Car Maintenance Essentials: The Ultimate Prevention Guide
When it comes to taking care of your car, maintenance is non-negotiable. Some of these maintenance tasks will be routine and trackable, and others will be one-time fixes and tune-ups. With all their complex parts and features, it can be easy to lose track of what a car needs.
Cars are often among the bigger investments in our lives, and like other large and long-term investments, such as one’s home, they require maintenance and upkeep. Of course, the most important part of car maintenance is to ensure the safety of the driver and passengers.
The more use the car gets, the more maintenance it’s likely to require. Maintenance needs will often depend on the manner of use and climate where you are driving. For example, more aggressive drivers will wear out parts of their car more quickly, such as the transmission, brake pads, and tires. Some wear and tear can’t be helped, though, depending on your lifestyle and needs, especially since city driving tends to treat cars more roughly than highway driving.
You can easily manage your car’s maintenance needs by putting together a thoughtful schedule.
In this article, we’ll go through the considerations and thought processes you need to put together your own car maintenance and tracking checklist, get your car prepared for the harsh winter season, and keep it running in top shape.
Maintenance Tips You Should Follow
Making a schedule for your car maintenance will allow you to stay on top of your car’s performance before it develops problems.
If you purchase your car from a manufacturer, you’ve probably heard a recommended maintenance schedule based on the car’s mileage. In most cases, they’ll recommend maintenance at 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and 90,000 miles.
Remember, though, that these are the broadest guidelines, and it’s always important to refer to the manual of your particular car.
For a checklist of the major items listed here to use for your own car, please download and print this handy PDF.
Maintenance Before 30,000 Miles
The first 30,000 miles of driving a new car is like a honeymoon period. Barring any accidents or weather-driven wear-and-tear, the maintenance that these earlier miles require will be minimal, allowing you to focus on optimizing your fuel economy and body upkeep, including cleaning and detailing.
Air filter changes are an important part of keeping your car fuel-efficient. Your engine needs its own free-flowing fresh air to push out the heat and bring in cooler air.
A clogged air filter will make your engine work harder, greatly decreasing fuel economy while adding stress on the engine.
For most cars, the air filter needs changing every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Fortunately, in most cases you’ll be able to visibly see the dirt and clogging. If you live or frequently drive in a dry or dusty environment, you should be prepared to check and change your filter more often, about every 15,000 miles.
A clogged fuel filter can mean big problems for your engine. When the fuel filter gets clogged, it stops oil from getting into and lubricating the engine. This can be really dangerous.
Fuel filters vary widely between manufacturers. Many will last past 60,000 miles before you have to think about changing them. However, it’s important to double-check since some manufacturers will say that the fuel filter should be changed at 30,000 miles.
The best way to check your fuel filter is to ask your mechanic to do a pressure test.
Oil changes are necessary, as your oil becomes dirty. Contaminated oil can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the engine, drastically shortening the lifespan of your car. As the engine runs, small metal particles, dirt, and carbon can build up in the oil.
For a car that uses non-synthetic oil, changes are required about every 3,000 miles, or once a year. Most cars currently being manufactured use synthetic oil. While the cost of synthetic oil is higher, these synthetics can generally last 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Check out the recommendations for your particular model as well as the oil you use.
Maintenance Before 60,000 Miles
As your car draws closer to 60,000 miles, you’re looking at more extensive routine maintenance brought on by age, weather, and the wear-and-tear of driving.
There are some parts of your car that will inevitably wear out over time and will need to be replaced. In this case, it’s important to be aware and know the warning signs of when your parts are wearing out and could use replacing.
The parts involved in each car model are different, so it can be useful to check consumer reports for your own car, as well as your car manual. Common parts that wear out over time include rubber gaskets and hoses, windshield wipers, and tires.
Car batteries can be tricky, since they depend on age as opposed to mileage. Batteries are designed to wear out, so it shouldn’t be a shock if your battery runs down as the years go by.
Additionally, extreme and fluctuating temperatures, as well as long periods of leaving the car undriven, can cause the battery to deteriorate.
