Whether you’re a first-time car owner or you’re on your fifth one, everyone can use a few car maintenance tips. In fact, a recent study found that within a group of 2,000 American car owners, about a quarter of them felt that it was risky for them to be driving. The study asked these people to reflect on their car’s condition and tested their basic car knowledge.
The results showed that:
- 68% of cars currently had at least one thing wrong with them
- 36% said they didn’t know how to fix a flat tire
- 30% didn’t feel confident changing their own oil
So long story short, it’s safe to assume that a majority of Americans don’t know how to properly maintain their car. If you want your car to last, we strongly recommend checking out these 12 car maintenance tips that every car owner needs to know.
12 Car Maintenance Tips Every Vehicle Owner Should Know
1) Maintain Proper Tire Pressure
This first car maintenance tip will help you get the most out of your tires. Improperly inflated tires (meaning over or under-inflated) don’t handle or stop as well and can eventually lead to a blowout. Tires that are properly inflated are safer and more fuel-efficient, which means that you’ll actually be saving yourself a little money.
Checking your tire pressure is simple. You can use a pencil tire pressure gauge (pictured below), which usually only costs around $10-$12, or you can purchase something a little fancier. You’ll want to find a knob inside your tire, unscrew it, stick your gauge in and get a reading. Every tire’s ideal pressure measurement is a bit different so we recommend referencing your owner’s manual. The recommended pressure is usually between 30 and 35 PSI.
Experts recommend that you check your tire pressure after every fuel up. We, however, feel this is a bit excessive and recommend every other fuel up. It’s still a hassle, but worth it if it means catching a deficiency before it gets to become a real issue. Also, keep in mind that tire pressure fluctuates naturally due to the weather. You may notice especially large fluctuations when there’s a significant drop or rise in temperature. Don’t be alarmed, this is completely normal.
2) Replace Your Air Filter
When you hear car maintenance tips, the first thing you usually think about is getting an oil change. Many don’t realize that your air filter is another part that needs to be switched out fairly often. We recommend getting it changed every year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The air filter prevents dirt, pollutants and other harmful particles from entering the engine and cabin. You can easily replace the filter yourself or have your local mechanic do it for you. Whatever you do, don’t ignore this tip as it can lead to future engine issues or make the cabin air unsuitable to breathe.
3) Check Your Battery and Spark Plugs
We’ve all experienced that anxiety-inducing moment when your car ignition clicks but doesn’t start… Depending on your location, a dead battery could mean that you’re stranded for hours. To avoid this uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situation, you should get in the habit of regularly checking your car’s battery charged.
To do this, you can use a multimeter with the engine off. A full battery charge is normally around 12.4 to 12.7 volts. If you notice that your battery is low and you didn’t leave your headlights on recently, then this is often a clear indicator that you have a problem with your alternator. You should have your car checked at a local mechanic just to be sure.
If you’re in the unfortunate situation where your battery is completely dead, then you’re going to want to find someone to give you a jump. Jump starting a car is not always an easy task and you should always reference your owner’s manual for instruction first. You also want to make sure that your spark plugs are clear of build-up. Spark plugs can wear out after 30,000 miles, so you’ll want to replace them once you hit that mark or start noticing that they’re not performing as well.
4) Rotate Your Tires
The key to long-lasting tires is getting in the habit of rotating them. It’s a simple task that can make a huge difference. Tires wear out at different rates so you’ll want to rotate the front tires to the back and vice versa. We recommend doing this every 6,000-8,000 miles or so. You can easily do this at home as long as you have a car jack, 4 jack stands (2 minimum) and a lug wrench. Simply elevate your car using your car jack and stand, remove the lug, switch the tires and repeat.
5) Get Your Oil Changed Regularly
This car maintenance tip is probably the most commonly known one, yet people will still ignore it. Contrary to what some people think, oil changes are not optional. Every car needs to have its oil changed on a regular basis or else you could be facing some serious engine issues down the line. Oil plays a key role in engine function since it provides lubrication, reduces friction, lessens wear and tear, keeps parts cool and acts as a cleaning tool.
Oil degrades over time, therefore low oil can be just as detrimental as no oil. The collected bits of dirt and debris mix with the remaining oil and can grind against your engine parts causing them to slowly erode. It’s recommended for most make and models to get your oil changed between 7,500 and 10,000 miles, although some specify 5,000-mile intervals. You may want to check your owner’s manual just to be sure.
6) Clean Your Windshield and Check Wiper Fluids
A clear windshield is crucial, especially during rainy and snowy seasons. Wipers, like most things, will degrade over time. The rubber lining that catches water and other particles will eventually weaken and break down. You’ll notice this change when large wet streaks are left after your wipers swish across your windshield.
They may also drag particles across the glass creating a bunch of long scratches. If you accumulate enough scratches you may have to replace your entire windshield… which is not cheap. Wiper fluid can be used to clear these unwanted particles, although eventually, you’re going to run out. Faulty wipers paired with no wiper fluid are a recipe for disaster… Putting in a little extra effort to check your wipers and fluids is worth it if it means avoiding an accident.
