Basic Car Maintenance 101

Maintaining the health of your car is like maintaining your own health—if you exercise moderately, eat wholesome foods, drink plenty of water and watch your calories, you can live longer and feel optimally healthy.  Cars are very similar—you change the oil regularly, replace filters, check the timing belt every 10,000 miles, replace weakened hoses—and the list goes on with things you should do to ensure your car runs smoothly and safely for as many miles as possible. 

Not only will proper maintenance of your car increase the chances of your vehicle performing longer and more efficiently, but saving a bundle of money comes into play, not to mention keeping you and your family safe.  Putting off regular maintenance can come back to bite you if you attempt to save some money, now, by ignoring a mild or moderate problem.  That problem can escalate into a major repair and cost two or three times as much, down the road.   

Your car’s manual will clearly list the recommended maintenance schedule you should follow for your vehicle as well as guidance for performing any of the tasks.   Here are some basic maintenance checkpoints anyone should follow weekly, monthly and mileage-based.

Weekly Maintenance:

Weekly maintenance is easy and doesn’t take much time, at all.  In fact, some things can be done while your car is being filled with gas. 

1:  Coolant:

One important task is checking your coolant level.  The semi-transparent, plastic coolant reservoir will have markings to indicate how much coolant is in the reservoir.  Always wait until the engine has cooled before attempting to remove the reservoir’s cap since the pressurized heat can be very dangerous.  When the coolant can be added safely, make sure you know if you are adding coolant that is pre-mixed with water or not pre-mixed.  

2:  Tires:

Check for tread-wear on the tires’ surfaces; and if you see wear that is uneven, for example, chances are you need to get your tires balanced.  If your tires wear out from the edge, it means you are in need of an alignment.  If this is neglected, you can prematurely wear out your tires and end up buying a new set of tires early; and tires aren’t cheap! 

Checking the tire pressure is important since variances in outside temperature can affect the tires’ psi, or pounds per square inch.  Tire pressure gauges, even some that “talk”, can be purchased at any car-parts store; and keeping a gauge in the glove compartment should be a ‘given’.   Your car door panel will indicate how much air pressure your tires require.

3:  Oil:

While your car is filling up, check the oil level which can be easily read on the dipstick.  Oil is to your car as water is to you—your car wouldn’t last long without oil just like you wouldn’t last long without water—it’s that important!

Clean oil and a clean oil filter will keep your car running smoothly.  Some mechanics recommend you change your oil every 3,000 miles but depending on the vehicle, one can wait to change the oil once every 5,000 miles.  Check with an expert regarding your particular vehicle’s needs.

4:  Windshield Fluid:

Windshield fluid may not be as important as your car’s oil, but keeping the reservoir at least partially filled can be a life-saver!   There are times when debris will splatter on the windshield and wipers that are used without washer fluid can actually cause so much of a smear on the window that visibility can be reduced to 0%.  This can be hazardous for obvious reasons; so keep the windshield washer fluid container at least partially full at all times.

Monthly Maintenance:

1:  Belts and Hoses:

Belts and hoses, being made from rubber, will wear down over time.  You can check your belts by pressing down on them; and if they permit more than a half-inch of slack, get them tightened.  At the 100,000 mile mark, it’s smart to get the belts and hoses checked for cracks, breaks or leaks. 

Hoses that might burst on the interstate would be nightmarish, especially if you have children as passengers.  Once a month, you should visually check hoses for any possible rotting, bulging or brittleness and have them replaced sooner rather than later. 

2:  Steering and Transmission Fluids: 

The individual power-steering and transmission fluid reservoirs have their respective dipsticks and checking the levels once a month is prudent.  The transmission fluid level should be checked with your engine running and warm but make sure the parking break is on!

3:  Air Filter:

When your air filter is clean, you’ll notice the difference in your cars power.  It can be checked once every two months and if it’s dirty, replace it!

Mileage Maintenance: 

1:  Brakes:

Brakes—never compromise on their “health”!  They should be checked every 15,000 to 20,000 miles.  If any squeaking or grinding noises are apparent, it’s your cue to have your braking components analyzed.

2:  Tune Ups:

When you go in for a physical, the doctor makes sure your overall health is good and that your ‘parts’ are working properly; and cars are no different.  Once every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, a tune-up by professionals such as Master Auto Tech for your vehicle is highly recommended.  A major tune-up will validate or negate any current concerns you might have and reveal any unknown problems.   Normally, a tune-up will involve changing the spark plugs and spark plug cables and changing the oil and air filter, among other services.   It’s worth the small investment!

3:  Transmission Service: 

Replacing or repairing a transmission can be exorbitantly expensive!  It should be serviced regularly, meaning once every 50,000 miles.  Some newer vehicles, however, can go up to 90,000 miles before any transmission service is needed.

4:  Coolant:

Coolant doesn’t need to be changed except for once every 50,000 miles.   Some vehicles use what is called ‘long-life’ coolant and it can last a good four years before the coolant needs to be replaced.

5:  Tires:

Be sure to check your tires monthly, as stated, but have them rotated and balanced every 15,000 miles.  This way, you will get use out of every square inch of rubber you paid for!

If you take care of your car in the short run, it will take care of you in the long run! 

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