Most batteries last at least four or five years, and it varies from car to car. Jump starting your battery can help in the short term, but the best fix is to purchase a replacement battery.
As the parts of your engine move, they generate a lot of heat, and the radiator system has been developed to efficiently remove that heat.
Coolant is a water and antifreeze solution that runs throughout the radiator to cool down the engine. Losing too much coolant will likely cause the engine to overheat.
In most cases, the coolant should be replaced every 60,000 miles, at which point your mechanic should flush the entire cooling system to further protect the engine. Additionally, topping off the coolant can help make seasonal changes easier on your car.
When your engine runs low on transmission fluid, you can run into problems when shifting the gears. You should monitor your transmission fluid during regular maintenance.
Most cars have a transmission fluid dipstick for you to check the appearance of the fluid. Safe transmission fluid will appear the be pink and have a sweet scent. Unsafe transmission fluid, on the other hand, will appear as a darker red or brown color, and it will smell somewhat burnt.
Some cars, however, don’t have a dipstick for the transmission fluid and instead use a dashboard light indicator when the fluid is low or has become contaminated. For many of these models, the check engine light refers to the transmission fluid.
As a soft rule, the transmission fluid for a manual transmission will need to be changed somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 miles. Vehicles that undergo more strain, such as towing, will need more frequent changes for the transmission fluid.
Automatic transmission fluid has a wide possible lifespan depending on your car. It can be anywhere from 30,000 miles to over 100,000 miles, so it’s really important to consult your car’s manual.
The Brake System
Your brake system is vital to keeping you safe by slowing and stopping your car. The system includes brake fluid, brake pads and brake shoes, and brake rotors. Each of these components is necessary to the safety of the car. However, some parts, such as the brake pads, will wear out sooner than others, such as the brake rotors.
Car brakes use a hydraulics system. This hydraulics system relies on brake fluid as a necessary element to keep the brakes functioning correctly and safely.
Replacing your brake fluid refers to draining any of the old or contaminated brake fluid and replacing it with fresh brake fluid. The main source of contamination in your brake fluid will likely be water.
Water lowers the boiling point of the fluid, which turns it into a compressible gas. In this case, your brake pedal might feel squishy or less responsive.
Most manufacturers will recommend changing the brake fluid at 20,000 to 45,000 miles. Check your handbook to make sure how to best take care of your own car’s brakes.
Brake Pads and Brake Shoes
Your brake pads and brake shoes will most often remain reliable for a long time before wearing out at about 40,000 to 50,000 miles.
When they need to be replaced, you will often hear squealing or screeching whenever you step on the brakes. This may come from vibrations in the brake pad when they aren’t able to connect as they should. Some brake pads may even be designed, using a spring and a small clip, to squeak as indication to the driver that they need to be changed.
Faulty brake pads can be disastrous, so it’s a good idea to have these checked regularly during maintenance or when you hear warning signs while braking.
The third key to keeping your brakes functioning properly are the brake rotors. When you press the brake pedal, the brake pads squeeze against metal discs, called brake rotors. This happens every time you slow or brake your car.
The rotors, therefore, perform a very important function, and are subject to a lot of stress and friction. This strain can cause the brake rotors to warp, usually after around 60,000 miles. These rotors can be changed or ground down to a flat surface, depending on the extent of the warping.
Brake rotors will also make a screeching or squealing sound when engaged if they need to be changed or repaired. This is particularly true of glazed brakes. Glazing means that brake dust falls onto the rotors, and the extreme heat caused by the friction of braking hardens this dust into a hard and sometimes overly slick surface.
When brake rotors are glazed, they are unable to hold the brake pad as firmly, meaning that you will hear the screech of the resulting friction.
Maintenance Before 90,000 Miles
At the 90,000 mile maintenance period, the car’s maintenance needs become more rooted in the larger and more important components of the car. And even if you do have larger fixes to manage, you still can’t forget the smaller and more frequent maintenance from the previous stages of the car’s lifespan.
