Car maintenance can be pretty overwhelming. One way to make it approachable is by creating a checklist of car maintenance. If you don’t know how to start your first car maintenance checklist, we have the guide for you.
Remember, if you have a warranty, they already have a standard maintenance schedule created for you. So while you can still use this for yourself, pay close attention to any warranty requirements.
Whether you are taking a road trip or want to be sure your car is in good health, this checklist is useful. We will be breaking them down into different types of checks.
Part One: Fluids
The first step to any car checklist is fluids. Without suitable fluids, your car is privy to a variety of different issues.
This checklist will go over the following:
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Power-steering fluid
- Air conditioning coolant
- Wiper fluid
It is easily one of the most important fluids for the longevity of your car. Regular oil changes increase the longevity of your vehicle. You will want to familiarize yourself with changing your oil.
Typically, you should change your oil every 3,000 miles. However, many modern oils (mostly synthetic) will allow you to wait as long as 5,000 to 7,000 miles. Check your car’s owner’s manual for the details.
If you would like a guide to changing your oil, check out the video below for details.
The video will go over it, but don’t forget to change your oil filter simultaneously.
Antifreeze, or coolant, prevents your car from overheating. Failure to top off your antifreeze regularly may cause multiple systems to fail. Only flush out the old antifreeze if your car’s owner’s manual suggests it.
Typically, you can find your antifreeze container by looking for the word “coolant” on the cap. If you are unable to see it, you will have to utilize your owner’s manual.
Transmission fluid provides lubrication to your vehicle’s transmission, allowing it to switch gears seamlessly. Most cars have automatic transmissions; both types of vehicles typically require some form of fluid.
Again, only flush the system and replace this fluid when the owner manual suggests it. Whether you do it too early or late, changing them outside of your car’s recommendations can damage your vehicle.
You will also typically need a funnel, but this depends on the location of your transmission fluid.
Brake fluid applies lubrication to your brakes, avoiding squealing noises and hard braking. Typically, you only need to add brake fluid to your vehicle. If you do need to replace it, be sure to clean out the master cylinder before the replacement takes place.
Typically speaking, you only need to change brake fluid every couple of years. You will need to bleed the brake fluid until the old fluid is out of the system.
Most brake cylinders have a bleeder screw, which you will leave loose until is shows clean fluid. Otherwise, just top of the liquid as needed. Be sure to use the same fluid that you did during the last time.
The power-steering fluid lubricates the steering so that it is a smooth glide to the left and right. Failure to regularly fill this will result in hard turning, potentially damaging your power steering function.
Typically you will need a funnel, but it should be in a large port labeled “power-steering.” If you cannot find it, please reference your owner’s manual.
If you are replacing your fluid, follow the schedule suggested under your owner’s manual. Every car is a bit different. Some mechanics may indicate a power steering flush every two years.
Air Conditioning Coolant
While not quite as important, changing your air conditioning unit is a must-have if you have vulnerable children in the car. Also, having a cool car during the hot summer months is a great feeling.
You only need to worry about this if your air conditioner is getting weaker. After this, your owner’s manual will likely suggest the first step to check your refrigerant.
Your air conditioning unit is typically on the left side passenger location. It should be next to a pulley system and connected to a pipe that has the letter “L.” This “L” is the low-pressure side port and the location that needs filling.
Do not fill the location near the letter H.
Following the instructions on the can of refrigerant, purge the hose of any air. While pressing the trigger, connect the hose to where the L slot is. If it is working correctly, the hose should connect firmly to where the “L” was,
Following your owner’s manual and instructions on the air conditioner dispenser, fill it to the suggested pressure. Once it reaches that force, it quickly twists back on the “L” cover.
If your pressure is too high at this point, consult a mechanic. It is typically illegal to release excess refrigerant from your car.
Wiper fluid is the easiest fluid to deal with among these options. Look for the knob near your car’s engine that resembles a windshield.
You only need to worry about filling it when the wiper fluid is out. Mixing different wiper fluids here is typically not dangerous. If you live in a cold area, try and purchase one that contains ice melt.
Part Two: Electric and Mechanical Components
Electric and mechanical components are the systems underneath the fluid. While not all of them need lubrication (in fact, most electric systems discourage that), they require regular checks.
We will be going through the following:
- Spark plugs
- Air filters
- Battery and cables
- Headlights and taillights
- Check engine light
- Wiper blades
Every once and a while, it is recommended to have a mechanic look at your brakes. Regular replacement of pads and struts is pretty standard, and they need to be thick enough to handle hard braking.
Typically, it would be best if you did these checks once a year.
If your brakes are squealing or making crunchy noises, bring them to a mechanic immediately. It is a sign of brakes in poor condition.
If your vehicle is having electrical issues, spark plugs and fuses are almost always the first places to look. In some cases, you may even fail an emissions test.
Spark plugs should be part of your regular car checkups every 30 thousand miles. If you buy a used car, you may want to include that in your first checkups.
If you are lumping fuses in with your regular maintenance schedule, don’t. They only need to be replaced if they blow. If you are having electrical issues, check to see if the metal in the fuse is still there.
Air filters come in the form of engine air filters and cabin air filters. Engine air filters are far more critical for the longevity of the car. If it is noticeably dirty, it is time for a replacement.
Cabin air filters improve the breathing quality of your car. Again, you should replace them if they are noticeably dirty. In any case, follow the owner’s manual for suggestions if they don’t appear dirty. Typically, you can replace air filters annually.
