The Only Car Maintenance Checklist You’ll Ever Need
Whether you are a rideshare driver or a delivery worker or drive to an office every day, your car is probably your most important asset. No matter what your job is, you more than likely depend on your personal vehicle to earn your livelihood.
In almost every aspect of any job, keeping your car healthy is vital. By taking good care of your vehicle, it will be safer to drive, lasts longer, and work more efficiently, increasing your gas mileage, and at the end of the day, minimize repairs and save you money.
This car maintenance checklist will help you take care of your vehicle:
Deflated tires kill your gas mileage and can cause excessive wear to the tire tread. Additionally, if your tires are really low, it could influence your steering and control.
Knowing how to check your tire pressure is essential – you should know the recommended psi (pounds per square inch) for your car (find it in the owner’s manual – or search on google – if you don’t). Most newer cars have an easy-to-check tire pressure listed in the car menu on the dash and will let you know if you are running low.
If you find that your tire pressure is low, you should know how to inflate air into the tires. Most gas stations have an air compressor outside if you can’t make it to a mechanic or garage.
Tire pressure can change with the weather (pressure increases when it’s hot outside and drops when it’s cold), so it’s important to check your tire pressure frequently, especially for truck drivers who travel long distances every day.. Every time you drive your car, as you approach it, you should look at your tires to see if your car is sitting lower than usual, so you always have an idea.
In addition to tire pressure, the tread on your tires is essential for control and steering, especially in winter weather. To make sure your tread is even across your tires, the NHTSA recommends rotating your tires every 5,000 to 10,000 miles.
When a light goes out, it’s not only a safety hazard – you could even get a ticket for it. Whether it’s a headlight, a taillight, a brake light, a license plate light, a turn signal bulb – there are more lights on your car than you probably realize. If an officer notices that a light goes out before you do, you might find yourself in trouble.
Luckily, changing lights is relatively simple. And bulbs are pretty cheap. You can find most bulbs at a local auto shop, and you can find out how to change them in your owner’s manual (or by looking on google/youtube).
You never want to try to stop your car and not be able to because of failed brakes. If you ever notice your wheels start to make weird squeaks or noises when you use your brakes, you should reach out to your mechanic immediately.
It’s important to inspect your brake pads regularly. If you ever feel any vibrating or rattling when you press down on your brake pedal, it might be a hint that your brake pads are starting to go.
The fluid levels on your car are also important to make sure your car is running properly. Here is a list of some of the fluids you should maintain:
- Engine Oil – Your engine’s oil is the car’s lifeblood. From reducing heat within the engine to keeping the engine clean – the engine oil protects all the parts of the machine to make sure the vehicle is running properly. Having bad oil lowers your fuel economy, which can damage your engine. Most manufacturers recommend that you change your car’s oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, but this varies between make and model.
- Coolant – Engine coolant, or radiator fluid, is the antifreeze fluid used in the radiator to help cool the engine. Especially in warm weather, because the vehicle’s engine generates a lot of heat, keeping your coolant levels maintained is important.
- Air Conditioning Coolant – In addition to your engine coolant, there is also Freon, or air conditioning coolant, which helps the A/C system process hot air and turn it into cold air. If you want your air conditioning to work properly, you better make sure your air conditioning coolant does not run dry.
- Power Steering Fluid – Unlike other fluid levels, if your power steering fluid runs dry, you’ll know pretty soon. When you run out of power steering fluid, it will be harder to use the steering wheel and control the vehicle. Running low on power steering fluid can be dangerous, as you can lose control of your vehicle.
- Brake Fluid – Brake fluid assists the brake pedals, brake pads, and rotors run smoothly. Most cars should have the brake fluid drained and replaced every 25,000 miles or so.
- Transmission Fluid – Transmission fluid lubricates the transmission, minimizing friction in the engine. Ensuring your transmission fluid levels are up to par is extremely important to ensure your engine runs smoothly.
- Windshield Washer Fluid – Whether it is raining outside, or a truck goes by and splashes mud all over your windshield – you might not notice how important windshield washer fluid is until you can’t see. Luckily, windshield washer fluid is available at most gas stations and auto parts stores, and it is pretty easy to fill.
- Dash – The lights on your dashboard can give you a pretty good idea of how your car is doing. If you notice a light turns on, you should take your car to your mechanic or dealer as soon as possible. Here are a few of the different lights you might see on your dash:
- Low Fuel – The gas pump light indicates that your car is running low on fuel. If this light comes on, it means it’s time to fill up your gas tank.
- Check engine – The check engine light will often indicate an issue with the car’s engine. This light could indicate low oil pressure, engine overheating, or several other issues that might be caused by a loose or cracked cap or more.
- Service engine – If the check engine light is flashing, this indicates severe damage to the engine, and you should pull over immediately.