Hoses carry coolant, and for those cars that have power steering, they also carry power steering fluid. These hoses are made of rubber, meaning that they can form cracks over time.
A cracked, broken, or leaking hose can cause a lot of problems, so it’s important to have these checked and changed as your car ages.
Power Steering Fluid
Not all cars have power steering. For those that do, power steering helps the wheel turn easily, allowing for more deft or subtle movements.
If your power steering fluid is low, it can cause your steering to become more difficult, and you might even hear noises while turning the wheel. For most cars, the power steering fluid will need to be flushed and replaced at around 75,000 miles, or if you notice any warning signs or problems.
Spark Plugs and the Ignition System
If there is a problem with your spark plugs, you will likely notice hard starting and problems while running the engine, such as rough idling. You might also notice a lack of acceleration and very high fuel consumption.
Failures in your ignition system will most often signal the check engine light on the dashboard.
The majority of new cars use iridium or titanium spark plugs. These can last up to 100,000 miles. Spark plugs that are less expensive, such as those made of copper, are still sometimes in use, and these will only last about 30,000 miles.
Timing Belt or Timing Chain
Some cars will use a timing belt, as opposed to a timing chain. A snapped belt can cause much more extensive problems for a car, stopping it from running and requiring towing. It’s a good idea to change a stressed belt preemptively, somewhere between 75,000 and 90,000 miles.
If your car has a timing chain, your mechanic should check up on it during regular maintenance. The links of the timing chain can stretch. Nonetheless, a timing chain should last well into 100,000+ miles.
Once your car is above 100,000 miles, the maintenance needs will repeat themselves. You will continue to be aware of routine oil changes, the air filter, and the fuel filter. At the same time, you can track your battery change needs, and repairs to the brake pads, based on the parts your bought during repairs and maintenance.
At this point, your car and its various parts will likely need maintenance on its own schedule. The best way to keep on top of what your aging car needs is to keep track of your maintenance records and repairs, and go through your checklist to add in the fluids, and oils that will keep it operating in good condition.
Caring for your tires can include some DIY maintenance and some auto shop maintenance over time.
You will need to check that your tires have deep enough treads to make them safe to drive on. The treads create friction between the tires and the ground, making them capable of functioning safely in all weather conditions.
If your tire treads are too worn down, or in other words bald, you could be at risk of skidding or wrecking in bad weather. Many newer tires will come with tread wear indicators to help you to decide whether you can keep going on the tires you have or whether you need a new set.
Additionally, tires can be rotated, which helps to maintain the car’s balance and alignment. This is because the front and rear tires wear down in different places. Rotating your tires ensures equal wear on different sides of the tire.
It’s best to check your user manual to determine how often you will need to rotate your tires. For most, this will be around every 5,000 miles.
Checking Tire Pressure
Tire pressure has a strong impact on fuel economy, as well as driving and riding comfort and ease of handling. Not to mention that driving on tires with low air pressure can increase your chance of having a blow out. Tire pressure can change with temperature fluctuations, so it’s worthwhile to stay on top of it.
Each car will have a recommended tire pressure. In some cases, the pressure differs depending on whether it’s a front or back tire. These are handy numbers to keep bookmarked or in easy reach.
It’s important to fill according to the manual and not to the number printed on the tire as that indicates the tire’s maximum pressure for carrying very heavy loads, and it will strain under that pressure if driven on a regular basis.
You should use a pressure gauge to check your tire pressure on a regular basis. One rule is to check it every-other time you fill up on gas.
To get the most accurate reading you can, check your tire pressure when the tires are cold or when you’ve just started out driving that day. Driving will warm up your tires and cause the gas inside to expand.
Learn What Different Light Indicators Mean
Cars are installed with a variety of sensors that help us to keep track of what our car needs and alert us to potential dangers or problems. These sensors communicate with us using dashboard light indicators.
It can be alarming when a light turns on in the car, but it’s not something that you should ignore. Instead, stay informed so that when it’s necessary to fix a problem, you know just what to do. It’s important to read your own manual to be aware of how these lights look in your car and what exactly they refer to.
