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Car Maintenance Checklist – Keep Your Car Running Its Best

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While it can be tempting to ignore car maintenance until something goes wrong, anyone who has ever spent a ton of money on car repairs will be the first to tell you: Never ignore basic preventive maintenance. After all, taking care of the basics and following the manufacturer’s recommended regular maintenance schedule is what keeps your car running its best. So help make it easier for you to keep track of your car maintenance schedule, I’ve created a general car maintenance checklist so you can stay on top of your vehicle’s recommended automotive maintenance.

car mechanic working on car with Ultimate Car Maintenance Checklist

This car maintenance checklist is to help you keep up with some general preventative maintenance that will keep your car in tip-top shape. However, you should always refer to your owner’s manual and talk to a professional mechanic to ensure that you are taking care of everything the manufacturer recommends at the correct time for your specific make and model car.

Short Term Car Maintenance Checklist

For proper vehicle maintenance, you should do the following things on this short term car maintenance checklist at least once every three months.

Check Oil and Coolant Levels

Either every month or every few gas fill-ups and always before you take a road trip, pop the hood and check your oil and coolant levels. Low levels of these fluids can lead to expensive engine problems. If you are not sure where they are, refer to your owner’s manual. Also, remember to do this when the engine is cool.

Oil and Filter Change

Oil is basically your engine’s lifeblood. It serves a whole bunch of functions including cooling the engine, lubricating moving parts, acting as a sealant against debris, reducing wear and tear, and help prevent engine corrosion. Keeping it clean is vital.

How often you need to change the oil and oil filter depends on the age and model of car, and the type of oil you are using. Many older cars may need to change both the oil and the oil filter as much as every 3 months or 3000 miles. Newer vehicles’ owners’ manuals will need to change the oil and oil filter less often, usually somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 miles. Always refer to your vehicle owner’s manual and consult with a professional to be certain what is appropriate for your vehicle.

Air Filter

A vehicle’s engine’s air filter is what regulates the flow of air into your engine, and also helps keep out debris and dirt. A clean air filter will also decrease emissions, improve fuel efficiency, and help ensure the life of your engine. A dirty filter can noticeably affect the performance of your car. Checking and replacing the air filter is a DIY car task that can be done at home. Simply refer to your owner’s manual for instructions and how often it needs to be changed.

Tire Pressure and Tread Depth

Your tires are paramount to your safety, as well as to how well your vehicle drives. Therefore you should make it a habit to check your tires’ appearance, air pressure, and tread depth at least once a month, as well as before carrying heavy loads or taking a long trip.

Visually inspect each tire for any cuts, tears or bulges in the sidewall, any bumps, and any uneven wear. Use the penny method to check your tread depth and check the air pressure as well. Your owner’s manual will tell you the correct amount of air pressure that your tires need. Keep in mind that during the colder months, tire pressure can drop one pound with every 10 degrees decrease.

Rotate, Balance and Align Tires

Depending on how often you drive and several other factors, the tread wear on your tires may vary between the front and back tires, or even from one side of the tread to the other. To help extend the life of your tires, have them rotated and aligned regularly.

Headlights, Brake Lights, Turn Signals

One of the easiest things to overlook is making sure your car’s lights are functioning properly. Once a month, turn on your headlights when parked in front of a flat surface like a wall, and check that both headlights are working and properly positioned. Then take a walk around the car and ensure both turn signals and your parking lights are also working. Lastly, have a friend stand behind the car while you engage the brakes to be certain that those lights are functional. Then, while keeping your foot on the brake, shift into reverse so your friend can check that the reverse lights are working as well,

Car Wash and Wax

Wash and wax your car at least once a month. Weather, tree sap, bug guts, and even bird droppings can all wreak havoc on your car’s exterior paint and even corrode it if left on it for too long. Additionally, if you live in a cold-weather climate, make sure you are rinsing your car regularly  – both the paint and the undercarriage – to remove any road salt and prevent it from eating at your car’s frame.

Long Term Car Maintenance Checklist

The items on this car maintenance checklist are things that should be at least once a year in order to keep your car running its best.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is a lubricant that helps keep all of the moving parts inside of your transmission functioning correctly. It’s a vital part of keeping your car running properly. Therefore, it is essential that you have your transmission fluid checked and changed to avoid costly transmission damage or replacement. Look in your owner’s manual to find out the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing it.

Coolant System

The coolant system is what helps keep your engine cool and functioning properly. You should have this system flushed regularly to help get rid of contaminants and to ensure that your radiator is filled to the proper level. Again, check your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation to find out how often your coolant should be exchanged and the system flushed.

Spark Plugs

The spark plugs in your engine are what ignites the gas and air mixture that ultimately powers your vehicle. If the spark plugs aren’t functioning properly, or if they need to be replaced, your engine will lose power and not run at optimal capacity. A professional should check the spark plugs and replace any faulty ones according to your manufacturer’s recommendations or if you feel a decrease in your engine’s power.

Shocks and Struts

The shocks and struts are an essential part of your auto’s steering system. They work to control the movement as your vehicle passes over bumps in the road. Have yours inspected by a professional every 50,000 miles or if you notice a decrease in smoothness or loss of control while driving.

Belts and Hoses

Although the belts and hoses may seem like simple pieces of rubber, they are actually essential to keeping your car running. For example, the serpentine belt runs peripheral devices such as the alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioner compressor.

These belts and hoses should be visually inspected on a regular basis and kept free of cracks or other wear and tear. Any that are damaged will need to be replaced. Refer to your owner’s manual to see the recommended time frame for preventative replacement.

Seasonal Maintenance

There are also some seasonal maintenance needs you should perform. These will vary by season and driving conditions and include:

Replacing the Windshield Wipers

Windshield wipers should be replaced about once every year, or whenever their effectiveness is compromised. In winter months, it’s also a good idea to install winter wiper blades for optimum performance.

Checking Coolant Levels

Remember to check your antifreeze levels in your radiator during the winter months to protect your radiator and engine components from freezing. While a 50/50 mix of antifreeze to water is generally recommended, you should always check your owner’s manual or with a professional to be positive.

Checking the Battery

Your car battery is one of the most important components and supplies large amounts of electrical current for the starter, engine, and other electronic accessories in your car. Extreme temperatures can directly impact the battery’s performance. Have yours tested at least every 6 months to ensure that it will work when you need it. You should also check for and remove any corrosion that builds up around the connectors.

Changing Tires

If you live where winter weather is common, consider switching your tires during the cold, snowy months to a winter/snow tire. With regular tires, when the temperature hovers at or below freezing consistently, the tire compounds harden decreasing traction and handling performance while increasing braking distance. Winter tires, on the other hand, are designed with compounds that remain soft in the cold and have tread patterns that provide grip in snow, slush, and icy driving conditions.

Final Thoughts

Sticking to a regular car maintenance schedule not only helps keep your car in top shape, but it also helps protect you against breakdowns and costly repairs. Plus, it can help your mechanic catch possible issues before they become major problems. While some of the items on this car maintenance checklist are simple enough to DIY, make sure you take your car to a trusted and professional mechanic and let them do the rest to keep your vehicle running its best.

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