Most owner’s manuals suggest that you look at them every 15 thousand miles.
When driving in rough conditions, the exhaust can get pretty beat up. Even when driving in normal conditions, it is essential to check your exhaust system every couple of years.
If you see significant dents or holes in the exhaust, it may be time for a replacement.
Check the hoses in the front of your vehicle. All of the fluids we mentioned earlier typically go through hoses at some point. A leak in any of them means that you are wasting liquid.
Most of the time, you can fix hoses with a regular patch job. However, some hoses will need a complete replacement, especially if they are wearing at the seams. Consult a mechanic for further guidance.
If replacing your fluids seems to do nothing to handle your car’s overheating issue, it may be related to your coolant hose leaking.
Serpentine, Timing, and Transmission Belts
Without belts and pulley systems, your car would not get very far. As a result, you need to make it among your regular maintenance schedule to check your belts; check them every couple of months.
The owner’s manual will contain more details on your car’s unique belt replacement schedule. However, that schedule will depend heavily upon how often you drive your vehicle.
Transmission belts typically need replacement anywhere around 50 thousand miles. Transmission belts need replacement from 30 to 36 thousand miles.
Common signs of replacement include cracks or missing chunks.
Battery And Cables
If replacing your fuses doesn’t solve the issue, it typically comes back to your battery. Every so often, it is good to check your battery to be sure it does not have corrosive material on it.
Also, check the cables to be sure that there are no exposed sections. Exposed sections are an electric hazard. Replacing batteries is pretty simple; replacing battery cables is a bit more complicated.
If you need to replace the cable, be sure to remove the wires from the battery first. Also, be careful to measure the length of your battery cables in the replacement.
Headlights And Taillights
Headlights and taillights typically only need removing when they go out. Regardless, it can be pretty inconvenient to have them go out on the side of the road.
If you want to try and replace the headlight before it does this, watch the lights for dimming. There isn’t any schedule for this, but you typically have to change them out once every couple of years.
Be sure that the new headlights you buy match the wattage of the old ones. You can also take this opportunity to check the dome light on the inside.
Check Engine Light
The check engine light is a telltale sign of some issue in your vehicle. If this is on, it may be related to an inconsistent maintenance schedule. Otherwise, it could just be some random issue in the car, like a busted sensor.
Many mechanics have access to code readers, but you can buy these over the counter. It is good to have a code reader on hand to ensure that If an issue comes up, you know where it is.
Much like headlights, you only need to replace these when you notice that they aren’t cleaning as effectively as they should. Watch for smears or loud noises while the blades are wiping.
Replacing wiper blades typically are done through J-hooks, which you will likely notice on your owner’s manual. You can also see them held in by pin systems.
You can tell simply by looking, but check your owner’s manual for details.
If you have small or large J-hooks, start by pulling on the rubber portion of the blade until the hook loosens. You either do that or find a small button on the back of the blade that relieves it. Don’t be afraid to put a little bit of force. The clip should automatically snap back on with a J hook.
If you are using pins, removing the pin will loosen the hook initially. After this, you will need to hold the wiper in place while reinserting the pin. These wiper pins can be pretty small, so try not to lose them.
Step Three: Tires and Chasis
The last section we will be going through is the tires. This section is essential, as it can be the difference between sliding all over the road and being confident in your treads.
Check out what we will be reviewing below:
- Tire pressure
- Tire tread
- Tire rotation
- Spare tire
- Chasis underneath
If you look at the side of most tires, you will notice a pressure requirement on the side of them. The other location you can find the pressure requirements are on the inside of the passenger door.
In many modern cars, your tire pressure has a sensor inside of the tire. When you see an exclamation point with a box, it’s might be time to check your tires.
However, extreme heat or cold situations may cause fluctuations in barometric pressure. Because of this, you may want to give it a day so that the temperature can normalize.
If your tire pressure sensor still comes on after this, take it to an air station.
If your tire pressure sensor comes on consistently, spray your tire with liquid soap. The spots where bubbles start to form is where you need to patch.
If you cannot patch it, you should consult a mechanic.
Using a penny, you are easily able to check the tread of your tires. Place the penny torso-side down inside of one of your tire treads. If you are still able to see the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head, that means you need to replace your tires.
Replacement of tread is not as crucial in dry locations. If you live in a colder place or are coming up to winter, do not wait. In either case, you need to replace your tires soon.
If the penny test reveals that your tires have uneven tread, it is time for a rotation. You may also notice your car vibrating as you use it, despite the condition of the road below.
This video below will give you a do-it-yourself guide.
You don’t need to do too much with a spare tire. Performing the same checks on the tread and air pressure are essential. If you replace your flat tire with another flat tire, that is not very helpful.
Checking the rotation is non-applicable, as the tire is not on the vehicle.
In some cases, your steering, chassis, and suspension system may need lubrication. This need depends heavily on the age of the vehicle, as most modern cars do not require this.
If you are in a vehicle that needs this, typically do it anywhere from 6 to 12 thousand miles. You can make it a part of your regular tire checks.
Maintaining a car can be an incredible headache without a standard process. Thankfully, the checklist above gives you an idea of where you need to get started.
As you can see, most maintenance schedules wait to hit certain mileage limits or year limits. Unless there is an immediate need, you typically won’t need to perform a lot of emergency work.
Pay close attention to your owner’s manual when developing your checklist. Your manual will fill in a lot of gaps. If you still have a warranty, you often are required to follow the maintenance schedule to maintain it.