In most cases, the car will perform a self-test whenever you turn on the ignition. You might notice at this point that each of the warning lights being tested will light up quickly when you turn on the car. Then, any sensors that fail the self-test will remain on while the others turn off.
Service Engine Light
The Service Engine Soon light will typically tell you what needs to be done right on the dash. It might print the words “service,” “maintenance required,” or simply “service engine.” Cars with advanced sensors might find that the light tells them to service specific parts of the engine.
Most, however, will find that the service engine light is a reminder of routine maintenance. Many of these functions use a mileage countdown, making it an internal timer for maintenance needs, such as changing the air filter, cabin filter, and oil changes.
Check Engine Light
Your Check Engine light can indicate numerous problems that have to do with the car’s motor.
It can be difficult to narrow down what maintenance needs to be performed when the check engine light comes on, so it’s important to consult your car’s manual to survey your options.
Newer cars with more advanced sensors will often use an OBD-II interface. This uses numerous codes which may be responsible for a lit check engine light. To be sure why the light is on, you can use an OBD2 scanner, which will parse which code is triggering the light, and how to maintain the car accordingly.
Electrical Fault Light
The Electrical Fault light should turn off after a car’s self-test. If it doesn’t it may indicate an issue in the car’s electrical charging system. This will most likely be an issue with the alternator.
Brake Warning Light
The Brake Warning light will likely represent a number of factors that influence how the brakes function.
They might simply indicate that the hand brake is engaged. If this isn’t the case, however, you should check your manual to see what other reasons will turn on the light, such as needing to change the brake fluid.
Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) Warning Light
The Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) monitors the wheels of the car to make sure that they are always turning at the same speed. This is necessary for them to maintain contact with the road whenever you hit the brakes. It then prevents the wheels from locking up, so that you won’t skid along slick or wet surfaces.
If the ABS light remains on, it means that your ABS system isn’t working properly. Your brakes will continue to work, but you will be in danger of skidding if stopping abruptly from a hard brake or braking on a slippery surface.
If this happens, try first resetting the car by turning it off and then reigniting it. If it happens multiple times, you should take it to a technician who can diagnose and begin to fix the problem.
It should be a major cause for concern if this light turns on at the same time as your brake system light, which would indicate that your brake system is failing and needs immediate maintenance from a mechanic.
Coolant Warning Light
The coolant warning light will come on if the engine is overheating. One way to immediately cool down the engine is to pull over and open the hood. This will allow the heat to ventilate. Do not open the radiator cap until the engine is cooled down, as the cooling system is pressurized.
Oil Warning Light
The oil warning light will turn on if the engine senses that the oil pressure is too low, if there’s a problem with the oil pump, or if the oil filter is blocked. Driving the vehicle with this light on could severely damage and shorten the lifespan of your engine.
DIY Car Maintenance
There are numerous maintenance and care procedures that you can do on your own to help your car operate in top shape.
While DIY car maintenance may sound intimidating to someone who is just getting started without a lot of experience taking care of cars, there are many resources to help you understand what your car needs and how to go through the steps that will preserve it and help it perform.
Wash and Detail Your Car
Washing your car should be a simple and reflexive step for whenever your car becomes too grimy or after long trips when you might have accumulated some squashed bugs on the grille. Washing your car is one low-cost maintenance technique that helps you make sure your car keeps its true value and offers good presentation.
There a few reusable tools that you will need to wash your car. These include a car-specific soap, a bucket of water, and a microfiber cloth that won’t scratch your paint. It’s also a big help to have access to a water hose.
If you don’t have all the materials or storage for them at your own living situation, consider taking your car to a DIY car wash.
Keep in mind that soft water is recommended for giving your car a nice shine. Using hard water will make it more likely to have a spotty rinse.
When you begin washing your car, start from the top and work your way down to the bottom. Wash and gently scrub your painted surfaces prior to washing the wheels. This will keep your drying cloth fresh before drying the wheels, which will likely cover the cloth in dirt and grime.
