For most people, a car is one of their biggest long-term expenses, and the only thing that tops it tends to be their home. As such, avoiding constant repairs, or having to buy a new car, is a priority.
Luckily, you can minimize those expenses dramatically with just a bit of regular car maintenance.
Let’s d(r)ive right in and see how you can do exactly that!
How Regular Maintenance Helps Avoid Costly Repairs
Before we get into the tips, you need to know why the following measures are so important.
Similar to your health, it’s a lot easier to fix a problem when you can do it early, and it’s even better to prevent it in the first place.
That’s what regular maintenance does.
It allows you to take care of things such as worn-out parts, leaks, and other problems, while they’re small and insignificant. This can seem like an expensive endeavour, but it actually saves you a lot in the long run.
Usually, when small problems, such as worn brake pads or other minor issues, are allowed to persist unnoticed, they cause failures that spread to far more expensive parts of the car.
For example, you might drive on some worn brake pads, thinking it’s fine as long as you brake earlier. However, the rotors and callipers get heated over time, weaken, and now you need a full brake replacement.
That’s true for many parts of your car.
Regular Car Maintenance Checklist
Here are the main things you need to do, along with how frequently you need to do them, to help prevent serious issues as much as possible.
1: Check Your Fluids
This is as simple as it gets, but it’s also one of the most neglected at-home maintenance tasks you can do.
Simply checking your fluids can prevent a lot of headaches.
Your oil, transmission fluid, and coolant are the main fluids you should be looking at. They’re all conveniently labelled, and it should only take you a few minutes.
If one of these fluids is low, it can be a sign of a leak, inefficient operation, or just the need for a top-up. In any case, topping up the fluid, driving to see if it drains quickly, and taking action if it does, is the proper route to take.
Note: Many newer models have enclosed transmissions. If you think there’s an issue with your transmission fluid and you don’t see a label for it, a mechanic will have to help.
You should perform this check about once a month, and if you notice any strange performance issues.
2: Check the Tires and Brakes
Next, you need to regularly check your tires and brakes. If your tires are low on air or they’re balding, they can cause far more expensive problems when they cause an accident.
The same can be said for your brakes. As we said earlier, worn brakes can cause costly repairs, and of course, they can be dangerous, as well.
Tires are easy to check. Simply use a tire gauge to check their pressure, and if they aren’t within the range specified by the manufacturer, add some air. Also, check the tread to ensure the tires are wearing evenly and not balding. If they are, it’s definitely time to consider tire replacement.
A regular tire rotation should be done every six months to prevent uneven wear, as well.
Brakes are harder to check on your own, but we have a solution to that at the end of this guide.
3: Inspect All Performance Problems Immediately
You’ll need to pay close attention to your car to perform this step on your own.
Whenever you have a drop in performance or you notice something is off, it’s time to inspect the vehicle; whether that means you, or a mechanic, figuring out what the source of the problem is, is a priority.
It’s not that easy, either. Many performance issues go unnoticed unless you really know your car.
You can start by stopping the vehicle and inspecting any glaring issues. These include strange noises, stuttering, poor handling, smoke, non-functioning features, and of course, the dash-mounted alert system going off.
If any of those things happen, it is worth pulling over, inspecting the car to the best of your abilities, and then taking appropriate action.
Other things to look for are lower fuel mileage, failure to turnover properly, and less-noticeable variants of the problems we mentioned above.
In most cases, it’s best to opt for a professional vehicle inspection when these things happen.
4: Winterization and Long-Term Storage
There are two situations when you need to add additional steps to your maintenance routine. When the cold season starts, and when you plan to keep the car parked for weeks or months at a time.
With winterization, ensuring that you protect the paint of your car, topping up your anti-freeze, and occasionally letting the car run if you’re not using it are all necessary. Also, charging the battery and filling other fluids helps, too.
If you’re going to be storing the car for a long time, such as when you put away a collector’s piece for 9 months of the year, it’s important to either drain all the fluids to prevent them from going bad in the vehicle and if you keep fuel in the vehicle, make sure to add a fuel preserver.
Fuel goes bad within 6 months, and it can damage your car if you simply get back on the road with old fuel.
5: Battery Replacement Schedule
The battery of a car is usually one of the most neglected parts. It’s solid, doesn’t experience many issues, and lasts a long time. However, when it does fail, it creates a major hassle.
Depending on the type of car battery you have, your battery will last between 5 and 10 years. Identify the type of battery your car uses, and make sure you take note of when it needs to be replaced.
The exact date that it stops working isn’t possible to predict, and if you go beyond the recommended period, you risk ending up with a perfectly good car that can’t start.
Beyond just noting when to replace it, try the following practices.
Purchase a car battery charger, and any time you aren’t driving for a week or more, hook it up to top up the battery. Your alternator usually does this while you drive, but if you’re not driving, the battery passively drains.
Use a toothbrush and a mild cleaner to clean any corrosion or build-up from the terminals. If you let that build up, it can eat into the connectors, prevent the battery from operating properly, and cause premature failure.
6: Protecting the Body
This is usually a minor concern unless you live in an area with salt water or another corrosive substance nearby. However, it is important.
If you don’t include the body of the car in your regular maintenance routine, it will corrode over time, and you will end up with expensive body repairs or rust spreading to more crucial components.
The best way to do this is simply washing your car regularly. Avoid drive-through car washes that can damage mirrors, hubcaps, and antennas.
A simple wash service or a bucket and soapy water at home are enough to suffice. Then, make sure you seal the paint with a fresh coat of wax to prevent water exposure in spots where the paint has worn off.
7: Get Regular Fluid Changes
Not only do you need to make sure your fluids are topped off properly, but you also need to get them changed regularly.
Normally, your oil is what you’ll need to worry about.
An oil change should be done according to your car’s manual. The interval differs from model to model. On average, you can expect to get an oil change around 4 times per year.
If you have the technical skills, an oil change is possible to do at home. However, it’s easier to hire a professional service, and you don’t risk messing it up.
Transmission fluid might require a professional depending on the construction of your car’s transmission, but it doesn’t require a change very often.
8: Get Regular Professional Inspections
Some of the things we’ve mentioned about regular car maintenance are extremely simple, and you can do them at home. Such as washing your car, adding air to your tires, or topping off your fluids.
However, many of them require a little bit of skill, and some are beyond the skill level of an average car owner.
That’s where regular professional inspections help.
A professional inspection performed by a mechanic can find all of the issues we’ve talked about here, suggest repairs or maintenance tasks that help prevent bigger problems, and take care of maintenance tasks that are too much for you to handle.
A professional can even take care of those small, time-consuming maintenance tasks that you might not have the time for.
With regular professional maintenance inspections, you can greatly reduce the number of maintenance tasks you have to do, and you can rest easy knowing that your car is in good hands.