Owning a car is a big responsibility, and you have to take care of it. Car maintenance sounds overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. From following your manufacturer recommendations to building a custom maintenance schedule, you can put as much effort into maintaining your car as you want.
However, many of the things you should do to maintain your car are things you may already do, so they’ll require little extra effort or thought. Here’s a comprehensive guide to car maintenance so you can extend the life of your car for as long as possible.
Table of Contents
Why Extend the Life of Your Car?
First and foremost, maintaining your car will save you money. Yes, maintenance costs money, too. However, if you keep up with your car’s scheduled maintenance, you’ll avoid most of the costly repairs that come from negligence. By keeping your car clean, performing routine maintenance, and fixing small problems as soon as possible, you’ll avoid the big problems that will drain your bank account.
Driving responsibly can maximize your fuel economy, helping you to save money on gas. It can also save you money on almost every component of your car by avoiding the wear and tear that comes from driving irresponsibly or recklessly.
You’ll also save money in the cost of a new car because your car will keep running smoothly for many more miles than it would have otherwise. Keep up with maintenance to save yourself the hassle of buying another new car way too soon.
Secondly, extending the life of your car is important when you like your car a lot or it has a lot of nostalgia. If you want to keep your first car in pristine condition because it has sentimental value, or you have an antique ride that holds a special place in history, maintaining it properly is one of the best things you can do.
Moreover, if you keep your car in tip-top shape, you’ll be much safer. Your car will operate the way it’s supposed to, and you’ll be protected from problems you don’t want to have to deal with. Accidents can still occur, but it’s less likely you’ll be the cause of one.
Keeping your car running optimally also ensures that it remains reliable and dependable long into the future. You’ll enjoy peak performance throughout the life of your car rather than experiencing a decline in performance after years of neglect.
You may not ever plan on selling your car, but at least you’ll have the option if you maintain it properly. It’ll have a higher resale value and you’ll have a much easier time finding a buyer when your looks and runs like it should.
Extending the Life of Your Car
So how do you do it then? Where do you start when it comes to extending the life of your car so that it will last a long time and stay in great condition? You start at the beginning, of course.
If you buy your car brand new, you can treat it right from the get-go, but if you buy it used, it’s important to buy a car that is still in good condition and then do everything you can to keep it that way.
Breaking it in
New cars have a break-in period of about 1000 miles. As you leave the showroom floor behind, remember to drive it responsibly and be gently on it until it gets used to its new job. It’s recommended to keep the speedometer under 55 miles per hour and avoid towing heaving loads.
While you shouldn’t let your car idle excessively at any point in its life, it’s important during the break-in period to avoid a build-up of oil pressure before oil gets distributed to every part of the engine. Accelerate lightly to keep your engine revving at under 3000 rotations per minute, at least for the first few hours of driving.
Drive With Care
Don’t stop driving responsible after the break-in period. Your car still needs to be driven with care to ensure it won’t experience unnecessary wear and tear.
Don’t race the engine when you turn it on, especially in cold weather. Accelerate slowly every time, but especially when starting your drive, because most of the wear and tear on your drivetrain happens in the first 10-20 minutes of driving.
You can also help your engine experience less strain by shifting to neutral while slowing down and idling at a light. The engine won’t work as hard to push the car while you’re braking, and your brakes won’t have to work so hard to stop the car either.
By avoiding fast acceleration or excessively high speeds, you can avoid more frequent repairs. Always do the speed limit and don’t put the extra strain on your car. This type of care can also extend the life of your tires, meaning you won’t have to replace them as often.
Pay attention to potholes and other objects in the road. Avoid them if you can, but don’t swerve or burn rubber to do it, because that could cause even more damage.
Try to avoid holding your steering wheel at extreme turn radiuses for more than just a few seconds to prevent damage to your power steering pump.
Because most of this wear and tear happens early in your drive, consolidate your driving trips to cut down on the number of short errands you run. Do more than one errand at once during hours of low traffic to make your engine happy.
This can also improve your fuel consumption, especially if you plan on running your errands efficiently instead of bouncing back and forth across town.
Buy Good Gas
Gas that sits idle for a long time gathers sediment at the bottom of the tank, so when you fill up, you get sediment in yours. All gas has sediment, but you can avoid excess sediment by shopping at a gas station with high turnover.
It’s human nature to want to avoid the busiest spot in town, but when it comes to filling up on gas, it’s the best principal. This high turnover keeps sediment moving rather than allowing it to settle.
Contrary to this, if you see the tanker there filling up, come back another day. Filling up the tanks stirs up the sediment resting on the bottom, which can increase the amount you find in your tank.
One more tip regarding this filling up process is to avoid gas stations with large fuel tanks above ground. It’s far better to patronize a gas station that stores their fuel underground for many reasons.
For instance, the weather has a huge impact on gasoline. Storing it above ground means its susceptible to changes in temperature more so than if it were underground at a more consistent temperature all the time. Gas expands with heat, so filling up when it’s extremely hot outside means you’re not getting as much gas for the money.