Try getting your headlights clean and bright by using toothpaste with baking soda when scrubbing them.
Car waxes will help protect your car from external wear and tear, as well as the corrosive effects of smashed bugs and bird droppings which can damage your paint over time. With a nice wax detail on your car, you will have an easier time removing these problems as well as any mud and dirt you car might have accumulated.
Many of the best waxes come in easy-to-apply spray applications. This wax should be applied to dry surfaces, giving the car a protective finish. Waxes generally last around two to three months.
Fix Paint Scratches and Dings
Places where the paint is chipped or scratched can escalate into a larger problem. These areas can begin to rust, particularly in climates where they are exposed to salty air or salt on the road. However, the solution can be simple, since touch-up paint will halt the deterioration.
In some cases, touching up the paint for large or deep chipping can require sandpapering, rubbing compounds, and clear coat spray, which can be used to fill in the area and make it flush with the car body.
Large dents and repairs often require a long process. Unless you’re a patient hobbyist, these might be better left to a body shop.
Check Your Tires
A basic tire check will include checking the pressure and filling up the tires if needed. Additionally, check the wear on your tires to make sure they are still safe to drive. Tires are considered bald if the treads are lower than 2 mm.
While it is possible to rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, this should only be done by someone who is skilled in tire changes. Generally it’s better to take your car to the shop for tire rotations, since the shop will have the tools to check and correct the alignment and balance.
Check Your Battery
Dead batteries are one of the most common reasons for calls to roadside assistance.
One way you can preserve and maintain your current battery life is to check the terminals for corrosion. When doing this, make sure to observe all safety directions, such as wearing protective glasses and gloves, as well as making sure that the battery leads do not touch each other or yourself.
While looking at your battery, you should make sure that its casing doesn’t have any cracks that could leak acid.
For older batteries, you can have the performance checked at an automotive store. Or, you can do your own own battery test using a multimeter.
Windshield wipers are an inexpensive replacement that you can do for yourself. Since there are many types of wipers on the market, you’ll need to consult your owner manual to find the ones that you need. You can then purchase these wipers online or in an auto parts store.
Buying your wipers from an auto supply store can have the extra advantage of having someone to ask for help or advice if the wipers are tricky to replace on your car.
Check Washer Fluid
Windshield wiper fluid is easy to check and replace yourself. You can purchase fluid in many locations including gas stations, and auto parts stores.
Remember to purchase a wiper fluid that contains antifreeze if you’re refilling for the winter.
Never use water as your windshield wiper fluid, since water is more likely to freeze and damage the reservoir and hoses.
To refill the reservoir, the cap is generally under the hood and near the windshield. Simply remove the cap, refill the fluid almost to the top, and put the cap back on.
How to Prepare Your Car for the Cold
The winter season is the hardest on your car. Cold temperatures dampen your battery power and thicken your motor oil, making it more difficult for your engine to turn over and your car to start.
Additionally, winter driving means that your tires might not receive enough traction, due to freezing temperatures. Ice and snow create another hazard that makes the road dangerous and decreases visibility.
If you go into the winter with your car prepared, however, you can account for many of these cold-weather difficulties. A prepared car will have better visibility and snow tires for better traction on icy and snowy streets, so that you can drive safely and confidently.
Ensure Good Visibility
Snowy weather already limits your visibility by blocking your sight and decreasing the visual contrast in the surroundings, which can make it difficult to distinguish one object from another. That means that during the winter, more than ever, it is important to make sure your windshield is clear.
Before the freezing temperatures begin:
- Make sure that your heating system, and particularly the defrost capabilities, are working properly.
- Check all your lights so that you will be able to see when driving at night. Lights aren’t just for your own visibility, but also so that other drivers on the road will be able to see you and your car.
- Fill in any cracks, stars, or chips in the windshield until they are airtight. This will prevent any cracks that are not airtight from splitting and cracking further in freezing temperatures. If you already have a bad crack or a crack that limits your visibility, you should consider changing the windshield prior to the onset of cold weather and freezing temperatures.
