How to Maintain Your Car the Easy Way
When you hear about maintaining your car, you probably think that it will involve an expensive, time-consuming trip to the shop. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. There are quite a few things that you can do yourself or have done for a low price that will greatly improve the performance of your car and keep it running smoothly.
To make it easier for you to know the types of general maintenance that you should perform, we’ve created this complete guide on the basics of car maintenance. From reading the owner’s manual and checking your tires to changing the oil and air filters, we’ve got you covered.
The Basics of Car Maintenance
Car maintenance is one of the best ways to keep you and your passengers safe while also getting the best performance possible out of your car and saving money in the long run. Think about how much time you spend in your car: driving to work, heading to the grocery store, or going somewhere with your family.
The car is a critical part of most Canadian families, something they depend on to get them to their destination safely and reliably. The easiest way to ensure that is to perform regular maintenance, whether that means doing the work yourself or taking it to your favorite shop. Not only does maintenance keep you safer and make your car perform better, but it also prevents expensive issues from popping up unexpectedly down the road. It’s a triple win!
So, let’s get into the good stuff. Here are some of the best basic car maintenance tips for you to keep in mind.
Get Familiar with Your Owner’s Manual
One of the most often overlooked aspects of vehicle maintenance is simply reading through the vehicle’s owner’s manual to get familiar with its contents. The owner’s manual is chock full of vehicle-specific information that you won’t find in general online guides or from your friend down the street.
While everything you read in this guide is true for just about any car that you might have, we are not getting into the specifics of any one vehicle. The owner’s manual will tell you everything you need to know about where things are located, how to maintain them, technical specifications, and more.
In fact, the owner’s manual will even tell you more accurately when you need to perform different services on your vehicle.
Follow the Maintenance Schedule Suggested in Your Vehicle’s Owner’s Manual
The maintenance schedule that you find in the owner’s manual should be your first resource when you’re figuring out which services you need. Dealerships and automotive service shops will often suggest maintenance a bit more often than is really needed because that’s how they make money!
Your owner’s manual will let you know when you really need to service your vehicle. While you’re getting familiar with the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, make note of the following services so that you can keep track of when they need to be performed:
- Transmission fluid
- Timing chain or timing belt
- Oil changes
- Spark plugs
- Air filter (engine bay and cabin filters)
- Brake fluid replacement
- Hose inspection
These services are usually suggested at 50,000km increments. Some might be every 50,000km, while others might not be required until 100,000, 150,000 or even 200,000km. So, check the owner’s manual and make a note—physically or mentally—so that you know when you need to take your car in for certain services.
Check Your Car’s Fluid Levels
You’ve likely heard someone say “check your car’s fluid levels” at one point or another in your life, but what were they really referring to? Your car uses several different fluids to keep things cool, lubricated, and working properly. The different fluids that you want to keep your eyes on include:
- Motor oil
- Brake fluid
- Transmission fluid
- Power steering fluid
- Washer fluid (not as essential as the others)
All the fluids on this list, except for washer fluid, are essential to keeping your car running properly and even running at all. For example, if your coolant or oil levels go down too far, your engine will quickly suffer irreparable damage. But with all these different fluids, it can be hard to figure out how to check the levels.
Thankfully, they’re pretty easy most of the time. For this, we remind you about becoming familiar with your owner’s manual. The manual will direct you on how to check the levels for each fluid listed here because it’s important that you do the check right, not only to ensure the measurement is accurate but also for your own safety.
Change Your Oil and Oil Filter on Schedule
Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of vehicle maintenance is regularly changing your oil and oil filter. Thankfully, this one is typically fairly easy to remember because there’s usually a little sticker in the top-left corner of your windshield that lets you know when it’s time to get your oil changed!
When we say “change your oil,” we’re referring to the engine oil that keeps all the parts inside your engine lubricated. With countless moving parts and pieces rotating thousands of times per second, it’s vital that they stay properly lubricated with fresh and clean engine oil.
Oil breaks down over time and through use, which is why you’ll typically be recommended to change your oil every few months or every 8,000km or so. Every time you change the oil, you’ll also want to be sure to install a new oil filter to make sure only clean oil is getting into the engine.
Lastly, make sure the right kind of oil is going in your car, whether you change it yourself or take it to a shop. Your manual will specify the weight and type your car needs, so be sure you check!
Replace the Air Filter with Oil Changes
The air filters on your car keep the air entering the engine and the interior (where you sit) fresh and clean, so it’s important to get a new filter on occasion. Some people suggest replacing the air filter with every other oil change or even every few oil changes, but we highly recommend replacing it every time you change the oil.
