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Routine Car Maintenance

Routine Maintenance

In order for your car to keep running, it needs routine maintenance. This is true of everything in life, of course, from marriages to vehicles. To keep your car running and running well, you'll need to do the following things at regular intervals. The exact interval depends on your manufacturer's recommendations, but general intervals are given for reference.

1. Check Fluid Levels

The fluid levels in your car should be checked regularly. Most shops do this routinely when the car is brought in for any type of maintenance or repair. At home, at least monthly, you should check the following when the engine is cool and the car is not running:

  • Engine oil - pull the dipstick and wipe it clean, then re-insert it and pull it again. The oil should be relatively clean (not too black) and at the "full" mark on the stick.
  • Engine coolant - open the radiator cap (again, when the engine is COOL) and look inside. If you cannot see liquid, you need to add fluid. You can buy pre-mixed 50/50 antifreeze for this purpose.
  • Note that some vehicles have an overflow to the side that should also be checked. It will have a "full/empty" mark.
  • Transmission fluid - if applicable, usually only on vehicles with an automatic transmission. It will have a dipstick similar to the oil, but usually lower down into the engine and marked with a different color. Just like the oil, it should be clean (usually bright red) and full.
  • Windshield washer fluid - should be full. Top off as needed.
  • Brake fluid - the reservoir is likely clear, so you can look without opening it and see what level the fluid is at. Fill as needed and as your vehicle's specifications require.
  • Power steering fluid - if equipped, the reservoir is usually on top of the power steering pump. The cap usually twists off to reveal a dipstick for checking. It should be at the "full" mark.

2. Check the Brakes

Your brake pads should be routinely checked by someone qualified to do so. Your vehicle's brakes are it's top safety concern, so they should be checked at every oil change interval and replaced when the pads are getting thin and before they begin squeaking.

3. Check the Lights, Tires, and Other Safety Equipment

This is probably the most often overlooked safety check everyday drivers make. Professional drivers do this routinely (every day). At home, when you're checking the vehicle's fluids (above), also switch on the headlights, hazard lights (blinkers), etc. and check that all of them are working. Walk around the car and make sure the tail lights, side lamps, blinkers, etc. are all operating correctly.

Also check the tires to be sure they're properly inflated (the psi requirement will be on the sidewall, usually 32-35psi). It's estimated that most drivers could save $80 in fuel annually if they kept their tires properly inflated. Also check tire wear and be sure that they are evenly worn and enough tread is still present. You should be able to stand a quarter upside down inside the tread's trench (at the center of the tire) and the "meat" should come up to Washington's head.

4. Oil and Filter Changes

Probably the number one most important maintenance item for keeping your vehicle running is the oil and oil filter change. Most vehicles require this at every 3,000 - 3,500 miles. The oil should be completely drained, the filter replaced with a new one, and new oil put back in. All according to your vehicle's specifications, of course.

5. Belts, Timing, Etc.

The belts that run the accessories on most vehicles (air conditioning, power steering, etc.) require regular checks to be sure they are not overly worn. They require replacement at regular intervals as well, usually every 20,000 miles or once every other year, depending on driving habits.

Timing belts or chains need routine checkups as well. Belts are often replaced at intervals of about 70,000-100,000 miles and chains occasionally require adjusting by a mechanic at these intervals as well.

6. Wiper Blades

In most parts of the U.S., these should be changed out once a year.

7. Tune Up

Nearly all vehicles need a tune up every year. This requires that spark plugs be replaced, plug wires replaced (in some cases), air filter be replaced, and the engine idle speed checked to be sure it's at optimum.

Doing these 7 simple things when required can keep most vehicles running strong for many thousands of miles. Most vehicles that are well cared for, no matter the make or model, are likely to have a lifespan beyond 200,000 miles.

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