Throughout the winter:
- Keep a quality ice scraper in your car to clear the windshield of ice and snow. Try not to use the wipers to clear away large chunks of ice or snow. Not only will this tear up the blades, but it will also stress the motor.
- Before driving, clear off your windshield wipers of any ice that might be holding them in place or sticking to the blades.
- Make sure that you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid to spare. Additionally, choose a fluid that contains antifreeze, as this will keep the fluid from freezing in your reservoir.
- If you know that it will snow, or notice it snowing during the day, raise your windshield wipers in the air to prevent them from becoming stuck with ice to the windshield.
Check Your Battery
The car battery is mostly maintenance-free as long as it’s in proper working condition. However, there are a few things to check, and you should at least know where to find your battery in the engine bay (some modern cars have the battery in the boot).
Cold temperatures can dampen your battery power. At a temperature of five degrees Fahrenheit or below, your car battery has only about half the electrical power it should. This means it takes more cranking to start the car.
Before winter is in full force, check the connections of your battery, including its cables for any corrosion or mineral buildup. You can clean this buildup by rubbing it off with a brush specifically designed for cleaning battery terminals, available at most auto parts stores . This will help to prolong the battery life.
Always refer to your manual and use safety gear before removing any nuts or bolts from your battery. Safety gloves are required if you are attempting to clear the battery of corrosive chemicals.
Next, check the charge on the battery, you can do this by using a charge checking device or by taking it to a professional.
You might also invest in jump starter, since you can’t really know when your battery will die on you. If you are worried that your battery is low but are reluctant to change it just yet, you can purchase a spare and keep it in your trunk just in case.
Change Your Oil
For those who live in very cold climates, your winter oil change might mean using a thinner oil.
In the winter, low temperatures work against you in two ways. Not only is your battery power decreased, but it’s also more difficult for the engine to turn over. This is because the temperature drops will thicken the motor oil. The thick oil is a slow mover, and as the engine won’t start without it, you need to start with a thinner oil.
Swap in Your Snow Tires
If you live in an area with roads that are covered in snow for months at a time, snow tires are a vital part of your winter preparedness.
Even if you only receive some snow, winter is an important time to check the wear on your current all-weather tires and decide whether you will need to purchase new tires.
Additionally, make sure that your tires are fully inflated going into the winter. A cold snap will cause the air in your tires to contract, drastically decreasing your tire pressure for days at a time. This low tire pressure can be an extra liability on wet or slick roads.
Types of Snow Tires
Snow tires are distinguished from all-season tires by a few key additions. The first thing that you’ll notice are the treads, which have edges that are designed to grip the ground with a combination of safe traction and reasonable speed.
Winter tires will have more space between the tread blocks. This allows more slush to pass through, as well as snow to become packed into the tire, which can be beneficial for traction. Snow tires also have deeper treads and slits in the treads called sipes, which allow the tire more edges for better acceleration, deceleration, and safe braking.
Additionally, the tread patterns are arranged radially, meaning that they are arranged across the tire. This is different from all-season tires, which are arranged circumferentially, meaning that a line of treads goes all the way around the tire. The radial tires do not offer as smooth a ride, but more importantly, they give the car even more traction.
Modern snow tires use advances in rubber compounding that allows them to remain soft in the cold. When all-season tires freeze or grow too cold, they become less flexible. Snow tires, on the other hand, retain their flexibility in freezing temperatures.
Snow tires aren’t made to last, like your all-weather tires that can take you 60,0000 miles. Instead, they’re made to keep you safe, particularly in the winter. Generally your snow tires will last you three winter seasons.
Studless Winter Tires are currently the most common and safest tires for general driving in snowy conditions.
You could consider purchasing Studded Tires if you need to drive on steep or winding roads covered in ice.
Studded tires have metal studs embedded into the treads of the tire. These provide the best traction when driving on sheets of ice, making them the choice for people who are likely to get snowed in over the winter, or people who live in areas with a long winter seasons.