Air filters are typically affordable and very easy to change, so you rarely need to have them done at the shop. On most vehicles, the air filter can be swapped out in literally a couple of minutes, and you don’t even need tools much of the time. That said, even though you can likely do it yourself fairly easily, you can also have it tacked on to the oil change at the shop for a little extra money.
Watch Out for Warning Light Indicators
If your dashboard looks like a Christmas tree when you turn your car on, then you might have a few issues to deal with, but it’s important to know what the lights actually mean and what you need to do about them. If you see a light come on your dashboard and you don’t know what it is, the best place to check is your owner’s manual; it will explain each one!
As cars are becoming more and more technologically advanced, they can tell you more accurately about issues by activating a warning light. Maybe you have a tire getting low or your ABS system has stopped working. These are the kinds of things that your car can tell you. The most important lights to look out for include:
- Check engine
- Water temperature
- Oil pressure
- Brake system
- TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System)
- Battery (charging system)
Always Listen and Feel for Brake Issues
Brakes are arguably the single most important component of your car. After all, they are solely responsible for slowing you down and eventually bringing your car come to a controlled stop. Thus, you probably understand how important they are to maintain.
Thankfully, brakes typically last a long time, so you don’t need to replace them frequently, which is good because they can get expensive! Most of the time you’ll just need new brake pads and rotors (sometimes even just pads), but if you start having caliper-related issues, the price can skyrocket.
Brake issues are usually fairly easy to diagnose as well, thanks to how much they can affect the way you drive. Here are a few things to pay attention to while driving:
- Grinding or screeching noises
- Vibrations when stopping
- A burning smell when you get out of the car
- A softer brake pedal that has more give than usual
If you simply listen, feel, and smell for these issues, you’ll recognize them as early as possible and may prevent a dangerous situation. In addition, regularly check your brakes to make sure they have plenty of life left. While you’re getting your tires rotated, just ask the service shop to do a quick visual brake inspection to see roughly how much life is left on the pads.
Keep Tires Properly Inflated and Maintained
Your car’s tires are the only thing that actually connects you and your car to the roads you drive on, so keeping them well maintained is critical. Two of the best ways to keep your tires in tip-top shape are regularly checking their air pressure and having them rotated every 8,000km or so.
We recommend you buy a handheld tire pressure gauge and check the pressure levels at least once a month. You want to be sure your tires are properly inflated, without too much or too little air.
If tires are overinflated, the center of the tire will wear out prematurely; underinflated tires will have prematurely worn-out shoulders. Rotating your tires helps all four wear evenly, which will give the most consistent performance over their lifetime.
The proper tire pressure can be found on the tire information placard located on the inside of the driver’s door or on the door jamb. The placard will tell you what size tires should be on the car and what their pressure should be set at.
As tires wear out, they offer less in the way of performance. This affects everything from straight-line driving, turning, and even braking. It’s essential to maintain your tires.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Properly maintaining your car will keep it in the best possible condition and help it stay on the road for as long as possible. The first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual to get an idea of when specific services are needed, how to do certain checks on your own, and what the car is telling you through warning lights.
To make it as easy as possible for you to keep your car running smoothly, use this car maintenance checklist of the essentials:
- Check fluid levels
- Pay attention to any warning lights
- Check belts and hoses
- Visually inspect your brakes (even just through the wheel is better than nothing)
- Test the headlights, brake lights, and turn signals
- Check your tires and tire pressure
- Wash your car to prevent corrosion
- Change your oil and filter
- Test your windshield wipers and washer fluid
- Check your car battery and keep the positive and negative terminals clean
We suggest running through this checklist of the basics of car maintenance once a month unless noted otherwise in this guide; for example, you don’t need to change your oil and air filter every month! Spending a little bit of time once a month going through this list will go a long way towards preserving the life of your car.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I service my own car and keep the warranty?
In Canada, and in most other places, you do not need to have your vehicle serviced at the dealership to keep your warranty intact. Where you have your car serviced is your choice. Whether that’s at the automotive shop of your choice or you’re doing the work yourself, dealerships cannot void your warranty because of who did the service. As long as maintenance is done and done right, it doesn’t matter who does the work.
How often should I service my car?
It depends on what you mean by “service,” but we recommend going through the checklist above at least once a month. For services such as oil changes, air filters, and tire rotations, we recommend having them all done simultaneously every 8,000km or so to make the process as easy as possible.
For major system services—brakes, transmission, coolant system, and so on—it’s important to check your owner’s manual for the suggested maintenance schedule. Everything will usually have maintenance suggested in some increment of 50,000km to make things simple.