7 Maintenance Tips Checklist that Make Your Car Last Longer
Several years back, a car with over 100,000 miles was considered to be running on borrowed time. But things have changed- a lot. With the recent technological advancements in the auto world, the 200,000-mile mark is almost standard for most cars and trucks today. Still, that’s a shorter time.
If you buy a well-built vehicle and follow it up with proper car maintenance, cruising well over 300,000 miles should be a breeze. This car maintenance checklist has 7 tips on how to maintain a car and make it last longer.
Car Maintenance Tips
1. Read Your Owner’s Manual
Perhaps you didn’t expect us to tell you this, but keen car owners understand their vehicle. Understanding your vehicle and how it works is the first half of taking good care of it. Every small aspect of your car and how all the parts synchronize together is included in the manual.
When reading your owner’s manual, you want to pay particular attention to these 4 categories;
i) Instruments and controls– understanding all the warnings and car messages will help you worry less when the dashboard lights come on.
ii) Driving and operating– even if you’re a qualified driver already, this section will teach you how to drive better in particular scenarios. For instance, you’d learn what to do if you lose control of your vehicle and tactics when driving on snow and icy roads.
iii) Vehicle care– a crucial part of your owner’s manual, this section entails things to do to make your car last longer. The Engine Compartment Overview section, for instance, will help you understand where all the crucial parts of the engine, from the coolant reservoir to the engine oil dipstick, are. This knowledge will come in handy, for instance, when learning how to change car engine oil and how to change the car battery yourself.
iv) Service and maintenance– this is more or less a customized car care guide. Remember that there’s no single car maintenance guide that fits all car brands and makes. Since vehicles are made differently, your owner’s manual should be your bible for properly maintaining your car.
2. Keep Your Cool and Break It In First
For the speed junkies out there, the break-in period for a new car is an important phase that you should not skip. Breaking-in a new car is about giving the engine parts enough to synchronize as they should. Particularly, breaking-in the engine allows the piston rings to align themselves and settle nicely in the cylinder. In case there are imperfections, putting the pedal to the metal too soon will only compound the damage, and this could cause issues in the future.
Breaking-in the vehicle isn’t important for the powertrain only. It’s also essential for the braking system and the tires. In a new car, the brake pads are yet to develop enough grip to stop the vehicle. That’s why most manufacturers recommend against sudden stops.
Here are the most common break-in best practices for a new car;
- Change the first oil after the initial 50-100 miles.
- Keep revs at below 3000 rpm.
- Vary your speed at between 30 and 50 mph. Avoid driving at a constant speed for long.
- Avoid hard stopping for the first 186 miles (300 kilometers).
- Avoid sudden acceleration.
- Don’t drive at insanely high speeds for the first around 630 miles.
Break-in periods and practices vary depending on the car make and model. Refer to your car’s manual for specific guidelines on this issue.
3. Regularly Perform Complete Car Battery Check
Speaking of powering your car’s electronic components (climate control, wipers, radio, and headlights), it’s the alternator that puts in all the work when the engine is running. However, in extreme instances, the alternator alone cannot keep up with the demand. In such cases, it has to engage the battery.
Although the humble battery doesn’t keep the car alive when it’s running, it has a very crucial role that the alternator can’t perform: starting the ignition. Your car’s battery is a power reservation that provides enough jolt of juice to start the vehicle. A regular car battery maintenance routine can save you from being stranded somewhere along the road or in an empty car lot.
Here is a simple car battery maintenance checklist:
- Use a voltmeter to check whether the voltage is between 12.4v and 12.6v.
- To check whether it’s charging properly, turn on the engine and wait for a few minutes. Test the battery to see whether the voltage will jump to between 13.6v and 14.3v.
- If you suspect charging issues, ensure the fan belt is not loose.
- Examine the battery case for swelling, cracks, and leaks. Cracks and leaks are clear signs that you need to do a battery change.
- Check the terminals for corrosions.
- Ensure that the cable connectors are tight and not corroded.
- Watch out for car battery failure signs, including check battery light, lights dimming, sluggish car starts, and clicking sound whenever you turn the ignition.
4. Inspect, Refill, and Flush the Different Car Fluids
Engine oil and fuel are the most common car fluids that most drivers interact with. But did you know that a vehicle has 9 different types of fluids? Now, you know! Each of these fluids is responsible for a particular function of the car, including steering and braking. Keeping a close eye on these fluids is vital for your safety. It also helps to avoid costly damage to major parts of the car.
