Routine car maintenance: experts' overview

Routine maintenance of a car is perhaps one of the most neglected practices of owning a vehicle, though it is extremely important. There is no disputing that fact. This article will help you through the grey areas and answer all questions you may be struggling with on improving your routine car maintenance.

Routine car maintenance or service is a series of maintenance procedures carried out on the car at set time intervals or after the car has traveled a certain distance. It would help if you kept in mind that the maintenance needed for the reliable car is a consistent and routine preventive maintenance schedule.

Types of car maintenance

Most maintenance acts can fall under either preventive maintenance or corrective maintenance.

  • Preventive maintenance:

Preventive maintenance is the regular and routine maintenance of a vehicle to keep it running and prevent any costly and unplanned downtime from unexpected failure.

  • Corrective maintenance:

Corrective maintenance is the group of maintenance tasks you have performed on your car to rectify and repair faulty systems and equipment.

Car Maintenance checklist

 routine checklist

When you get a new engine, you cannot expect problems from the car for about a year. But there are the things that you can do daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly that can ensure that the car lasts long.

  • Get aquatinted with the owner’s manual:

It is usually in the glove box, and it holds important information that includes a suggested maintenance schedule for all parts and fluids the car needs to be replaced regularly. It also enables you to be able to read and understand the gauges in the information cluster.

  • Check Fluid levels and condition:
Fluid maintenance

Fluid maintenance is an important and simple preventive measure that extends the longevity of your car. Failing to maintain the standard quality of the fluid or the optimal level of the fluid will most definitely leave you with serious side effects that will be costly and time-consuming.

The fluid in every reservoir should be closer to the maximum level. Be sure to top it up when it is not. If you own a very sophisticated car, you can expect there to be automatic gauges. Inscriptions represent these gauges in the instrument cluster. Essential fluids in a car include:

  • Engine Oil:
engine oil change

Oil is very important for your car engine’s ability to run. When your car’s oil is not changed out as frequently as it should be, the engine will lock up.

Therefore, checking your oil level and health is an essential part of your routine car maintenance. This scenario means that your car will not start. It could cost you up to $5,000 to get your car running again.

It is best to check your car’s oil level when the car is off. You could go for a short drive for better results and then check the oil after the car has cooled down for 5-10 minutes. To check your oil:

  1. Open the hood and find the oil dipstick.
  2. When you pull it out, wipe it off with a cloth or towel.
  3. Reinsert it and then pull it out and check the oil level.

Also, take note of the oil level and quality. Check to see if the texture is gritty and the color is dark or smooth and transparent.We recommend that you check your oil every month.

  • Transmission Fluid:

Transmission fluid is present in automatic cars. It allows the gears to shift seamlessly. Good transmission fluid is usually red, but it darkens to deeper shades of red, brown, or even black as it ages, and when at this point, You need to replace it with a gritty texture.

Unlike other fluids, you should check it while the car is running. A dipstick should be in the engine for the transmission fluid. To check the fluid level, perform the same action when checking with a dipstick.

For the other cars without a dipstick, you will need to take your vehicle to a professional to check the fluid. Remember that you should get a transmission fluid flush every 30,000–60,000 miles or every three months. Be sure to check the owner’s manual for your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation.

  • Differential Fluid:

Your routine car maintenance is not complete without checking your differential fluid. Differential fluid may be the most neglected car fluid because many car owners do not know a differential. The differential works with your transmission to transfer power from the engine to the axles.

The differential fluid prevents overheating and metal-on-metal contact, allowing the differential to run smoothly. Most vehicles have a front differential, while 4-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles and rear-wheel-drive (RWD) have a front differential and a rear differential.

You cannot look at the differential fluid before it is changed because of its location and design. Please leave the change to the professionals.

The differential fluid needs to be replaced every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on the car manufacturer’s recommendation. To better understand how a car's differential works, you can read our article based on an Experts' overview of car differential.

Note that if your vehicle has a transfer case, check the owner’s manual for how often to change the transfer case fluid. The transfer case is present in 4WD vehicles and some all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles. It helps control the power being sent to the differentials.

  • Routine Car maintenance - Coolant:

The coolant (also known as antifreeze or radiator fluid) circulates through your engine to keep it from overheating.It also lubricates water pump bearings and inhibits corrosion in the engine. Some vehicles have a coolant overflow reservoir near the radiator to check and top up the coolant level daily.

If not, remove the radiator cap and look inside to check the coolant level. It would be best never to open the radiator cap while the vehicle is hot or running because the radiator is pressurized. Some car manuals suggest changing coolant every 30,000 miles, while others say your car can go more than 100,000 miles between coolant flushes. Check your owner’s manual to be sure.

  • Brake Fluid:

Ideally, you should check your brake fluid annually because of how important it is to safe driving. Low brake fluid or poor fluid quality significantly impacts brake performance. Your car’s brake fluid is part of a powerful braking system. It multiplies the pressure you put on your brake pedal into enough force to stop the car.

