About Car Maintenance: How to Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

Car maintenance is an important part of owning a car and helps keep your car in good running condition.

Car maintenance is an important part of owning a car. Keeping your car in good running condition helps extend the life of your car and also drives down the cost of ownership over time. Regular maintenance can help keep your engine oil free of dirt, grime and moisture, protect your car’s exterior from UV rays and reduce the risk of major breakdowns. Car maintenance doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive either. Most routine maintenance like oil changes should be performed annually at around 9,000 miles or about 6 to 8 months. If you take care of your vehicle regularly and follow a few simple guidelines then you can stay on top of standard maintenance tasks and avoid serious problems which can cost a lot to fix. Let's look at what you need to know about regular maintenance for your car.

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Car Maintenance Table of Contents
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    How Often Should You Service Your Car?

    You should do basic fluid checks and car inspections often to see if your car needs more windshield washer fluid, a motor oil top off, or more detailed service performed. Doing this around every 1,200 to 1,800 miles or so is a good idea as a general rule of thumb to follow. It's important to be diligent with car maintenance (especially auto manufacturer scheduled maintenance), but if you're doing basic checks and vehicle walk arounds every 1,800 miles, then you'll reduce the risk of more expensive and time-consuming repairs down the road. You can also check your vehicle's owner's manual to see the maintenance schedule which is normally found near the appendix in the back.

    Why Regular Car Maintenance is Important

    Regular maintenance is important because it keeps your car running smoothly and helps to extend the life of your vehicle. If you take care of your car regularly and follow a few simple guidelines then it hopefully won’t cost much to maintain apart from some of the more expensive scheduled items like serpentine belt replacements, brake rotor replacements, or drivetrain overhauls. Regular maintenance also helps to inspect all major parts and components. Cleaning your engine is also a good idea to keep your engine free of dirt, road grime, excess oil, leaves, and collected moisture. This can reduce the risk of major breakdowns and increase engine longevity. Exterior maintenance like waxes and Rain-X repellent finishes can also be a good idea to protect the exterior paint from UV ray damage.

    About Car Maintenance Engine Oils and Brake Adjusting

    About the Lack of Car Maintenance

    The Consequences of Poor Car Maintenance

    Without regular car maintenance, your vehicle will start to experience more serious problems that can be expensive to fix. For example, something as small as a dirty air filter can cause your engine to overwork and eventually overheat. This can lead to costly repairs or even having to replace your engine entirely. Other parts of your car, such as the brakes and suspension, can also be affected by neglecting maintenance. Take a moment to think about the consequences of not performing your car maintenance. If you neglect your car for too long, then it could cause the following problems:

    • A Water Pump Failure

      If your car starts to overheat, it may be a sign of water pump failure. The water pump is responsible for circulating coolant throughout the engine to keep it operating at the correct temperature. If the water pump fails, it can cause the engine to overheat, leading to serious damage.

    • A Major Breakdown on the Road

      If your vehicle breaks down on the road you are unable to continue driving, it may be considered a major breakdown. Next, you must find a way to get your vehicle towed or repaired. A major breakdown can be costly and stressful, so it is important to do preventative maintenance to minimize the chances of having a major breakdown or catastrophic failure. You also need to have a backup plan like AAA coverage to be prepared in case it does happen to you.

    • A Major Repair That Requires Expensive Parts or Even a Replacement of Your Engine

      A major engine repair is a significant repair to your engine typically involving the replacement of one or more major components like a cylinder head, piston rod, crankshaft, or similar parts. Major engine repairs can be costly and time-consuming, and often require the expertise of a qualified mechanic. The goal of the repair is to restore the engine to working order, extend the life of the engine, or improve its performance.

    • Extreme Wear and Tear on Drivetrain Parts

      Today's vehicles are built to last many miles, but that doesn't mean the parts don't wear out. A car’s drivetrain components see a lot of action and can take a beating, so it's important to know what signs to look for that indicate extreme wear and tear. By understanding what causes extreme wear and tear and doing preventative maintenance, you can extend the life of your drivetrain components and avoid more costly repairs down the road.

    • Clutch Failure

      A clutch failure is when the clutch system in a car fails to engage or disengage the engine from the transmission. This can happen for a number of reasons, but usually it is due to wear and tear on the clutch components. Clutch failures can be very dangerous because it can cause the car to lose power suddenly, which can lead to an accident or a breakdown.

    • Overheating of Your Cooling System

      Overheating of your cooling system can be a serious problem. If not fixed, it can lead to engine failure. Overheating can be caused by many things, such as a coolant leak, a failed water pump, or a clogged radiator. It is important to know the signs of overheating so you can take action before it is too late.

