Owning a car is a big responsibility. As much as we love our vehicles, it’s easy to neglect those routine maintenance tasks that keep our cars running smoothly for years to come. But having to shell out for major repairs or even get a new ride prematurely can seriously impact your budget.
The good news is, with some diligence about preventative maintenance, you can avoid many big-ticket repair bills and extend the life of your car significantly. Basically, taking good care of your vehicle will allow it to take good care of you in return. These 10 handy maintenance tips will help you get the most mileage out of your vehicle:
Check Fluids Regularly
This may seem obvious, but checking fluid levels routinely can prevent minor issues from becoming major mechanical meltdowns. Fluids are the lifeblood of your vehicle, keeping critical systems lubricated, cooled, and running properly. It’s easy to overlook fluids when you can’t directly see how much you have left, unlike the fuel gauge staring you in the face. Set reminders to check them once a month or so, and top up if needed.
Key fluids and their purposes:
- Engine oil – Lubricates the moving parts in the engine to prevent excessive wear. Also cleans, inhibits corrosion, improves sealing, and cools the engine somewhat.
- Coolant/Antifreeze – Regulates engine temperature and prevents freezing in cold weather. Made of half water, half coolant.
- Brake fluid – Transmits pressure to the brakes when the pedal is pressed. Prevents corrosion in the brake lines.
- Power steering fluid – Allows smooth steering by reducing friction. Also lubricates the power steering pump.
- Transmission fluid – Provides lubrication for the transmission and allows smooth gear shifts.
- Washer fluid – Cleans debris like bugs and dirt off the windshield. Contains antifreeze for winter.
You can easily check all these fluids yourself in between services. Car Caring Guide will tell you how and where to check each one in your vehicle’s engine bay. Top them up as needed, using the recommended fluid type in your manual. Places like Jiffy Lube also offer complimentary fluid level checks.
Change the Oil and Filter
Of all the basic maintenance tasks that help prolong your car’s life, changing the engine oil regularly is arguably the most important. Clean oil reduces friction, keeps engine parts lubricated, and prevents sludge buildup. Dirty oil can clog components, cause premature wear, and make your engine run hotter.
Most automakers recommend changing oil every 3000-5000 miles, under normal driving conditions. Shorter change intervals are advised for stop-and-go city driving, frequent towing, and other severe usage conditions. Use high-quality synthetic oils like Castrol or Pennzoil for maximum protection.
Don’t put much stock in the old myth of needing to change oil every 3000 miles on the dot. Thanks to advancements in engines and oil technology, modern vehicles can safely go longer between changes. Follow your car’s oil life monitoring system for the most optimal intervals.
Watch the Oil Life Monitor
Newer vehicles have an electronic oil life monitoring system that alerts you when an oil change is due. It calculates intervals based on your driving habits and engine conditions.
Relying on this oil life monitor, also called the maintenance reminder system in some cars, takes out the guesswork. Stick to the percentage or mileage guidelines it provides, and your oil will get changed at just the right time for your driving patterns. Don’t keep pushing it miles past the recommendation – no system is foolproof.
Overall, letting the monitoring system guide your oil changes based on actual usage provides more flexibility. Just make sure you reset the system after each oil service visit.
Inspect and Rotate Tires
Your tires provide the only contact between your vehicle and the road. As the part that literally keeps you moving, properly maintained tires help you drive safely for longer. Two tire care tasks to remember – inspect them routinely for wear and rotate them at recommended intervals.
Ideally, rotate every 5000-8000 miles to promote more uniform tread wear. Without rotation, the front tires wear out faster from steering and braking friction. Tires can be rotated front-to-back in an X pattern. Some vehicles with directional tires only allow front-to-back rotation.
Check for uneven or abnormal tread wear, which indicates potential alignment issues or suspension problems. The minimum recommended tread depth is 2/32 of an inch, according to AAA standards, but performance begins to suffer before that. Catching tire wear issues early allows for alignment corrections and replacement before blowouts occur.
Proper alignments also maximize tire life by keeping your wheels rolling straight. Hitting curbs and potholes can knock them out of alignment over time.
Check the Tire Pressure
Driving on underinflated tires is a safety hazard and makes your engine work harder, hurting fuel economy. According to the Department of Energy, underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.2 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. They cause faster wear too since the tread flattens unevenly when pressure is low.
Use a tire pressure gauge (digital ones like Slime are very handy) to check when tires are cold for the most accurate reading. Add or release air as needed to reach the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended psi. This info is found in the owner’s manual, door jamb sticker, and sometimes on the tire itself.
Don’t forget the spare! Even if you never drive on it, the spare tire can lose pressure over time. Consider checking tire pressure each month as part of a quick vehicle walk-around. Maintaining proper pressure saves money at the pump and avoids the safety hazards of blowouts.
Replace Air and Cabin Filters
Most drivers only think about oil and gas when it comes to filter changes. But air and cabin filters play key roles in engine performance and interior air quality. Over time, they accumulate debris and become less effective.
