What are the most important things to maintain in a car? Cars have many complex and interdependent systems, and it’s important to know how to perform basic maintenance as part of operating a vehicle. While it may seem overwhelming, there are several basic maintenance steps of a car that any beginner can get proficient with. Afterall, car maintenance is another way to prevent having a “Jerk Car“.
Check & change oil
Checking your oil before any trip is a must. First, make sure that your engine is off and let your vehicle settle for 5-10 minutes if you can. Be sure that you are parked on a level surface, and find your oil dipstick. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it on a rag, and insert again for a clean measurement. This ensures that any oil that has splashed onto the dipstick is not giving an improper measurement. If your oil levels are low, add a half quart or less and check again. Never overfill, of source.
As you become more comfortable with your vehicle, consider learning how to change your oil as well. It’s a basic part of car maintenance that needs to happen every 3 months or 3000 miles (typically). This will help your engine last longer and have fewer leaks.
Check other fluids
The many fluids of your vehicle need to be kept at acceptable levels for operation, and many have a min/max line for you to make a quick visual check. Knowing where to check your radiator fluid, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, power steering fluid, and transmission fluid is an important part of car ownership. With your radiator fluid, be sure to never remove the cap while the engine is even remotely warm from operation. You risk severe burns! Instead, look to the reservoir next to your radiator to see if the level is low. This is also where you add radiator fluid, so don’t even consider taking the cap off of that radiator!
To check transmission fluid, you typically want the car warmed up. After putting the vehicle into every gear (with the brake on, and clutch engaged if a manual transmission), pulling the dipstick out and wipe it off. Reinsert the dipstick and check your transmission fluid levels. Add a little if needed.
Check tire pressure
The air in your tires leaks out over time, so knowing how to measure and fully inflate your tires is quite important. First, always check your tires when they are cold, if possible. Next, see the sidewall of your tire for the proper inflation pressure, measured in pounds per square inch(PSI). Inflate your tires to one pound less than your tire’s maximum pressure. This provides the best gas mileage and helps your tires last their longest. When fully inflated, put the valve stem on securely: This too will help keep your tire pressure from leaking out too quickly.
Check air filters
Air filters are typically one of the easiest items to change on a vehicle: You simply remove the cover, remove your dirty air filter, wipe out the filter compartment, and place a new filter in. You should always have at least one spare filter on hand for your vehicle, as they can be hard to find in auto parts stores – and you may not think to install a clean filter until you REALLY need one. A filter plugged up with oil and grime can seriously impact your car’s performance.
Look for leaks
Try to make it a habit to check under your vehicle as you approach it, or look at your driveway after you have pulled out. Just glance and make sure you do not see any new drips or puddles. If you see a drip or puddle, try to determine if it is more like oil or water. Any oil leak could be brake, power steering or transmission fluid. These are also typically more red in color than regular oil – which can be golden, brown or black.
A leak that feels more like water than oil can be wiper fluid, radiator fluid, or even just water from your A/C condenser. If it’s water from your A/C condenser, breathe a sigh of relief: That is normal. Water condenses on the outside of cold parts, just as it does on the outside of a cold glass. But if your watery substance is blue or green, you likely have a windshield wiper fluid reservoir or radiator leak, respectively.
Have a qualified mechanic check all leaks thoroughly. Sometimes, they may give you a “stop leak” additive to pour in but it is also more likely that they will give you a long term fix.
You don’t have to wait for a breakdown to seek help from a qualified mechanic. Instead, turn to a local mechanic or auto repair shop as part of your usual maintenance schedule for your vehicle. Some vehicle maintenance plans can be prepaid with helpful reminders from your mechanic. Many people also buy extended warranties to protect themselves from expensive car repairs. Once your regular warranty runs out, an extended warranty will also cover other repairs. You can buy an extended warranty on a used car too. These can take the risk out of purchasing a vehicle that you do not know the maintenance or breakdown history of.
Vehicles nowadays are more complicated than ever, and maintenance is key. Not only will the life of your vehicle be extended with proper maintenance, but you will also experience better performance along the way. Get to know your vehicle’s basic maintenance schedule and you’ll be better prepared to have a positive vehicle ownership experience from the start.