    Early Diagnosis

    Keep tabs on your vehicle's condition so you can diagnose problems early on before they create serious trouble.

    Schedule Checks

    Schedule regular maintenance checks with your preferred service shop or service centers at mileage milestones.

    Proactive Parts

    Replace damaged parts proactively before they fail completely. Don't wait until they fail completely from wear and tear.

    Learn About Service Options

    Service Plans and Extended Warranties can Help Fix Your Car

    Things to Check

    The Engine

    Oil Changes, Checking Engine Fluids, Spark Plugs, and Timing Belt

    The engine is the heart of your car. If you don’t perform regular maintenance on your engine, it will be difficult for you to keep it running smoothly. Regularly checking your engine fluids, engine air filter, and changing the oil is essential to keeping your engine running efficiently and safely. Check oil fluid levels often especially in older cars which can leak or burn oil. Oil levels in cars should be checked regularly because if an oil level is too low, it means less protection from heat and wear on metal components such as bearings and gears. If you know your vehicle suffers from oil-related problems or oil loss, it's best to check often when driving short distances or after filling your gas tank.

    Additionally, when it comes time for a spark plug replacement, make sure that the new one is from a reputable manufacturer and made out of materials like iridium or platinum. It will cost more but it's worth it in the long run. Another important part of routine car maintenance is checking your spark plugs every year or so for carbon and corrosion. Not only does it give you peace of mind knowing that you're doing what's best for your car but also helps ensure that you get the most out of each spark plug before they wear down too much. Lastly, check your timing belt or timing chain at least once a year to ensure that they are functioning properly and not worn down too much. This can help avoid an expensive repair in the future if they break prematurely and damage other engine components.

    Oil Changes and Additives

    Check oil level and make sure any additives used are up-to-date. Every car needs its oil and filtered changed periodically, as this helps keep dirt out of the engine and extends the life of your car's engine parts. Oil filters have a rating as high as 20,000 miles or more with oil usually lasting around 7,000 for conventional oil and 12,000 for synthetic. However, it is usually best to change both oil and filter at the same time for daily driver cars.

    A quick way to tell if you need an oil change is by looking at your oil life gauges around your dashboard if your car has oil sensors. You can also tell by visually checking the color of the oil which is normally golden brown. If the oil or black or grimy looking, it is often time for an oil change. Watch out for how much oil leaks onto the ground if you have an older car. If you start seeing spots under your parked vehicle, check the level immediately. Oil changes are easy to perform yourself if you are comfortable with the task and have the right tools, but it's best to have a professional do it. A professional auto mechanic can take care of any other problems with your car while they're there.

    Fluid Levels

    Check Oil Level, Coolant, Power Steering Fluid, Brake Fluid, and Transmission Fluid

    A car’s engine, transmission, air conditioning, and brakes are all powered by fluids which need to be kept at the correct levels in order to prevent a breakdown. It's important to use the correct fluid for the right system. The most critical ones are the engine which uses motor oil, the radiator which is full of coolant, the transmission which accepts transmission fluid, and the brake system which is filled with DOT3 or DOT4 brake fluid. Other important but less critical fluids include windshield washer fluid and Freon for the air conditioner.

    It's important to check the fluid levels every so often, with the exception of Freon. Checking them when you are getting a car wash, before or after long distance legs of your road trip, or when you drive your car through rough terrain is a good idea so you know when they need refilling or topping up. If you're not sure how to do this, take your car to a mechanic or bring your car to a friend who is handy with vehicles. You can also check out YouTube and other sources for video guides on fluid levels for your car.

    Hoses and Belts

    Inspect the Engine Belts and Hoses Looking for Cracks, Leaks, or Loose Fittings

    Hoses and belts are some of the most important parts of your car’s engine. They help to circulate oil throughout the system, keep things running synchronously, and keep dirt and moisture out. They also play a key role in moving air around your vehicle, which is how your engine breathes. If you see any cracks, leaks or loose fittings on hoses or belts then these should be fixed or replaced immediately. If you suspect that your hoses or belts have been compromised then it's best to bring them in for service before they fail completely and cause major damage. If a hose bursts, for example, then oil can get into the engine and this can lead to long-term damage.