The engine air filter prevents dirt and dust from entering the engine, which could cause premature wear. A clogged air filter also hurts acceleration and fuel efficiency. You may need to change it as often as every 12,000 miles if you do lots of driving on dirt roads or in traffic-congested areas. Check the owner’s manual.
The cabin air filter catches pollutants, allergens, and odors from entering through the vehicle’s ventilation system. Changing it every 12-15 months improves climate control performance and keeps the interior environment cleaner. Some cabin filters contain activated carbon to help trap odors.
DIY filter changes are straightforward. But if unsure, you can also have a shop like Firestone swap them out quickly during routine maintenance.
Change the Spark Plugs
Spark plugs are small but mighty engine components, responsible for igniting the fuel-air mixture to power combustion. Think of them as the match that lights the gasoline fire with each piston cycle. Over time, heat and deposits erode the electrodes that create the spark.
Faulty spark plugs lead to misfires, stumbling acceleration, reduced fuel economy, and rough idle. Replacing worn plugs restores peak performance and drivability. Many automakers recommend changing them at 30,000 miles as cheap insurance. Under normal driving, premium iridium or platinum plugs can last up to 100,000 miles before replacement. Consult your owner’s manual for the interval specific to your vehicle.
DIY spark plug changes are straightforward with basic tools. Take care not to overtighten or strip the threads in the cylinder head when re-installing them.
Flush Transmission and Coolant
Flushing these two vital fluids periodically cleans out contaminants and replenishes additives that deteriorate over time. Fresh fluid optimizes the performance and prolongs the life of the transmission and coolant system.
Transmission flushes remove old fluid and debris, while detergent additives help clean valves, gears, and other internal parts. Many manufacturers advise a flush every 30,000-60,000 miles (sometimes more for heavy-duty trucks). Signs like gear slippage indicate the need for an overdue flush.
Similarly, coolant system flushes prevent scale and corrosion buildup inside the radiator, heater core, and other passages. It also restores the optimal 50/50 water/coolant ratio for maximum freeze protection and cooling capability. Flush intervals vary greatly between 60,000-150,000 miles for most vehicles.
Because proper disposal is required, it may be best to have flushes performed by a full-service shop like Firestone unless you have the equipment.
Consider Fuel System Cleaners
While no substitute for repairs, fuel system cleaners like Chevron Techron work well for occasional use. The detergents and additives help remove deposits from injectors, valves, ports, and combustion chambers that hinder performance over time. If your vehicle has 100,000+ miles, trying a bottle of cleaner additive every now and then can help keep your fuel system running clean.
Just don’t expect miracles, and follow the product instructions carefully. Using a whole bottle for each tank is overkill – that just wastes money. When in doubt, adding some every 5,000 miles or so provides moderate cleaning benefits. Fuel system cleaners work preventively too, not just for existing issues. But for severe clogging problems, professional fuel injection cleaning may be needed.
Address Unusual Noises and Leaks Promptly
Your engine should run quietly and smoothly when warmed up, without strange sounds. Clunks, squeaks, grinding, and high-pitched whistles are signs something mechanical needs attention. Don’t ignore these red flags – have the noise diagnosed and repaired promptly.
The same goes for any fluid leaks under the vehicle. Watch for spots on the ground, dripping fluids, or low fluid levels, and fix leaks immediately. Identify the source – whether it’s oil, transmission, coolant, brake fluid or something else. Even small leaks tend to worsen over time. Nipping them in the bud prevents bigger hassles down the road.
Bonus: More Quick Tips for Longevity
Here are a few other simple maintenance habits for getting over 200,000 miles out of your ride:
- Wash your car regularly to prevent corrosion and keep it looking its best. Hand washing is ideal, but touchless automatic washes are decent too.
- Clean the interior frequently to prevent the buildup of grime that can damage surfaces long-term.
- Wax the paint 1-2 times per year to protect the finish from sun damage and environmental contaminants.
- Inspect suspension, steering, and driveline components during oil changes. Listen for any clunks or feel for binding.
- Check engine hoses and belts for cracks, fraying, and tightness. They tend to show obvious signs before failing.
- Immediately clean up any spill or leak – whether it’s oil, soda, milk, or anything that could cause stains or grease buildup.
- Cover your parked vehicle or garage and keep it to minimize exposure to UV rays and weather elements.
Proper maintenance definitely requires some time and money invested up front. But rest assured it pays off exponentially by keeping your car running smoothly for years longer than neglecting care. Plus, you avoid those huge repair and replacement costs resulting from a lack of preventative maintenance.
Think of it this way – you wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or changing the oil in your lawnmower, right? Treat your car with the same diligence, and it will reward you with years of reliable service.
So be sure to follow your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. And supplement with these longevity-boosting best practices for getting the most miles out of your wheels. Your car’s longevity and trade-in value will thank you down the road!