You can also ask your gas station attendant if their gas is filtered at the pump. Hint: it should be. If it’s not, go somewhere else. If it is, ask about their policy on changing the filters regularly.
If they can’t answer any of your questions, go somewhere else. Avoiding answering these questions could mean they know they’re selling dirty gasoline or watering down their product.
Always fill your car with the manufacturer’s recommended fuel type to ensure the best fuel economy and performance of your vehicle. Your engine goes through a lot of testing to ensure that it can run efficiently on certain fuel types, and using the correct type will cause less wear and tear on all components under the hood.
Store Your Car Properly
Storing your everyday driver means protecting it from the sun and inclement weather. If you have a garage at home, make sure you keep it clean enough to protect your car. Even a carport is better than nothing. However, if you don’t have a covered area at all, invest in a cover that fits correctly to ensure proper protection.
When parking, choose a garage if it’s available to protect your car from the sun. If it’s not, you can try to park in the shade or get a sunshade (Check out our list of best Sunshades here) to at least protect your interior. Parking in the shade of a tree may result in bird droppings, so keep that in mind when finding the ideal spot.
If you have a car you don’t drive every day, then follow these steps before putting it in storage for an extended period of time:
- Fill up your gas tank to avoid condensation and add a stabilizer. Drive around the block to distribute the stabilizer to the engine.
- Wash your car thoroughly to protect the paint during periods of long storage.
- Don’t park it with the parking brake engaged.
- Lift it up on jack stands to eliminate pressure from the wheels and tires.
- Remove the battery so it doesn’t drain and place it on a charger.
- Plug your tailpipe with a rag to prevent both moist air and rodents from setting up shop.
There are varying ways of protecting your car in an indoor facility versus an outdoor location, so do some more research on how you might better prep your car for long-term storage.
Clean Your Car
Even if you take your car to a car wash instead of cleaning it yourself, it’s important to keep it clean. Avoid car washes that use hard bristles that can damage your paint. Instead, go to a car wash that is brushless or uses fabric instead.
Make sure you pay attention to what’s underneath the hood and the carriage of your car. These less frequently seen parts are just as important, if not more. They house critical components to keeping your car running smoothly. If they get excessively dirty, they could corrode and cause problems.
Keep the inside of your car clean, too. It may feel like an aesthetic touch rather than an important task to keep your car running, but if you let the inside of your car get too dirty, you’ll end up with costly repairs to your dash or upholstery.
Clean your gages carefully to avoid damage and make sure you equip your car with floor mats to protect the carpet from shoes and winter weather. Make sure you apply protectants in other places, too, like your leather seats or weather stripping.
Even in the winter or an excessively rainy season, always wash your car regularly. It may seem futile because it’s just going to get dirty again within minutes, but it’s critical to keep your car free of this debris as much as you can. Wash off the ice melt and the mud that comes from driving through puddles to keep your car from rusting.
Inflate Your Tires Properly
Always take a glimpse at your tire pressure before heading out. Properly inflated tires wear more evenly, put less strain on your engine, your steering, and your brakes, and can improve your gas mileage. It seems very small, but it can have a huge impact on your driving experience.
Under-inflated tires cause more heat and stress on the tires and the wheels than is necessary and can cause tire failure. Tires heat up as you drive, so overinflated tires are at risk for blowouts if they expand past their capability. Purchase a tire gauge and always make sure your tires are inflated to the specification on the individual tire.
Keep Up With Routine Maintenance
In addition to properly inflated tires, they should be rotated regularly to ensure they wear evenly. Keep a schedule and make sure you do this as often as is recommended by the manufacturer. You can do it yourself or take it to a reputable mechanic.
Other routine maintenance tasks include oil changes and topping off your fluids. Keep logs of your oil changes so you know when it’s time for another one. Make sure to use the right type of oil and the right amount.
Before setting out, check all of your fluid levels to make sure they’re topped off. Your antifreeze, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and even your washer fluid is important for a clean windshield and the visibility you need while driving.
Taking your car in for these types of maintenance visits is important because many facilities will perform a light inspection of your air filter, cabin filter, alignment, tire tread, and more to ensure everything is in good condition. They may even check small things like your spark plugs, your battery charge, or the nozzles that spray washer fluid on your windshield.
Fix Problems Now
One of the most important things you can do is learn the meaning of the warning indicator lights on your dash. These can clue you into small or potentially large problems that need to be addressed right away. It’s always better to fix a problem before it gets worse or it will end up costing you more in the long run.
If any problems arise during your regular maintenance visits, make sure you get them addressed, even if it’s something as simple as changing out an engine filter or cleaning off your battery terminals. If something isn’t working as it should, it’s no small matter.
Recommended Maintenance Schedule
Routine maintenance is one of the most important things you can do to take care of your car. Follow the maintenance schedule provided by your car’s manufacturer.
