Since I was a small child, I have had the importance of automotive maintenance drilled into my head. Now that I’ve reached adulthood, I appreciate the sound foundation I had in this discipline of critical importance. I cant imagine the time and money Ive saved and headaches Ive avoided. If you didnt have this background, and dont have a clue about how to maintain your car, dont despair. There are a number of simple car maintenance tasks that anyone can do even if you know nothing about how a car works.
–A clean car is a happy car: The outside of your car isnt as important as whats under the hood, but it is still important. In addition to the aesthetic benefits of a clean car theres a number of practical matters it addresses. Keeping your windshield clean inside and out is crucial for safety. Keeping the rest of the car clean prevents rust and corrosion.. And when youre cleaning your car, dont forget.
–Clean the undercarriage of the car: This is especially true if you live anywhere it snows”all of the salt and other gunk your car gets underneath it will rust out your body faster than anything. I dont care how cold it is, you should give your car a good bath at least once a week during the winter, and make sure to get underneath the wheel wells and the undercarriage of your car.
–Clean your engine: Wash your engine, complete with soap and water, every time you wash your car. Not only will a clean engine run cooler, but washing it also cleans off crusty oil deposits, battery acid, and grime collected from the road. Let your engine run at idle to dry off before you start driving again. This is less of a problem with modern fuel injected cars, but still a good idea.
–Clean your air filter and change it often: Change your air filter every time you change your oil filter. Some might argue that changing it so often is ‘overkill’ but filters are so cheap why not err on the side of caution? In between filter changes its a good idea to give your filter a good spray with a compressed air hose and blow out the filter chamber at the same time. The clean air will help your car’s engine run cooler and more efficiently.
–Check and change your oil: Back in more civilized times, a full service gas station would check your oil every time you filled up. You should do the same. Change your oil frequently”at least every 5,000 miles and better still, every 3,000 miles. Change your filter when you change the oil or youre going to be pumping clean oil through a dirty filter which doesnt do you a bit of good. Oil changes are a pretty easy job even for those without much of a mechanical background, and drive thru oil change businesses are ubiquitous in any decent sized market. Most of these places do a decent job and charge a reasonable fee. Many also take care of several other of the maintenance tasks on this list.
–Check other fluids: Change your anti-freeze/coolant every year, and check the reservoir every week or so to make sure it’s full. Also check transmission, brake and power steering fluids at least once a week. Top them off if necessary.
–Check your air pressure and rotate your tires: Check your air pressure levels with a tire gauge at least once a week, keeping them filled to manufacturer specified levels. Also, don’t forget about the spare. Rotate your tires every few months to insure even wear. Some automotive chains will do this free of charge if you’re a regular customer, but even if you’re not it’s a lot easier for them to do with the car up on the rack than for you to do with a jack and jack stand. Simply checking the air pressure in your tires and rotating them periodically prevents countless problems and saves you a ton of money.
Emergency tools and equipment: Despite your best efforts to the contrary, things will eventually go wrong. When in does, youll be glad that you planned ahead. These items should be in your trunk at all times: tire gauge, pliers (slip-joint and needle nose), adjustable wrench, flat head and Phillips screwdriver. Dont buy cheap tools”theyll break and the least opportune times. Invest in Craftsman tools or another premium brand, and youll be set for life. Youll also need a flashlight, and if you live somewhere it snows its also a good idea to have salt, sand, a small shovel, and a blanket just in case you get snowbound and have to sleep in your car. A cellphone charger is also a good thing to have, since a cellphone doesn’t do much good if your batteries are dead. There are also ’emergency’ cellphone chargers that don’t require a power source.
–Get an auto club membership: An auto club at a minimum should give you free towing, trip continuation insurance, lockout service, free maps, and some other bells and whistles. AAA is the best known, but there are countless others provided by credit card companies, cellphone providers, banks, etc. Shop around and find the best deal for the services you need. A growing number of car manufacturers also include lifetime roadside assistance, and not just luxury brands–Mini Cooper and Volkswagen offer new car buyers 24 hour roadside assistance free of charge. Also, ask about the size of their provider network. In a decent sized city you’ll be fine but if you live or frequently travel in less populated areas you might want to stick to AAA or another major company. There’s nothing more infuriating that learning that your auto club doesn’t have providers in Mesquite, Nevada or Vernal, Utah.
These tips are all things that anyone can do, even without more than a basic knowledge of how a car works. Regular car maintenance will prolong the life of your vehicle and help maintain its value, provide a safer and more enjoyable driving experience and save you money in the process.