All automobiles need regular maintenance to perform well and to prolong the vehicle’s life. Without maintenance, a car’s engine may cease and crack, wheels will wear out, and shocks will not support it. The result is likely to be a cascade of failures ending in an expensive pile of junk.
Your owner’s manual provides basic information on the frequency of certain maintenance procedures, but modern manuals offer little instruction for repairing or replacing parts. Be skeptical of online sources of information.
Some of the basic, required maintenance procedures are:
- Changing the oil every 3,000-5,000 miles. It’s essential to know the type of oil your vehicle requires (synthetic or regular), as well as to change the filter regularly. Air filters are also usually changed during oil changes because they affect a vehicle’s efficiency.
- Rotating tires every 15,000-20,000 miles. When tires wear unevenly, they may cause the car to shake, affecting other parts like the engine supports. By rotating tires, you will also get more wear out of them. Tires generally last 30,000-40,000 miles.
- Flushing coolant. Replacing the engine coolant in the radiator should be done every 30,000 miles or about every three years, depending upon where you live and how you drive. Draining coolant removes contaminants that can damage your radiator system. Associated hoses should be examined and replaced at the same time.
- Transmission fluid replacement. Transmission fluid lubricates the moving parts in an engine and can pick up fragments of worn parts. Over time this fluid, similar to oil, also degrades from use and temperature changes. For automatic transmission vehicles, transmission fluid should be changed every 100,000 miles, and for manual transmission vehicles, the fluid should be changed about every 60,000 miles.
- Brake pad replacement. Most modern cars have disk brakes (versus the older style drum brakes) which rely on friction to stop. Both kinds of brakes have pads that rub against a cylinder, and you should monitor the pads to ensure you don’t go too long before replacing them. When pads are worn too low, the underlying disk or drum may be damaged, requiring a more extensive and more expensive replacement job. The lifespan of brake pads, generally 10,000 to 30,000 miles, depends on the type of driving you do (shorter if you do a lot of city driving, longer if you do mostly highway driving). If you hear grinding when you stop your car, you should have your brakes checked.
- Shocks and struts. These are structural parts that wear out over time. Shocks and struts support your vehicle and prevent the worst of bumps from bad roads. The lifespan of these parts depends a lot on the condition of the roads you travel on and your braking habits. If your vehicle shakes when you drive it or continues to bounce after you drive over potholes, you may need to replace some or all of these parts.
- Replacing a headlight. Most people can perform this relatively simple process as there are few moving parts and making an error is not necessarily life-endangering. Many auto part stores will also provide parking lot assistance to customers replacing bulbs.
- Replacing fuses. Fuses are tiny glass tubes usually located under the driver’s side of your dashboard. If your dashboard or overhead lights fail, it could be a blown fuse that is simple to replace. Some auto parts stores are willing to send someone into the parking lot to assist a customer in locating and replacing fuses.
What You Need to Make Repairs
If you are handy with tools and unafraid to dabble under the hood, some basic maintenance procedures and repairs are probably within your ability. Things like changing windshield wipers, air filters, and refilling fluids are simple processes that most car owners can do. Most of us stop at these simple procedures because bigger jobs may affect the long-term health of your vehicle and may be better left to licensed professionals. However, if you’re determined to save money by doing your own work, follow these guidelines:
- Have the right gear (tools and protective wear). You can go a long way with a set of wrenches, but there are many specialized tools used in vehicle maintenance, including things like an oil filter puller. You should read ahead in your repair manual to make sure you have all of the necessary tools and replacement parts before taking things apart.
- Follow the car’s repair manual to learn all necessary steps for replacement and recalibration. If you do not have a repair manual, one can be found online. For this, unlike finding the license plate number that gives lots of information about a vehicle, the vehicle’s VIN can be helpful because repairs and parts for different models can be very specific.
- Do not work alone, be sure someone is nearby if you need help. In particular, if working underneath a vehicle, get jack stands in addition to a regular jack used for changing tires. Jack stands are for your protection, to prevent the car from falling on anyone.
- Discard spilled car fluids properly. Learn about your vehicle’s fluids and how to store them safely. Use containers designed to hold corrosive liquids and follow instructions on storing them in a well-ventilated area away from household living spaces. Talk to your town’s hazardous waste specialist about places to take used engine oil and other byproducts.
- Test drive when complete. Follow all instructions, such as replacing the oil drain plug before refilling the oil reservoir. A few sensor lights will likely show up on the dashboard (unless your repair manual showed how to turn them off). An auto parts store can check those lights and tell you if they indicate anything terrible.
Doing some of your maintenance and repairs is an excellent way to save money and find satisfaction. Just leave the complicated stuff like new transmissions, valve jobs, and wheel bearing replacements to experts who have the right tools. Remember, mechanics working at a garage have insurance to bail them out if they mess up a repair job, but you don’t.
About The Author: This article is provided by Patrick Peterson who is a content manager at GoodCar. Born and raised in the automotive world. He’s an enthusiastic expert who writes exquisite content pieces about everything regarding cars and bikes.