You should be able to find it in your owner’s manual. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, or you simply want to know what a typical maintenance schedule looks like, here it is.
Keep in mind that every car is different and the miles you travel as well as the type of driving you do will have a big impact on how often you need to perform certain maintenance tasks.
An easy way to remember your maintenance schedule is to follow the 30-60-90 rule. There are certain components that need to be checked every 30,000 miles, every 60,000 miles, and every 90,000 miles.
Tire rotations happen every 5,000 miles or so and they’re the most common form of regular maintenance. Change your oil and filter frequently, too.
Most new cars today take synthetic oil, which means you can safely go for 5,000 or 10,000 miles before needing to change it. The rule of thumb used to be every 3,000 miles and is still the case for older cars that take regular oil.
See some Regular Maintenance elements you need:
Before 30,000 Miles
Air filters send clean air into your engine and a clogged or dirty filter affects the performance of your engine and it won’t operate as it should. It can impact performance and therefore should be changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.
Your fuel filter is much the same as your air filter. If it’s clogged or isn’t sending enough fuel to the engine, you’ll have big problems. The lifespan of a fuel filter varies quite a bit, but generally, you should replace it every 30,000 miles.
Before 60,000 Miles
Your battery will generally last between 50,000 and 60,000 miles. That’s about 4-5 years, depending on how much you drive. Batteries are designed to lose their power over time, so this is normal and you will periodically have to replace it.
Between 20,000 and 45,000 miles, your brake system needs to be bled to drain the fluid and replace it with new. Over time, if your brake fluid has water in it, it turns to gas and compresses, which causes a brake pedal that doesn’t feel or work right.
Your brake pads and shoes need to be checked regularly and replaced every 50,000 miles. They naturally wear out and will begin to make squeaking noises, indicating that you need to get them replaced. You may also need to get them checked if they don’t seem to be working quite right.
The metal discs that help you brake are called rotors. They help create friction with the pads and slow down your car. They generate a lot of heat and can get warped over time. They need to be replaced or resurfaced every 60,000 miles.
Replacing your coolant every 60,000 ensures that you refresh your cooling system to provide proper cooling to the rest of your engine components. Without this, your engine could overheat and cause more severe damage.
Instead of relying on your mileage to replace your transmission fluid, check it regularly to ensure that the look of the fluid and its level is appropriate. It should be pink with a sweet smell while bad transmission fluid will smell burnt and be red or brown.
For manual transmissions, this fluid should be changed between 30,000 and 60,000 miles while automatic transmissions need changing anywhere from 30,000 to more than 100,000 miles.
Before 90,000 Miles
Rubber hoses can age and crack over time, so if you have a busted hose, you need to replace it as soon as possible. They need to be checked and changed regularly, especially if your car is getting close to 100,000.
Your power steering fluid makes it easier to steer, but when it gets low, it can be hard to steer or make a lot of noise when turning. It should be flushed and replaced every 75,000 miles or whenever you encounter problems.
Your check engine light can mean a lot of different things. Your mechanic can diagnose the issue for you, but it could be as easy as changing your spark plugs. These can last up to 100,000 miles, but cheap spark plugs made of copper won’t last as long as titanium or iridium.
If your car uses a timing belt instead of a timing chain, you need to get it replaced around 75,000 or 90,000 miles. Belt failure can cause much more damage than you want to deal with and can cost a lot of money. Make sure you check with your mechanic for this type of repair.
These milestones are guidelines and may not apply to your car or its components. It’s always best to consult your owner’s manual or a trusted mechanic for a schedule that works for you. Even if you have a maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual, your driving habits will make a difference, too.
Make sure you keep up with an appropriate schedule, take care of your car, and fix problems as soon as they arise. Make sure you are always diligent and mindful of safe and responsible driving to ensure that your car lasts for even longer.
What is Routine Maintenance?
Routine maintenance is thoroughly inspecting your engine, transmissions, brakes, suspensions, cooling, air filters and if your car is due for an oil change. The owner manual of your car should have more information on when you should do a routine maintenance schedule which is based on engine mileage for most cars.
How often should you replace spark plugs?
Spark plugs should be replaced at around 30,000 miles. If you think that your spark plugs look damaged prior to reaching at least 20,000 miles you should check if your engine is misfiring or operating at excess heat levels.
Which is the most important maintenance for my car?
The most important part of maintaining your car is checking your oil regularly and changing it at the recommended mileage or after a certain time because even if you don’t drive your car a lot, your oil might still be due to be changed and refreshed. This is the most important thing you should always maintain to keep your engine running smoothly.
What happens if the timing belt breaks?
If you do not replace your timing belt on time and it breaks when the engine is working it will permanently damage your engine and it will stop working. These damages can be broken valves, pistons, cylinders, etc. and it’s hard to recover from that.
How do I know if my timing belt needs replacement?
Common signs that your timing belt needs a replacement may include a tickling noise coming from your engine, weird engine fire rates, oil leakage, or engine is not able to turn over or ignite.
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