cracking the engine block.
  • Wiper fluid: The fluid’s “condition” here isn’t usually an issue.
  • Transmission fluid: Some transmissions have a seal, so you cannot check them.
  • Power steering fluid: Loud noises or more resistance when turning the steering wheel may indicate a low power steering fluid level.
  • Brake fluid: Lower levels could signal a leak or that your brake pads may need attention from a mechanic. Learn how to tell if you need new brakes.

Learn more about how to check car fluids and how to identify car leaks.

Air filters

Your car has two air filters: one for the engine and one for the passenger cabin. Engine air and cabin air filters keep out pollutants but have different lifespans. How long your air filters last can be affected by your mileage and where you drive. If you’re driving more than 12,000 miles a year, you may need to change air filters more often depending on many variables. And if you’re driving in smoggy or high-traffic urban areas, that will also shorten an air filter’s expected lifespan.

According to The Manual, you should check your car’s owner’s manual to determine the recommended service interval for the make and model of your vehicle. Learn more about car engine air filters and how to change them.

Battery

Boucher flagged a few things to consider when checking your car’s battery. “Both are visual — look for corrosion or leakage at the terminals, and for acid leaking from the battery itself,” he says. For example, a crack in the casing can cause the battery to leak.

Learn how to help preserve your car’s battery life.

Belts and hoses

You can conduct a visual inspection of belts and hoses. In this case, check the serpentine belt and the timing belt “for any signs of fraying or oil contamination,” Boucher says. “And if they’re visible, look at the radiator and coolant hoses for any signs of deterioration or bulging.”

Following a routine car maintenance schedule can help you keep your car running all year round. The change of seasons, especially leading up to winter, is a good time to check on your car. A car maintenance tracking app can also help keep you on schedule.

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