The majority of people in the market for winter tires don’t need them to be studded. If you use them to drive over ground that isn’t covered by ice, they are liable to tear up the road, which could include your own property while also threatening you with fees for damages to public property.
Be aware that studded tires are prohibited in seven states throughout the U.S. Additionally, most locations have seasonal restrictions on them. If you live or drive in the U.S. or Canada, you can check your studded tire permissions at this link.
If your needs fall somewhere between the two situations, you can find Studdable Tires, which do not always use metal studs. Instead, these tires may be installed with studs in situations that need them, such as steep ice-covered roads.
Performance Winter Tires allow high speed driving on clear highways. These have the softer rubber that keeps from freezing as easily without the high-traction tread designed of snow tires. These winter tires are best for cold temperatures that receive little snow.
Top Up Your Coolant
Coolant might sound redundant in cold weather, but it’s actually vital. Remember that coolant is made from water and antifreeze, and when the winter months come, the anti-freeze is crucial for the proper operation of your radiator.
In most cases, you should aim for a fifty percent mixture of antifreeze and water. However, your manual might indicate something different. To check the solution percentage in your coolant reservoir, you can use test strips that are purchasable from most auto parts stores. To top up your coolant, simply pour more into the reservoir up to the fill line.
While the hood is still up, check all the hoses in the cooling and heating system for any cracks or leaks. None of the hoses should feel brittle when you squeeze them.
De-Ice Your Locks
The locks on your car are likely to become icy when water seeps down into the door or trunk lock and then freezes and clogs it.
Without a remote unlocking key fob, this could mean that you’re locked out of your car. Even worse, the ice could mean that the key gets jammed in the lock and has been known to break off.
To prevent iced-over locks, use a silicone spray on it. If, however, you’re too late for preventative measures, using a de-icing glycerine will help to loosen the frozen lock. De-icing glycerine is an anti-freeze product common in autoparts and hardware stores.
Stock Up on Emergency Supplies
Winter is when our cars are at their most vulnerable. If you plan on going on long drives, a wintry vacation, or making regular commutes in the winter, it’s important to keep an emergency kit in your car, so that you’re prepared should anything happen.
- A good ice scraper
- Jumper cables
- A flashlight
- Roadside flares
- A snow shovel for getting snow out from under your tires if you get stuck
- A bag of kitty litter or sand to create traction in the snow around your car if you get stuck
- A tow strap
- Warm blankets
- Gloves and a hat
- Non-perishable food
How to Prepare Your Car for Warm Weather
Preparing your car for warmer weather often means tuning it up from the hardships that the winter put it through.
That’s not all, though. Summer is prime road-trip time, meaning that a lot of warm weather maintenance is preparation for being able to take your car out for a long haul. Here’s how to get your car up to snuff for warm weather driving.
Check Your Air Conditioner
As the days heat up, keeping your car cool becomes more and more important. Additionally, using the air conditioning on the highway, as opposed to rolled down windows, reduces drag and can actually help to increase your fuel economy.
If you notice that your air conditioning doesn’t have the strength it used to, it could be a simple need to top up the refrigerant. You can find refrigerant at most auto-stores.
Additionally, a clogged cabin air filter can force your system to work harder. Replacing your cabin air filter not only increases your air conditioning efficiency, but it also improves the air quality inside your car, helping to eliminate dust and other particles in the air.
Look Under the Hood
When the engine is cool, pop the hood and check everything out. Pay attention to hoses that may look cracked, as well as any warping or fraying. Check for tight caps and make sure there is no debris blockage, especially around the radiator and air filter.
Make Sure Your Radiator Has Enough Coolant
The summer heat puts some strain on your radiator to keep the engine cool, meaning that you might run through more coolant than you would in the winter.
Make sure that your car has plenty of coolant, and as you drive, pay attention to the temperature gauge on the dashboard, which will alert you to when your engine might be getting too hot.
