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Your Definitive Car Maintenance Checklist

Mechachic checking on a car

When it comes to keeping your car healthy after miles and miles on the road, nothing can do more good for the life of your vehicle than regular, thorough maintenance. These simple steps are often an inexpensive and easy way to prevent minor issues from developing into major problems – costing you a lot more money, and a lot more frustration, later on down the road. Whether you take care of these small tasks yourself or visit a car repair shop to have a mechanic do them for you, simply attending to your car’s most basic needs is a great way of preventing the untimely end of your beloved vehicle.

But whether you’re a first-time car owner or a well-experienced driver, keeping track of all these little tasks can be a serious hassle – if not simply because there can be so many little steps to remember. Some drivers keep a logbook as a smart way of keeping track of their vehicles’ maintenance history, while others simply follow a basic rotating schedule prescribed by the automaker. Whatever your method, it can be easy to forget a few steps her and there – and that’s why having a definitive checklist can be a huge asset to the confused driver.

Not sure when you should schedule your next maintenance appointment, or not sure which jobs need to be done? Here’s a look at the most common – and most important – regular maintenance jobs to keep your car up and running for miles to come. Follow these steps and you’ll be cruising along toward the horizon with no end in sight.

Change Your Oil

Few basic maintenance jobs are as important – or more simple – for increasing your vehicle’s overall longevity than regular oil changes. Motor oil is a critical component needed for a vehicle to function properly, and without clean oil your engine can become stuck up with gunk, sludge and debris. Avoid this by regularly draining your old motor oil and filling your engine with clean oil – using oil of the viscosity and grade recommended in your owner’s manual, of course.

While changing your own motor oil is a relatively simple task – really only requiring a drip pan, the right wrenches, and a jack stand to lift your vehicle – it may be easier for you to bring your car to a mechanic for an oil change. Your mechanic will have all the right tools for the job and access to the right oil, with the ability to reference your vehicle’s service manual to find the right kind. Plus, many mechanics include a free oil filter change along with the oil itself, which can easily be forgotten by the home mechanic. Taking your vehicle in for an oil change not only helps keep everything clean in the long run, but can help your engine avoid harmful buildup that can lead to eventual ruin.

Check Your Tires

Talk about easy to forget about – many drivers don’t even think about their tires until something has gone wrong, and that is certainly not the time to be stranded with no solution. That’s why it’s critical to check your tire pressure once a month and put in more air – or release some, depending on the temperature – to maintain the optimal pressure. This not only preserves your vehicle’s proper fuel economy but can also extend the life of your tires, which work best when properly inflated. Make sure to check the level in your spare tire as well, as this is often left unfilled and, when used in an emergency, needs to be in optimal condition to work as it should.

It’s also important to think about how quickly your tires are wearing down, as worn treads can make driving in slippery or low-traction conditions especially dangerous. Try the old penny test – that is, if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head when you stick a penny upside-down in your treads, then the tires are too worn and should be replaced. It’s also a good idea to rotate your tires every time you change your oil to ensure equal wear on each tire from all sides, avoiding weak sidewalls and reducing the likelihood of a blowout on the road.

Top Off Fluids

Much like motor oil, fluids can be an essential part of your vehicle’s inner workings. There’s transmission fluid, which keeps your transmission lubricated and working as it should; power steering fluid, which uses pressure to control your power steering and needs to be properly filled to work correctly; or brake fluid, which also requires proper pressure within the braking system to work correctly. These levels can be checked under the hood and should be topped off when running low.

While you’re under the hood, it’s a good idea to also check your windshield cleaner level and your coolant level, both of which can be easily topped off and will be especially useful in cold weather to prevent your vehicle from freezing up. But be careful – too much coolant in your system could cause a pressure buildup on hot days, and so it’s important to keep it at the proper level.

Windshield Wiper Check

Nobody likes getting caught in a rainstorm with wipers that don’t work. Not only can you not see what’s in front of you, but the streaks left by damaged wiper blades can be distracting to the driver. If you notice your wipers not fully clearing your windshield, look them over and see if they need to be cleaned. In some cases, this may be enough to get them working again, although if they have become damaged from overuse it may be time to install new ones. Either way, this is a simple job and can easily be done at home or, if you prefer, by your mechanic.

Battery Level

If your car has been running for miles and miles on the same battery, it might be worthwhile to have the power level on that battery checked by a mechanic. Often times, he or she can use a machine called a voltmeter to check the current in your battery and make a recommendation based on the reading. Some batteries use water to conduct current, and for some drivers adding a little bit of distilled water to the battery itself may restore proper charge. Sometimes, however, batteries simply run their lifespan and need to be replaced – something your mechanic can do easily, as well as get rid of and recycle your old battery for you. This is usually a pain to do by yourself, and your mechanic can not only pick the proper replacement but also help with disposal later on.

Light Check

Of course, nothing is more frightening on those dark night drives than being without two good, strong, functional headlights. Reduced visibility on the road can be extremely dangerous and having a busted light might even get you a ticket, so it’s important to have your lights checked and replaced as soon as possible once you notice a problem. This can be as simple as a dead bulb that needs fixing – fairly easily done at home – or could be something as serious as an electrical failure, which will almost certainly require professional help. Either way, your mechanic can diagnose the problem and recommend the proper course of action.

Listen, there are plenty of maintenance tasks not included on this list – from regularly washing your car to changing your brake pads, among many others – but these are the ones that are easily the most important, and should be followed by every driver on the road. Use this checklist as you see fit and get your vehicle over to a mechanic soon – before your little problems turn your vehicle into one giant mess.

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