Maintaining Your Engine

Tips to Proactively Protect and Maintain Your Engine

The key to maintaining your vehicle is keeping your engine healthy, which means that you should know at least the basics of engine maintenance.

Tips to Proactively Protect and Maintain Your Engine

Your engines requires regular maintenance—keep it in good working order between check-ups with these hints and tips from our experts.

The owner’s manual will give you some of the information you need to get started. But all that information can be confusing. So we’ve prepared these general tips to help you keep your car engine running smoothly. Refer to your manual for more specific guidance.

Regular Oil Changes Make All the Difference 

Motor oil is the lubricant that keeps the parts of the engine running smoothly. When the engine starts, the oil travels from the pan to the various parts of the engine, like the pistons and shafts. The motor oil runs through, providing lubrication, as each part moves. Without the oil, the engine parts would rub against each other directly, causing destructive friction, and the engine would quickly overheat.

Motor oil also collects the by-products of combustion and other debris. So you need to routinely change your oil after a certain amount of miles. If you neglect to regularly change the oil, debris can build up and damage your engine. You will see warning lights if there is a problem with it. 

Usually, you should change your engine oil every 5,000 kilometers to 7,500 kilometers or so. The optimal distance varies depending on the type of vehicle you drive, its size, and how often you drive it. According to Aha Insurance, the average person drives nearly 15,000 kilometers a year. So change the oil every four to six months.

Changing the oil regularly will improve gas mileage, extend the life span of the engine, and make the engine less likely to overheat.

Air Filters Need to Be Changed Regularly

The air filter of an engine is a small component that prevents dirt, bugs, and other debris from flying into the engine.

Over time, debris on the filter can buildup, impeding its function. You can tell that the air filter is overdue for a change if you see smoke puffing out of it. You are more likely to see this smoke in older cars; the check-engine light in newer cars will usually let you know before the filter gives out.

The owner’s manual will tell you how often the air filter of your engine should be changed. You should usually change it every 24,000 kilometers to 48,000 kilometers.

The filter may need to be changed more often if you often travel off-road, where the engine is more susceptible to dirt. Mountain travel can lead to many small pebbles flying inside.

Failing to regularly change the air filter can impair the performance of your vehicle, requiring more trips to the gas station and interfering with the spark plugs. Damaged spark plugs will cause a car to stall or will prevent the engine from starting.

Check for Leaks

When you park your car for a while, you may observe fluid leaking from underneath. Several kinds of fluid can leak from your car, so you should become familiar with the differences.


Car coolant, also called antifreeze, prevents your engine from overheating. When your engine burns fuel into the energy that propels the car, the rest of the energy is converted into heat. The coolant prevents the heat from becoming excessive.

Coolant leaks consist of a bright green or yellow fluid. You should fix the leak as soon as possible. A deficient level of coolant may allow the engine to overheat and may cause other problems.


Oil leaks consist of a dark brown or black fluid with a rainbow sheen. You should fix the leak as soon as possible. Low oil levels will internally damage the engine.


If you see water under your parked vehicle, it may not be coming from your car. It might be a puddle from a recent rainstorm.

But the water may also be coming from the air conditioner after it has been running for a while. Usually, you have no reason to be concerned about water puddles. But check to make sure that the leaking fluid is only water and nothing else.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is a light brown, slightly oily liquid used in the hydraulic braking system. When you press the brake pedal, the fluid becomes pressurized, strengthening the force applied by your brakes.

You will see a leak of brake fluid next to a tire, by a caliper, by a rubber hose, or under the master brake cylinder. Driving with low or no brake fluid is extremely hazardous. Without a sufficient amount of brake fluid, it will take much more than slamming the brake pedal to stop your car from moving.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid allows you to shift gears smoothly, especially in cars with automatic transmission. It also keeps the transmission at a good temperature.

Transmission leaks appear under your vehicle and consist of a thin, dark red or brown fluid. Some automatic transmission fluids have a bluish-green color to help drivers tell the difference between transmission fluid and other fluids. 

Differential Oil

Differential oil often looks like transmission fluid. The location of the leak will tell you what kind of fluid is involved. Differential oil leaks occur at the rear of the vehicle; transmission fluid leaks occur under the vehicle.

Keep an Eye on Your Engine Fluids

Each of these fluids help keep your car engine running smoothly. In each case, if you are running low, you will see a sign that you are running low. For example, if you notice your engine getting hot, you may need to fill up on antifreeze or engine oil.

Do you hear or feel any problem when increasing speed or shifting gears? Your transmission or differential fluids may be low. Low amounts of either fluid will make it difficult to drive faster or change to higher gears.

If you have trouble braking properly, check your brake fluids. Of course, the problem could also be caused by other components of the braking system. But it doesn’t hurt to check.

Replace Your Fuel Filters Regularly

Fuel filters serve roughly the same purpose as air filters. But fuel filters protect your car from the debris that travels through gas rather than from the debris that travels through air. The fuel filter especially protects your fuel tank from accumulating dirt and rust.

An unfiltered fuel tank or an infrequently changed filter will cause debris to accumulate in the fuel tank, clogging certain engine parts and causing other engine problems.

Generally, you should replace your fuel filter once every two years or roughly every 39,000 kilometers. How frequently you should replace this filter mostly depends on how often you drive and how often you need to fuel up. In the case of some cars, you can replace your fuel filter every 72,000 kilometers or so.

Don’t Ignore the Check Engine Lights

Your car engine has several components. The incorrect functioning of any single component can affect the performance of the entire engine. If something is wrong with your engine, even if it’s minor, your car will let you know.

Don’t simply keep driving if the check engine light tells you that something is wrong. You could be risking serious damage.

Fixing the problem as soon as possible may be expensive. But it will cost more—and be more dangerous—to put off dealing with the problem until it becomes too blatant to ignore.

The problem may be easy to fix. Before going to a mechanic, try checking all of the fluids and filters we’ve discussed. Changing one of these may make the check engine light go away. 

But if the light persists, an engine component may require deeper inspection. In this case, visit a mechanic.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Regularly scheduled maintenance will help keep your engine and your vehicle running for a long time. Details matter. To keep your engine running well, be sure to check the kind of small details that we have discussed above.

For more specific information about when you should be checking on these components and what needs to be changed when, consult the owner’s manual. Our own suggestions are broad guidelines.

You should get your vehicle serviced once a year. Not everything will need to be checked or replaced. But the mechanic will replace the oil, brake fluid, and transmission fluid so that your car engine stays healthy and continues to run smoothly.

If you have to visit a mechanic about a problem, explain it in as much detail as you can. Sure, mechanics are specialists. But the more you can say about the source of the problem, the more time you both of you will save.

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