“Car care” may mean different things to different people. For enthusiasts, it could mean handling all of your car’s maintenance on your own and thoroughly washing the exterior and cleaning the interior twice a week. For some, it could mean doing the bare minimum to keep the car running. For the average car owner, taking care of your car probably falls somewhere between the two extremes.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, there are a few maintenance tasks that are non-negotiable for all vehicle owners hoping to protect their car from damaging wear and tear and keep it in great shape for the long run.
Read your owner’s manual
No, it’s not going to be a real page-turner, and no one actually expects you to peruse it cover to cover. However, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance guidelines like when it’s time to replace the air filter, change the oil, or simply what kind of battery your key fob takes. The owner’s manual provides valuable information like the expected battery life, fuel economy, and what each of the indicator lights on your dash means.
Pay attention to your fuel economy.
Most cars get slightly lower MPG than advertised, but if you notice any significant dips in your fuel economy, it could be a sign that there’s something wrong under the hood. If your fluid levels are off or if there’s an issue with the engine, your car’s fuel efficiency takes a hit because your engine is working overtime to compensate for other issues.
Before you call a mechanic, double check your tire pressure. Low tire pressure requires the engine to work harder to maintain your car’s speed. If your tires are in good shape, it’s time to have your car checked out for mechanical issues.
Check fluid levels.
Have you ever taken the time to consider how much of your car’s functionality depends on having plenty of high quality, clean fluids? Most people know to check their engine’s oil, but your power steering, cooling system, brakes, windshield wipers, and transmission all rely on fluids as well. To keep your car running without any hiccups, check these monthly:
- Motor oil levels and cleanliness (don’t forget the oil filter!)
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Windshield washer fluid
If any of the above fluids are gunky, discolored, or clearly contaminated with debris, it’s time to have your car checked out by a professional. If your oil is dark, it could be because your engine is running too hot, which could point to a problem with the cooling system. Even your windshield washer fluid reservoir could signal more serious complications, like a clogged hose or broken pump.
Take care of your tires.
Tire pressure can affect your handling, fuel economy, and even your ability to safely brake or accelerate to avoid an accident. Check the tire pressure regularly, measure tread wear, and have the tires rotated at least as frequently as recommended in your owner’s manual.
Have your car routinely inspected by a pro.
Yes, you have to do it to renew your vehicle registration, but you may want to consider having your car inspected more than the mandatory once per year. For what to expect during a routine safety inspection, check out: Do You Know What’s Included in Your Car’s Safety Inspection?
Catching problems early can save you time and money in the long run and even keep you from getting into an accident or ending up stranded on the side of the road. It’s particularly wise to schedule these inspections before any upcoming road trips to ensure you get the max efficiency and reliability out of your vehicle while you’re traveling.
Taking care of your car on a routine basis can help boost your fuel economy, save money on repairs, and keep you and your passengers safer when you’re on the road. Preparation and prevention are key to keeping your car running in the best possible shape for as long as possible.