    Belt condition should also be checked as part of a vehicle's maintenance schedule. Belts shouldn't be too tight or too loose. The belt is carefully threaded and positioned in the engine bay around the block by engaging a series of pulleys, drive gears, and tensioners. For example, the serpentine belt powers the water pump, alternator, idler, air conditioner compressor, crankshaft pulley, and other tensioners. If the belt is too loose, the slack could cause belt slippage. If it is too tight, the serpentine belt might cause serious problems because the belt won't work properly or move freely.

    When checking belt tension, make sure they're properly aligned around their path. Depending on the belt, it may not go over the pulleys on either side of the engine block when it should only go over one pulley on each side of the engine block. Make sure that the belt is not frayed, stretched out, or damaged in any way and that the ends of complimentary belts are even with one another. The three types of drive belts in most cars include the:

    • Timing Belt

      A timing belt is a rubber belt that connects the engine crankshaft to the camshaft. The timing belt synchronizes the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft so that the engine's valves open and close at the proper time. The timing belt is an important part of the engine and must be replaced at the recommended interval.

    • Serpentine Belt

      A serpentine belt is a type of belt that is used on many vehicles. It is made of a strong material and is wrapped around several pulleys. The belt helps to drive the engine's accessories, such as the water pump, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. Serpentine belts are important because they keep the engine's accessories working properly. If a serpentine belt breaks, the engine will overheat and can cause damage to the engine.

    • V-belt

      A V-belt, also called a Vee belt or wedge belt, is a type of drive belt that has a triangular cross section. These belts are typically used in automotive and industrial applications. The use depends on the make and model of vehicle including powering water pumps, radiator fans, compressors, and other drive components. V-belts are strong and durable, and they can transfer high amounts of power.

    The Car Battery

    Check Charge, Voltage, and Clean the Battery Terminals

    The car battery is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your car when it comes to starting and powering your vehicle. It needs to be treated with care and maintained as an essential part of your car. If you don’t take care of this battery, it can lead to major engine problems like a failure, dead car, or even a fire in extreme cases. Dirty battery terminals are the number one cause of a failing battery. To check for dirt, corrosion, and debris which can build up around the terminals, visually inspect the battery for dirt or white oxidation from battery acid. If you see terminal corrosion, use an old toothbrush with a little bit of baking soda mixed with water to scrub the terminals on the battery. If there’s extreme residue or corrosion, you may have to replace the battery.

    A fully charged battery will have voltage ranging from 12V to 14V and will last around 5 to 6 years on average. When your car is off, inspect your battery by checking the date, connections, and battery case. Make sure all of the connections are tight and secure. You can also use a battery tender before leaving your vehicle unattended for a long period of time or in the winter. This will help maintain the battery's charge under normal circumstances.

    If your car battery completely dies, you can use a battery pack or jumper cables to attempt a vehicle restart. Make sure you have jumper cables handy in your trunk or roadside assistance kit as well as an optional fully charged battery buddy jump starter on hand for these emergencies. To start the vehicle jump start process, you can do the following steps if you need to jump start your car with another vehicle:

    1. First you need a second vehicle to assist you getting started
    2. Start by putting both vehicles in park and make sure the area is safe
    3. Connect the jumper cables to the second running car's battery with negative (black -) terminal first and then the positive (red +) terminal
    4. Connect the other end of the jumper cables to your dead battery in same matter by connecting the negative and positive terminals in that order
    5. You may see a small spark when you connect your positive terminal to the jumper cable which is normal
    6. Start your car once the cables are connected
    7. Once your car is running, leave the vehicle on
    8. Remove the cables from both vehicles following the reverse of the attachment method with positive to negative cable disconnect.

    Jump starting your car with a battery pack is a very similar process but there is no other vehicle needed to restart your dead car. You simply need to connect the terminals on the battery pack to your dead car battery and follow the last steps of restarting your car.

    The Brakes

    Check Brake Pads, Rotors, Discs, Calipers, and Brake Lines

    Your car's brake system gets a lot of wear and tear depending on your driving habits. Two of the most important parts of your car's brakes are the pads and discs which are located within each of the wheels. Check the brake pads, rotors, and calipers at least once or twice a year or as needed. In the winter when roads are icy, it's recommended that you test your brakes as often as every week to make sure you can properly stop and maintain traction on the snow packed roads or ice. You can do this safely on a side street away from other cars but simply doing a threshold braking technique like accelerating to 5 mph and trying to stop as quickly as possible. This will help you see how fast and responsively your car is able to stop during the winter driving conditions.