If your brake fluid is leaking or contaminated, it will take you much longer to stop and potentially damage your braking system. Your brake fluid should be checked each year as part of your car’s safety inspection. If you notice any problems, you must have the car towed to the nearest auto shop for repairs.

To check the brake fluid, find the brake fluid reservoir in your engine bay. Search the owner’s manual if you do not know where it is. A qualified technician can find complex issues with the brake fluid or lines.

It would help if you changed your brake fluid every two years or 45,000 miles or as per your manual’s specific recommendation. You can read our fine article on How to change your brake fluid.

  • Power Steering Fluid:
Power Steering Fluid maintenance

The power steering will not work without adequate lubrication. Power steering fluid allows you to turn easier and more accurately. It also serves to lubricate the components of the steering system.

Any leaks or contaminants can damage the steering system, so it is important to check the power steering fluid regularly for any issues. Be sure to check the power steering fluid when the engine is cold.

To check for the power steering fluid, look around in your engine bay to find the power steering reservoir. It is usually on the passenger side. There should be indications of the required maximum level. Your power steering fluid needs to change about every two years, but please check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.

  • Routine Car Maintenance - Battery performance check:

A car battery supplies large amounts of electrical current for the starter, engine, and other electronic accessories in the vehicle. Regular battery testing will ensure that battery will perform when you need it to as it is affected by extreme temperatures.

If you find any frayed cables, cracks in the casing, corrosion, dirt, and other signs of damage, it is time for a service. Check the battery every three months or 3000 miles.

  • Car Maintenance - Check, rotate, and change your tires:
tires check

This exercise is a routine inspection. Walk around the car to check whether any of the four tires are lower than they should be. Check the treads and make sure they aren’t too worn. A coin test is a great trick to help you know if new tires are needed. It is always good to have a tire pressure gauge in the car because it can know how much air is inside each one.

  • Check air and cabin filters:

These two filters are important. The engine air filter keeps dirt, debris, dust, and other particles and contaminants from getting into the engine. Please check it every three months or 3000 miles. The cabin filter blocks pollutants like dust, smog, pollen, and mold spores, among others, that could potentially flow through the car’s HVAC system.

The cabin air filter is located somewhere under the dashboard. It would help if you replaced it annually or 12000 miles. While the cabin filter is usually easy to access, clogged filters make the engine work harder to push air through, affecting performance and fuel efficiency.

An odd or musty odor in the cabin, especially when heat or AC is on, could indicate the filter is in bad.When you cannot see any light pass through a filter after raising it towards a source of light during the inspection, it’s time to replace it.

  • Check spark plugs:

Spark plugs can be susceptible to build-up that ultimately affects overall performance. Your owner’s manual usually tells you how often you need to change your spark plugs, but you may need to replace them sooner if:

  • Your car struggles to accelerate.
  • You have trouble starting the engine or hear “popping” misfire sounds.
  • You notice a worsening fuel economy.

Copper spark plugs have a longer center electrode than iridium ones do. Iridium plugs are more expensive but last longer and offer a better spark. When you check your spark plugs, the electrode and tip shouldn’t be black from engine crud. If it is, you need to either clean it or replace it.

  •      Looking at the belts:

Belts aren’t easy to replace by yourself, so they are better left to a mechanic to handle. However, you can check them for some basic warning signs like cracking, fraying and loosening tension. Check every three months or 3000 miles.

How do I know when to service my car?

Knowing when to service your vehicle is an essential part of proper car maintenance. Therefore, you need to service your car immediately when these lights come on:

  • Routine Car maintenance - Check engine light.

The check engine light indicates your electronic control system has run into a problem it cannot fix. If this light is constant, get the car checked as soon as you can. If it’s flashing, you may need to get to a service shop immediately.

  • Tire pressure light

If this light comes on, check the tire pressure immediately, top off the air in the tire(s) as needed, and investigate possible leaks.

  • Headlights and Taillights

If a light goes out, check if you have blown a fuse. If that’s not the problem, replace the light immediately.

  • Wiper blades

Wiper blades are relatively inexpensive, and driving with reduced visibility endangers everyone. Replace it as soon as it wears out. You should ensure this is done as your car maintenance routine is incomplete without it.

  • Brake

You also need to get your car serviced if you start to hear sounds when using the brake.

  • For a decent car maintenance exercise, you should take note of your oil's texture. The texture of the oil will also help you know when your car needs servicing.

Keep in mind; service indicators vary by vehicle, so be sure to check your owner’s manual for specific details and instructions.

Final Tips on routine car maintenance

Final Tips on routine car maintenance
  • Always check the owner’s manual first!
  • Put a tag on the car after every servicing to help remember the service schedule.
  • Please do not leave any maintenance for up to a year without checking it.
  • Always park on level ground to get accurate fluid level measurements.
  • Before opening a reservoir cap or pulling out a dipstick, use a clean rag to clean off the area around it. Dirt or contaminants could cause future damage.
  • Don’t overfill. Too much can be just as harmful as too little.
  • If you see drips or puddles that are red, brown, green, or any other color under the car, it’s time to make a trip for a vehicle check-up.

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