Check Your Tire Pressure
As the weather starts to warm up, swap your tires back from your snow tires to all-weather tires. This will prevent any unnecessary wear-and-tear on your snow tires to make them last longer. All-weather tires will also give you a smoother ride that will make your drive more fuel-efficient.
As temperatures fluctuate during the warmer months, keep an eye on your tire pressure, adding air or holding steady as needed.
Keep Up with Oil Changes
The motor oil cuts down on the friction caused by the many moving parts inside the engine. This is important because excess friction will generate too much heat, decreasing engine performance and leading to even larger problems over time.
To check your oil, locate where the oil cap is under the hood of your car. Remove the dipstick and wipe it on a clean rag. This step removes the oil, so that when you test it, you can see the actual level.
Now, reinsert the dipstick all the way and pull it out again. Here you will see for yourself the level of the oil. Many dipsticks have indicators near the tip, marking when the oil is at a low level.
This also gives you a chance to examine the color of the oil. Engine oil is usually a slightly amber color, not pitch black. If the oil is a very dark color, this might indicate that it is contaminated, has undergone excessive heat, or is sludgy.
Replace Worn Windshield Wipers
After the winter, you’ll likely find that your windshield wipers have notched or cracked blade, which don’t allow them to move water or windshield fluid cleanly.
One of the biggest keys to safe driving is being able to see properly out your windshield. This is why it’s crucial to replace your windshield wipers. Windshield wipers will wear out more quickly than other parts of your car, and they will wear out more quickly if used in certain circumstances, such as used to clear away ice from a defrosting windshield.
You’ll know it’s time to replace your windshield if they’re streaking, making a squeaking sound as they run, or having difficulty clearing away rain.
At the same time, check on your windshield washer fluid levels. You’ll likely have used a lot of fluid in the winter.
However, it doesn’t end there. The warmer weather brings pollen and bugs, making it easy to go through a lot of windshield fluid.
If you’re planning a long summer road trip, it can be a good idea to keep extra windshield fluid in the trunk.
Update Your Safety/Emergency Kit
Just like your winter safety kit, your summer safety kit should include everything you need to stay safe if you have to pull over or become stranded. Make sure to include:
- A flashlight
- A blanket
- Jumper cables
- Orange warning triangles
- A first-aid kit
- BPA-free containers filled with water
- Your jack and spare tire
- A small fire extinguisher
- Battery-operated radio
- A fix-a-flat kit
Top Applications to Track Car Maintenance
- aCar (Android) – aCar is a popular application that offer car maintenance tracking. This allows you to keep track of your maintenance records, repairs, and mileage all in one place.
- AutoCare (Android and iOS) – AutoCare allows maintenance record keeping, as well as fuel mileage tracking, and notifications for work that needs to be completed on your car.
- Car Maintenance Reminder (Android) – Car Maintenance Reminder tracks your fuel mileage, cost, and efficiency to help you save money easily. It also keeps records of repairs and allows you to create your own to-do list for you car maintenance.
- Car Minder Plus (iOS) – Car Minder Plus adds a little more to your car maintenance tracking needs by helping you maintain your fuel filter, drive belts, engine oils, and air filter tracking. Additionally, you can customize Car Minder Plus with your own maintenance needs.
- Road Trip (iOS) – Road Trip offers a full mileage and maintenance history while also tracking costs and giving reminders. Road Trip also has a tire log, to help you stay on top of the wear and tear that you put on your tires.
For many of us, cars are a necessary and even enjoyable way of getting around. We can use them for travel, leisure, commuting, work, and adventure. However, they are complex machines, using many parts that help to keep us comfortable, safe, and efficient.
Car maintenance is a must for anyone who owns or takes care of a car. There is a lot to remember when it comes to maintaining this machine, including air and fuel filters, keeping up on motor oil, coolant, and transmission fluid, checking the battery and brakes, and maintaining the tires.
Having a schedule and list for your car maintenance can help you to keep it from becoming overwhelming so that you can really enjoy your car and trust in its safety.