7) Conduct a Brake Check
We’ve all had those nightmares where we’re driving a car with no brakes. You jolt awake just before your car careens over the edge of a giant cliff to meet its watery fate. Luckily that rarely happens in real life, although it’s not unheard of. We’re not telling you this to freak you out, but rather to warn you that brake issues are not something to be ignored. If you notice that your brakes aren’t engaging the way they used to, you may want to conduct a thorough check to find the source of the issue before it gets any worse.
The most common reason for brake issues is either faulty brake pads or a leak in the brake fluid. You’ll want to check the pads and fluid reservoir to make sure everything is functioning properly. You can conduct this check yourself although you’ll need to remove all the tires and get under the car. It may just be easier to take it to your local auto mechanic, especially if you’re not super familiar with those parts.
8) Wash Your Car
Out of all the car maintenance tips we’ve listed so far, this one probably feels like it’s more for vanity than functionality. We promise this tip does a lot more than just add a little extra shine to your exterior. Your car is constantly being exposed to sludge and chemicals that are kicked up from the road. There’s also tree gunk, bird poop and harsh sun rays beating down on it from above. All of this buildup can slowly eat away at your car’s protective outer layer.
Your best defense against chipping paint and rust is to regularly wash all the grime off your car, whether you do it at a car wash or the old fashioned way with a sudsy bucket and sponge. If you own a super fancy car or simply want to keep it looking fresh for as long as possible, you can always go the extra mile and purchase a cover for extra protection and grime buildup prevention.
9) Don’t Drive on an Empty Tank
Gassing up your car is probably one of the least glamorous things about owning one. Even the most expensive and flashy sports cars need to cool their engines and refuel every now and then. As annoying as that little *ping* noise paired with an insistent fuel gauge light can be, you should never ignore it. In fact, you should make it your goal to refill before it lights up.
I know what you’re thinking… This seems a bit unnecessary, right? Who has time to re-fill that often? Well, you might want to make time once you realize the potential risk involved with driving on empty. In your fuel tank, there’s a part called a fuel pump, whose job is to pump fuel from the tank to the engine. Gasoline is crucial for your fuel pump to work properly because it acts as a lubricant and coolant. Driving on empty means that you’re driving with an insufficient amount of lubrication which can cause your engine to wear down faster and put it at risk of overheating.
So aside from the risk of getting embarrassingly stranded on the side of the road, you could also experience engine or fuel pump failure. A replacement for either part is far from cheap… Moral of the story — driving on empty every now and then isn’t the end of the world, but if it becomes a habit, it can have detrimental and costly effects on your car.
10) Check Your Headlights
Although burnt-out headlights are helpful in the game Padiddle, they’re not so helpful to the driver of the car. A burnt headlight bulb doesn’t just obstruct your own vision, but it also makes you harder to see for other drivers. This creates a huge risk when driving at night. Since you usually turn your headlights on after you’re already in the driver’s seat, it can often be hard to tell that a bulb is burnt out, other than it being slightly darker than usual. It’s important to get in the habit of checking your headlights every now and then to make sure that both are lit.
It only takes about 15 minutes to change a headlight yourself, as long as you have the right bulb on hand. You also want to get in the habit of turning your headlights off after you’re done driving. It’s a terrible feeling to realize that you accidentally left them on and drained your entire car battery… Don’t be that person.
11) Carry a Car Tool and Survival Kit at All Times
You wouldn’t think that this would fall under car maintenance tips, but we certainly think it should. No one knows when disaster might strike. You could be driving out in the middle of South Dakota, on your way to Aunt Betsy’s for Thanksgiving dinner when suddenly your car starts making a strange noise… Or you’re stuck in miles of traffic with no exit in sight when suddenly you hear the hisssssss of your tire slowly losing air… Either situation is stressful enough that just thinking about it makes your blood pressure rise slightly. Situations like these are why it’s crucial to always have a car tool kit and survival kit on hand at all times.
12) Protect The Interior
Now this car maintenance tip, unlike washing the exterior, is more of a vanity thing. Cleaning the inside of your car doesn’t necessarily add miles to its life, but it can help your sanity. Cars tend to become a 2nd home a.k.a. a dumping ground for all kinds of odds and ends. You’ve got your gym bag in the back, a pile of fast food bags in the front and about 12 empty water bottles scattered everywhere in between. That’s not even counting all the crumbs, dirt and other mystery grime that has built up on the floor and cracks in between the seats.
Cleaning the interior of your car can be quick and easy if you have a vacuum, some soap (or leather cleaner for leather seats), and few dirty old rags. We promise you’ll be glad you did it.
We know that servicing your car isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. It falls among those adult tasks that we know we should be doing but just can’t bring ourselves to actually get done. We promise that if you just bite the bullet and follow through with all these simple car maintenance tips, you, your car and especially your wallet will be extremely happy that you did.
If Your Car Is Beyond Repair, Sometimes It’s Best To Just Junk It.
Call: (314) 621-2104