    The brake lines on your car are incredibly important and should be checked often during vehicle maintenance inspection at a car repair shop. If you have an upcoming appointment, ask if the mechanic can inspect your brake lines. They can check for leaks and ensure that the fluid looks clean. If you need to check them yourself, you can use a flashlight to inspect the brake fluid reservoirs in the engine bay and check the lines as best you can without a car lift. Remember, there is often a front and rear brake fluid reservoir in most cars which hold DOT3 or DOT4 brake fluid.

    Finally check your brake rotors. These are also called brake discs since disc brake systems use the brake pads to clamp around the disc when stopping or slowing the vehicle. You want to make sure the rotors are straight and not warped since this affects your stopping efficiency. The metal rotor material can warp if exposed to high and low temperatures over time. These causes "waves" in the metal which, in extreme cases, can be felt like an oscillating motion of intermittent slowing when braking hard.

    Car Tires

    Rotate, Check Pressure, Alignment, Tread Depth, Inflation, and Sidewall Damage

    It’s important that you monitor your tire condition to make sure your vehicle's wheels are always in solid contact with the road. This is especially true when buying a car or when rotating summer and winter tires on your current car. When rotating sets of wheels for summer, winter, or all season, make sure the rims are properly tightened using a torque wrench. Using a star pattern triple tighten method with 30-60-90 foot-pounds for each bolt. There are many tire-related things to look out for when it comes to tire maintenance, but some of the most common are whether your car has worn or bald tires and low tire pressure PSI.

    Check tire treads for wear and uneven wear patterns. You can check the condition of your tires by looking at the tread depth on each tire. If one of your tires has significantly more tread than the others, you might need to get new tires soon. Tires should also be checked for uneven wear patterns, although these don't often indicate anything serious outside of a potential alignment problem. You can measure your tread depth using the head of a penny. Coins are sometimes hard to find these days, but if you can find a penny, insert it into your tread head down. If you can see the top of Abe Lincoln's head, your tread is too low and your tires need replacing. Check the sidewalls of the tires for damage like curb rash as well. The sidewalls of tires are vulnerable to damage and are not repairable like punctures to the tread areas are. If you see damage to the side wall, you will need to replace the tire.

    You also want to make sure you are rotating your car tires every 4,000 to 6,000 miles. Most tires are rated for a lifespan like 45,000 miles. This is the average life they can be expected to last for, but car tires can wear unevenly depending on things like your drivetrain, wheel balancing, or if you have a front or rear wheel drive vehicle. Rotating your tires swaps them around to different sides of the car like passenger to driver side and front to rear. This gives the tread a chance to wear evenly and prevent premature tire replacement.

    The tire pressure is also important to check. The pressure is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI. Your vehicle will have a PSI rating placard inside of the driver's side door jam and also stated within the manufacturer recommendations in the owner's manual. Check your tire pressure to make sure it is at the recommended PSI and fill them up if they are low. Most passenger cars are rated to 30 to 35 PSI with 32 PSI being average. You can also add an additional 3 to 4 PSI in the winter to account for cold air volume or use nitrogen air mixtures which do not expand or contract as much in cold weather. If you notice any of these low PSI tire problems or other replacement signs, contact your mechanic to address them along with the other important aspects of regular maintenance.

    Headlights and Wiper Blades

    Check Light Bulbs, Turn Signals, License Plate Lamps, Fuses, and Rubber Wiper Blades

    It is important to check your car’s lights and wiper condition often. Both of these are related to maintaining good visibility when driving and are usually required by state law. The headlights, taillights, turn signals, and emergency flashers should be inspected regularly to make sure they are properly lit and functioning. Replace any burnt out light bulbs or malfunctioning lights. The easiest way to quickly check them is at night against a building or garage door since you can see the illuminated reflection of a brake like, tail light, and turn signal. This prevents you from having to get out and physically inspect them all the time.

    You should also ensure that the wiper blades are working well to clear the front and rear windshields if applicable. It is a good idea to fill the windshield fluid at least once a month or more often in rainy or winter conditions. Use winter rated fluid like -20 degrees F to prevent the fluid from freezing in the lines during cold weather. You can also change windshield fluid if you do not use it often. You can find the procedure details and the type in your owner’s manual. If you have a car in storage or don't use your windshield wipers often, try to change the fluid every two years at least or if it looks dirty. You can visually inspect the fluid in the reservoir. The level should always be checked before starting a long journey or at the start of inclement weather season.

    Tips for Keeping Your Car Running Reliably and Smoothly

    • Check your oil levels It’s important to check your car’s oil levels and change both the oil and filter every 6,000 to 9,000 miles. If you don't replace your dirty oil with clean oil, you risk engine damage and increase wear and tear on other parts which will need more frequent maintenance or replacement.

