Preventative maintenance is the single easiest way to keep your ride happy and save money on future repairs. What is preventative maintanence? When should you do it? What should you do? Can you do it yourself or should you take it to the shop? Must the shop be the dealership? Let’s clear that all up and give you some tips that’ll apply to any vehicle.
As with people, regular check-ups play an integral part in keeping healthy. The basics, like changing oil, checking tire pressure and going in for scheduled inspections are like going to the doctor for routine exams. You don’t want to catch a cancer in the final stage, nor do you want to find a large problem in your car only to find out your need for a new engine or other large, expensive repair could have been prevented by diagnosing the problem earlier on. Keep your car safe and running smoothly and possibly save yourself thousands in expensive repairs.
Find and Read Your Owners Manual
The owners manual is quite possibly the most overlooked document in history. Regardless of what you drive, your regular maintenance schedule will be inside your owners manual. You’ll find important information like, how often your manufacturer recommends that you change your oil (hint: the old car myth that you should change it every 3,000 miles is just that, a myth). You’ll also find a schedule for filters, drive or timing belts, and more. You’ll also find out what kind of oil you should be using and what kind of gas you should be buying at the pump. Following the schedule and doing things the way they’re meant to be done in your car is also a great way to not void your warranty.
If you bought a used car that didn’t come with a manual, and the dealership said they would mail you one but never did, or you threw yours away you can go to this site to get one for just about any car Just Give Me The Damn Manual.
The Preventive Maintenance Every Vehicle Needs
Spending a little time and money now on these basics will save you from more costly repairs later on:
- Inspect — This is easy. Just give your car a one-over every once-and-awhile. Does anything look out of the ordinary? Are your lights working? Tire pressure good? How does the car sound? Any new rattles? Check for tire tread, you can use a penny to do it or look for the wear indicators on the tire treads.
- Pressure — Tires leak naturally and need the occasional check. Underinflated tires suck up gasoline. Under- or overinflated tires wear out sooner, and deliver the same handling as marshmallows. Check the pressure against the manufacturer recommendation and top them up as needed.
- Replace your windshield wipers — When the view gets streaky, it’s time for some new wiper blades. Wipers are cheap and easy to replace yourself and they are a very noticeable upgrade. Here’s a news flash: It’s much easier to avoid hitting things you can see.
- Check your fluids — Even if you don’t know how to change antifreeze, oil, power steering, coolant or wiper fluid, you really need to learn how to check those fluid levels. Depending on the car you might have a gauge, dipstick or a fluid reservoir you can see the level on directly. Don’t blindly follow the 3,000 mile myth for oil changes, in most vehicles it can be as high as 10,000 miles, depending on the oil your vehicle calls for (also in the manual).
- Replace your cabin air filter — Replacing a cabin air filter can make a huge difference in making your car comfortable. It’s usually pretty easy and it really makes the cabin a much more pleasant place to be.
- Replace your engine air filter — Getting to the engine air filter can range from very easy to slightly tricky depending on the vehicle you have, but replacing it regularly is very important. Your owner’s manual will give you a mileage estimate for replacement of the engine air filter, generally if it’s dirty, replace it.
- Get your timing and serpentine belts replaced when necessary — A general rule of thumb is to replace the timing belt every 60,000 miles and your serpentine belt every 40,000 miles. Again, reference your owner’s manual for specific numbers for your vehicle. Ask your mechanic to inspect the belts when it gets to be time to replace them. If they look fine, don’t have them replaced, but if they’re worn definitely do.
- Check your battery and clean the contacts — Batteries don’t need much in the way of maintenance, but you should know where it is and how to make sure it’s not leaking and that there’s no buildup on the contacts. Buildup can be cleaned off with a battery cleaning brush. I would also recommend you consider buying a cheap jump starter. When your battery dies you’ll thank me.
- Get your tires rotated and balanced, and your alignment checked — It’s important to do this so your tires wear evenly and your car drives smoothly. You can make your tires last much longer by getting them rotated and balanced. If you’re fighting your car to keep going in a straight line, get an alignment.
- Tighten Your Gas Cap — Is your Check Engine light on? Make sure the gas cap is on tight before calling the dealer. Seriously a loose gas cap defeats the fuel system’s venting arrangement, but the dealer might find some other “issues.”
- Fuses — If you you’re driving around and suddenly your headlights go out, chances are you blew a fuse. Luckily, this is an easy fix that should only take five minutes and cost you nothing if your car came with spare fuses. Open your manual, find your fuse box and avoid the shop or a tow.
Things to Watch Out For at the Shop
- Tune-Up Anachronism —“Tune-ups” no longer exist. Your valves don’t need adjusting, ignition timing is computer controlled and there most likely isn’t a carburetors to fiddle with. The only thing left in the old tune-up drill is the spark plugs and they are usually good for 100,000 miles, so don’t change parts just to change parts.
- Octane Overdose — “More is better” does not apply to octane. Supply the octane the engine is rated for and call it done. Higher octane does not yield more power or mileage, only oil company profits and I don’t think any of us want to needlessly help those guys out.
- Tired Tires — Tires wear out not only from use but also in time. The tire shops will tell you five years, but they’re selling tires. The real life of your tires will depend on the conditions; heat, sunlight and ozone. A good rule-of -thumb is that in seven years those black donuts need replacing, but it could be sooner. A tire shop can read the date code stamped into the sidewall if you’re unsure.
The Garage Is for Parking
This one never ceases to get me. Your house is most likely your most valuable possession. Your car(s) is likely a close second. Why is it then that seemingly 75% of Americans fill their garages with bullshit and leave their car out on the street? Clear out the junk and get your car in from the beating sun, harsh winter snow and ice, reckless children on bicycles, etc….