Overview of the crucial oils to include in your car maintenance routine:
i) Engine oil
When the engine is running, the motor oil constantly circulates between the different components to reduce friction and wear. This prevents overheating and abrasions on the grinding parts, for instance, engine bearings. Engine oil has several other roles, including keeping the engine clean and cool and dampening shock. Failure to promptly inspect and change car oil may lead to a host of problems and expensive repairs. Most cars today can go for up to 5,000 miles between oil changes. For a new car, your first oil and filter change should be after the first 1,500 miles.
ii) Transmission fluid
In an automatic vehicle, the transmission fluid is what makes the process of transferring power from the combustion chamber to the drive shaft efficient. Like oil, transmission fluid lubricates the metal surfaces on the transmission to slow down wear and tear. Ignoring this oil is welcoming all sorts of transmission issues. Most car manufacturers recommend changing the transmission oil every 30,000-50,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual for precise mileage.
iii) Power steering fluid
As the name suggests, this is the fluid that puts the steering power in your hands. Power steering fluid offers a medium through which power is transferred from your actions on the steering wheel to the car’s actual steering mechanism. This fluid is also critical in extending the life of key parts of the power steering assembly, including the pistons, hoses, valves, and the power steering pump. Expert recommendations on when to flush power steering fluid are all over the board. However, if your steering is jerky, hard to turn, or noisy, you’re probably low on power steering fluid.
iv) Brake fluid
This is another fluid that you can’t afford to ignore during your routine car maintenance. This is a type of hydraulic fluid that makes braking possible. It’s crucial to keep brake fluid level within the manufacturer-recommended range. But what’s even important is to understand factors that may affect brake fluid’s quality and reliability. The recommended brake fluid change intervals vary between different car makes, although the thumb rule is every 2 years. Check your owner’s manual.
v) Engine coolant
Coolant is also known as antifreeze, and it’s usually green, blue, or pink. This is a special fluid added to the water in the radiator to protect it from freezing during winter and to lower its boiling temperature range. Like other fluids, you need to inspect the engine coolant level to ensure that there’s enough of it at any time.
vi) Windshield washer fluid
This is one of the most neglected car fluids despite its crucial role in keeping the windscreen clean and free of grime. Unlike water, windshield wiper fluid is formulated to give it the necessary power to break and get dead bugs off the windscreen without creating a mess. The other reason why you should use windshield wiper fluid is that it has a lower freezing point than water. It will be more effective in the bitter winter.
5. Check and Maintain Car Tire Condition
There are lots of components and functions that come together to fulfill the process of driving. But it’s the small contact patch on each of the 4 tires that keep you from going off the road. This should tell you how important it is to keep your tires in good shape always.
Here is a quick tire care and maintenance guide:
i) Monitor the tire pressure monthly– proper tire pressure is necessary for your safety and fuel economy too. You’ll find the recommended tire pressure on a sticker inside the driver’s door in most new vehicles. It should be included in your owner’s manual too.
ii) Check tread depth– over time, the small treads that help the tires grip the road wear down, reducing the tread depth. Tread depth is the measurement between the top of the tire and the bottom of the groove. The average tread depth in new tires is 8-9 mm (10/32 to 11/32 inches) in the US. Tires are considered generally good if the treads are 6/32 inches and deeper. At 4/32 inches, you should be planning on changing the tires. You can measure tread depth using a tread depth gauge or the penny test. In the latter, you insert a Lincoln penny in several treads headlong. If the entire head of Lincoln’s head is visible, it may be time for new tires.
iii) Have your wheels balanced– wheels lose their balance after some time. Driving your vehicle on imbalanced wheels for a prolonged period causes uneven wear on the tires, causing vibrations. It also strains vehicle suspension components and also affects handling, consequently affecting your overall safety. Ideally, it would be best if you had the tires aligned and balanced every 2-3 years. However, don’t delay it if you feel that steering is slightly out of balance.
iv) Rotate the wheels promptly– this involves periodically repositioning the tires in a specific pattern. The main reason for car tire rotation is to ensure even wearing, which maximizes tread life. Additionally, regular wheel rotation promotes even tread wear, which is vital in ensuring proper traction and consistent handling. Ideally, you should do car tire rotation every 5000 miles.
6. Change Your Car Air Filters
Like an athlete requires air to run, your car engine also needs enough clean air for efficient fuel combustion. Most cars have at least 2 air filters: one purifies the air that goes through the cabin’s air conditioner. The second one purifies the air that mixes with the fuel during combustion.
The obvious reason why you should replace the cabin air filter is to ensure that you’re supplied with clean breathing air. On the other hand, regular engine air filter replacement increases fuel efficiency. It also prolongs engine life by trapping potentially damaging debris and stones. Replacing your car air filters is a fairly easy and quick fix and should be done at least every 12,000-15,000 miles.
7. Keep Your Car Clean
Washing the car is a ritual for some people. Others wash it when they notice a significant change in the original color. Which group do you belong to? There are several key reasons why you should spare time and give your car a good hand wash.
First, washing your car at home is an excellent time to inspect for loose parts- headlights and taillights, license plates, antennas, and hub caps. If you’re keen enough to peek underneath the chassis, you could catch issues of leaking oil or brake fluid early enough.
Secondly, this is a good time to examine the overall exterior finish, especially the paintwork. Next time you clean your car, pay attention to the condition of the clear coat, checking for blemishes and scratches that might affect its integrity.