7 basic maintenance tips to keep your car in top shape

7 basic maintenance tips to keep your car in top shape

Just as exercise, rest, eating well and annual check-ups are key to staying healthy, preventative maintenance on your car will keep it on the road and out of the garage – which in turn will save you money. Here are 7 tips to keep your car in top shape.

Anyone who’s ever spent a ton of money fixing their car unnecessarily regrets not having taken better care of it. Because regular, preventative maintenance is key to catching small problems before they become bigger, costlier issues. So how can you slash the odds of getting walloped with a crazy repair bill? Here are 7 tips that could help.

1. Read (and heed) the owner’s manual

Although a garage may tell you one thing, a simple way to save money on car repairs and extend the life of your vehicle is by following what the manufacturer says in the owner’s manual. After all, who knows your car better than the people who made it? It’s one of the basics of DIY auto maintenance: believe the folks who built your vehicle.

2. Give your car a visual inspection

Even if you know little about cars, anything out of the ordinary should catch your eye.

Tires

Underinflated tires burn extra fuel and wear out faster. Overinflated tires can damage your car’s suspension and reduce traction.

  • That’s why maintaining proper tire pressure by examining them monthly helps to prevent premature tire wear and reduces the odds of an accident.
  • To maximize the lifespan of your car’s tires have them rotated regularly. It will help to make your tires last longer. Are winter tires required by law in your province? If yes, it’s the perfect time to get them rotated by your mechanic. No reminder needed!

Lights

A slick, dark highway in the middle of nowhere is the last place to discover a burnt-out headlight!

  • From the turn signal indicators to the backup lights, enlist a friend’s help for five minutes each month to check your car’s lights. Replace any bulbs that don’t work.
  • Got a cracked or broken taillight? DIY taillight replacement is easier than you think: with some basic tools, a CAPA-certified (or “aftermarket”) piece, and a smidgen of patience you’ll be done in no time.
  • Could cloudy and yellowed headlight lenses be dimming your drive? Restoration kits available at many auto parts stores might be the remedy.

Wipers

In a downpour or snowstorm, how can you stay on the road if you can’t see it? Generally, you should change your wiper blades every six months: in summer and winter.

  • If you’re unsure how to find the best wiper blades for your car, see Point #1 above!
  • Cleaning your windshield regularly can also help extend the life of your wiper blades. Likewise, replacing worn out wipers can prevent scratches on your windshield. Why not do both?

3. Listen to what your car is saying

Just like a cough is a sign you may be getting sick, new noises coming from your car may signal something is amiss.

Muffler

When your muffler is about to go, you know: those tell-tale “growling” or rattling sounds as the vehicle idles tend to get louder while you drive.

  • Anything suspicious merits a trip to the mechanic, especially because potentially toxic fumes could leak back into the car.
  • To keep you safe, have your mechanic check the main components on your car’s exhaust system every six months or 10,000 kilometres. That includes the oxygen sensors, exhaust manifolds, hangers and clamps, mufflers, and tailpipes.

Shocks

Loose bolts on your shocks may also make a rattling noise. So when should you replace your shock absorbers?

  • The rule of thumb is about every 80,000 kilometers – or if your car looks lop-sided, or bounces as you push down on the bumper or while you are driving.

Brakes

When it comes to maintenance, brakes should be at the top of your list. Definite signs your car’s brakes need replacement include:

  • A screeching, grinding or squealing noise when you apply the brake pedal.
  • If your vehicle pulls to one side when slowing down or the brake pedal feels mushy when depressed.
  • Dripping brake fluid– a huge red flag!

To keep your car safely rolling (and stopping), know the warning signs your brakes are failing and follow your vehicle’s manufacturer recommendations for when to replace them.

4. Regularly peek under the hood

Everything that keeps your car rolling happens mostly under the hood, so keep an eye on things.

Fluids

From the transmission to the power steering to the brakes (and more), your car depends on fluids to run properly. Most fluids have reservoirs, gauges or dipsticks so it’s easy to see if they’re at their optimal levels.

  • Check the oil at every other fill-up of gas. Because oil serves to lubricate, cool and clean the engine, this will help extend the life of your car’s engine.
  • While you’re at it, check and top up the power-steering fluid if it’s low. Otherwise you may damage the power-steering pump.
  • The same goes for the engine coolant – without a working radiator your car is as good as toast. Flush the cooling system about every 90,000 kilometers and have it pressure-tested by a mechanic to prevent radiator leaks.
  • Look for signs of fluid dripping in the area of the engine compartment: a bright red fluid under the car suggests transmission problems – which you should never ignore.

Belts

Most cars today use a single broad belt to power the accessories.

  • With the engine off check for cracks, wear and fraying on the belt edges. Your owner’s manual tells when the belt should be changed.
  • To fix a squealing engine belt, a sliver of ordinary soap will lubricate it. However, it may also mean the belt tension is too loose, which causes it to slip on the pulleys – in which case you may need to visit your mechanic.

Hoses

To keep your car running at its peak performance, check the hoses under your hood every month or two.

  • First make sure the engine isn’t hot! Then, give the hoses a gentle squeeze. If they’re crunchy, or sticky and soft, or have a bulge, it might be time to replace them.

Battery

Although most new batteries are “maintenance-free” they still should be checked.

  • An easy fix for corroded battery contacts that prevents your car from firing up is to use a wire brush. Scrub both battery posts and inside the connector clamps until you see clean metal. Do it as needed, especially when there’s excess mineral build up.
  • If your battery has vent caps, remove them to check electrolyte fluids. Use distilled water to top them up to the manufacturer’s recommended levels if necessary. It will help to extend the life of your car battery.

5. Remember to replace the filters

It’s important to keep your engine clean, both outside and on the inside.

Why?

  • Spotting leaks and servicing is easier on a clean engine block.
  • Dust and grime can clog up hoses, valves and sensors in an engine and prevent it from functioning properly.

Among the things your car maintenance schedule should include is replacing the filters according to the owner’s manual, among them the:

  • Oil filter
  • Engine air filter
  • Fuel filters
  • Transmission fluid filter

6. Get your vehicle serviced by a pro

Although many of these jobs are easy to do yourself, part of keeping your car in good condition is taking it in for scheduled tunes-ups. Think of tune-ups this way: although you brush your teeth every day, you still visit the dentist twice a year for regular checkups.

Some of the jobs that a professional mechanic can do includes:

  • Changing the spark plugs about every 48,000 or 64,000 kilometres to ensure good fuel mileage.
  • Flushing the power steering system, recommended at least every 50,000 km.
  • Checking your car’s wheel alignment, typically after every 48,000 kilometres.

7. Find a mechanic before you need one

Another simple way to save money in the long run is to find a trusted mechanic before you need one.

  • In an emergency, you may not have time to investigate who will be working on your car – to the detriment of your bank account!

Ultimately, the basics of preventative maintenance will pay off in the long run by helping to catch minor mechanical problems before they become major ones. All it takes is a few minutes each month, some know-how, and a good relationship with a mechanic that you trust.


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