- Engine Temperature Warning – The engine temperature warning light turns on when your engine is overheating. Usually, this means that you are running low on engine coolant, but there could be other issues causing the engine to run hot.
- Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) – If this light turns on, there is a problem with your anti-lock brakes. The anti-lock brakes make sure the tires make proper contact with the road, so it is important for keeping control of your car.
- Traction Control Light – The traction control light indicates that the vehicle’s traction control system is turned on. Often helpful in slippery road conditions, the traction control system utilizes the anti-lock brake system to make sure the wheels are all spinning at the same rate. If a wheel slips, the brakes are applied until the tires can pick up traction, which might happen in rain or snow.
- Oil Warning – The oil pressure light indicates that the vehicle’s oil pressure system is off. This could be due to the oil running low or a fault in the engine’s oil pump.
- Electrical – The battery symbol on the dash will light up if there is an issue with the car’s charging system. It doesn’t always mean that you need a new battery – it might indicate a problem with the alternator or some other electrical issue.
- Tire Pressure Warning – The tire pressure warning light turns on if the tire pressure is too high or too low. The standard is 35 psi, but you should check your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s specific pressure.
Semi-frequent inspections are covered in your regularly scheduled maintenance/oil change appointments with your mechanic.
We have already discussed the importance of keeping clean oil running through your engine. Old, dirty oil can build up and clog parts of the engine or generally cause the engine to run slower. Most car manufacturers recommend changing your car’s oil every 3,000-5,000 miles, but it varies between make and models and on the age of your car.
While it doesn’t seem super important, air filters are important components of the car’s functioning. Clean air filters improve fuel efficiency by minimizing debris and other particles from entering the engine. Keeping clean air filters is relatively inexpensive and can improve the life of your vehicle. Most manufacturers recommend changing the air filters every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
Belts and Hoses
Worn-out belts and hoses can cause problems for your car later down the road. By keeping up with inspections and replacing weak hoses or old belts, you can prevent your engine from overheating or other faults in the vehicle’s performance.
Less Frequent Inspections
While some parts require frequent inspection, some features of the car are stable and only need to be checked occasionally. Things like the battery, spark plugs, and tire tread, generally lasts much longer than the fluids, lights, and other parts of the car.
Your car’s battery is extremely important to maintain the healthy functioning of your car. If you don’t drive your vehicle for an extended period, you should try to turn it on intermittently and let the engine run for 20-30 minutes. If this isn’t possible, you should disconnect the battery before leaving it off for a while.
Battery health can also deteriorate in colder weather – if you are going to store your car in the winter, consider taking out the battery and storing it somewhere warmer.
Depending on your car’s make and model, replace cat batteries every three or four years. This might vary depending on driving patterns, weather, and the wear on the car.
Spark plugs help give the engine power by creating an arc of electricity. The longevity of your spark plugs will vary depending on the make and model of your car, but most manufacturers recommend having the spark plugs changed every 30,000 miles.
Keeping your spark plugs up-to-date can improve your car’s performance in multiple ways. Misfired spark plugs reduce fuel efficiency, and the poor performance creates more harmful emissions that leave your car and pollute the environment.
Tips for Car Maintenance
Avoid Driving on an Empty Tank of Gas
Besides the risk of running out, running your car on low fuel is not healthy. When the fuel levels are low, debris from the bottom of the gas tank collects, and it does not run as clean. Especially in cold weather, you should try to keep at least a quarter tank.
Stop and Go Traffic
A general rule of thumb when driving is don’t accelerate if you don’t need to. A rule of thumb is to keep the RPM under 3,000. Especially when you are sitting in traffic, however, there is no need to drive up the RPM and rev your engine. This kills your gas mileage and is not healthy for your car.
Letting your car warm-up is extremely important. The most wear on the engine is done in the first 10-20 minutes of turning the car on. When you first turn your car on, accelerate slowly until your car warms up.
Keeping your car clean is more important than you’d think. Some of the things that can get on your car might damage the paint and exterior of your car. Road salt, pollen, tree sap, bird/animal droppings – these are all things that can build up and harm your vehicle.
Just like a light going out, car insurance is another thing that can end up costing you a ticket. You always want to make sure that your car is covered and have the best policy that grants you the coverage and limits you need. Plus, it is against the law in most to drive without proof of insurance – so make sure you have your insurance card and your coverage is up-to-date.
It might seem cliché but reading the owner’s manual of your vehicle will teach you a lot. If you can’t find it inside the car, you can probably find it on Google – but however you find it, your owner’s manual will have all sorts of information specific to your car.
The Bottom Line
Keeping good care of your car by following this car maintenance checklist will improve safety and boost your car’s resale value. In addition to saving you from expensive repairs, new parts, tickets, or even accidents because of damage to our vehicle, keeping good care of your car will save you from roadside emergencies. By maintaining a log of repairs and work done on the car, regularly scheduled tune-ups, taking good care of your car takes work.