    • Keep your engine cool. The engine works better and lasts longer when it is kept cool. You should ensure that the air filters are cleaned often and there is sufficient space for airflow around the radiator, otherwise the engine will overheat. If you need more cooling options, you can retrofit a larger aftermarket radiator or use a performance air intake to help keep the engine cooler.

    • Wash and clean your car regularly. You should thoroughly wash your car at least once a month but preferably once a week or more often during the winter or if you live in a salty or dusty environment. If you let road salt sit on your metal components or paint, it will increase the corrosion and cause parts to fail. Washing often with car soap and undercarriage sprays can help prevent this and make your vehicle last longer. This car wash spraying process helps remove salt, dirt, and grime which can clog up air filters, damage fuel lines reducing fuel efficiency, and cause corrosion on metal parts in the engine.

    • Clean out the interior. Cleaning your car interior by minimizing trash and using anti-bacterial wipes and solvents encourages good hygiene by reducing bacteria from getting onto seats, steering wheel and other surfaces on your vehicle. Not cleaning your car can cause increases in poor health conditions like asthma attacks or other respiratory problems.

    Advocating Regular Car Maintenance

    Routine car maintenance is important because it helps ensure a long life for your car. Regular maintenance can extend the life of your car by years as it safely carries you and your family down the roads and highways in the country. Every year, the average vehicle gets driven around 10,000 miles. It’s important to know that many services like tire rotations and oil changes are done annually. If you keep track of these services, you don’t have to worry about forgetting about them or spending too much money on them later.

    The cost of regular maintenance is lower than fixing serious problems due to neglect later because the vehicle maintenance checklist helps you, as the owner, maintain the correct items at the proper time. The result is saving on parts and labor by avoiding critical vehicle problems later. If you take care of your car regularly, you'll be able to avoid expensive repairs down the road and enjoy the benefits of a longer lasting car!

    About Car Maintenance Belt and Pulleys

    Car Maintenance FAQs

    Have questions about your car's maintenance? Get answers, and find information.

    Car reliability is incredibly important because it can help you get the most out of your car. A reliable car will be able to go on long road trips without requiring much in the way of repair work. It will also be able to make it through the entire life of your registration, which can give you a significant discount on your car insurance. Along with all of these benefits, a reliable car will be one that you don’t have to worry about when you’re driving. If something goes wrong, you can rest assured that it will be taken care of quickly and you won’t have to miss any work time or school lessons.

    If you're driving and your car breaks down, don't panic. The best thing you can do if your car breaks down is to move the car to a safe position on the side of the road if possible. There are a few things you can do to get back on the road. First, check to see if your problem is something small, like a flat tire. If it is, you can usually fix it yourself. If the problem is bigger, like your engine has died, you'll need to call for roadside assistance or a tow truck. In either case, it's important to stay calm and be safe. If your car starts smoking or catches on fire, stay as far away from the car as possible. If you are in a dangerous situation, get out of the area and call for help.

    Tire pressure is one of the most important factors in maintaining your car's handling and fuel efficiency. Overinflated or underinflated tires can lead to a number of problems, so it's important to know what the correct PSI for your car's tires should be. In general, passenger car tires should be inflated to between 30 and 35 PSI with 32 being average. You can find the exact number for your car inside of the driver's side door jam.

    If your car has died and you find yourself in need of jumper cables, you may be wondering which order to connect the cables. It's actually pretty simple: the red cable goes on the positive terminal of the dead battery, and the black cable goes on the negative terminal. But which do you connect first? And which side of the jumper cables do you connect last? Always connect the negative terminals first and the red positive terminals last.

    If you own a car, it's important to know how often to change your car oil. Depending on the make of your vehicle, you should change your oil every 6,000 to 9,000 miles or about every 6 months, whichever comes first. However, it's best to consult your car's owner’s manual for the specific recommendations. Changing your car oil regularly will help keep your engine running smoothly and prolong the life of your vehicle.

    When the winter weather hits, it's important to take extra care of your car. The best way to do this is to make sure your windshield washer fluid doesn't freeze in the lines and reservoir by using -20 degree F rated windshield washer fluid. This will prevent the fluid from freezing in most areas with mild winters.

    Cleaning your car battery terminals is important in maintaining your car. It is a simple process that you can do at home with a few supplies. You will need: baking soda, water, a toothbrush, and gloves. First, disconnect the positive terminal of your battery and then the negative terminal. Next, mix a solution of baking soda and water. Rub the terminals with the solution using the toothbrush. Finally, rinse the terminals with clean water and reconnect the terminals.