The Ultimate Guide to Car Maintenance (Included Infographic)

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Being a car owner means having a secure form of transportation at your fingertips, anytime you need to go somewhere. But it also means that you have to keep up with maintenance for your vehicle.

No matter how well you take care of your car, things will break down from time to time. But doing routine maintenance can prevent serious issues, including being stranded without a ride. Proper maintenance will also help with the resale value if you decide to trade your vehicle or sell it to a private owner.

We’re going to discuss everything you need to know about car maintenance, including what services to perform on your car and when. Plus, what parts of your vehicle you should prepare to replace during your ownership. Let’s roll.

Why Do You Need to Do Car Maintenance?

Car maintenance is a crucial part of keeping your car performing in optimal working condition. Manufacturers have recommendations for when you should bring your vehicle in for service. Some companies have different requirements, depending on the make and model of your vehicle.

Regardless of the timing, some types of maintenance should happen on a strict schedule, such as changing your oil or tires. Your vehicle is designed to run for years, but only if you take care of it.

Skipping scheduled maintenance can lead to engine problems or failure of parts, which can be costly to repair. It is cheaper on your pocketbook to perform regular upkeep rather than having to pay for repairs.

Let’s look at some of the standard maintenance you should perform on your vehicle based on mileage of 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000.

Regular Maintenance

There are parts of your car that will wear down over time and with use, such as your oil, battery, windshield wipers, tires, and parts made of rubber. These consumables can go out at any time, so it’s essential to do regular checks of all car parts.

If you notice anything that’s starting to wear down, it’s often better to replace it than wait until it wears out completely. Waiting for it to break down could lead you to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.

In addition to inspecting all your consumable car parts, you should also be sure to change your oil every three months or at a specific mileage. If your car takes non-synthetic oil, such as in older vehicles, you should change your oil every 3,000 miles.

However, in newer cars, your engine will require synthetic oil. The great thing about synthetic is that it doesn’t need to be changed as often. This type of oil can last anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 miles.

Car-Maintenance-Checklist
The Ultimate Guide to Car Maintenance

Maintenance before 30,000 Miles

Many think that having a new car means they won’t need to do any maintenance or repairs. However, there are quite a few parts you should consider changing before your engine reaches 30,000 miles.

Air Filter

Your car has an air filter that helps keep your engine clean of debris. When your filter gets clogged with dirt or debris, your engine can have a harder time breathing.

An engine that can’t breathe will suffer poor performance, such as sputtering, trouble accelerating, or loss of power.

To keep your engine at peak performance, you should change your air filter between 15,000 and 30,000 miles. However, if you live in a dusty area, you may need to change it more frequently. Letting your air filter get too clogged up can cause damage to your engine.

Fuel Filter

Maintain Fuel Filter
Maintain Fuel Filter

A clogged fuel filter can cause your engine to run poorly. Like the air filter, a stopped up fuel filter can cause your engine to sputter and stall. The engine may stop running altogether. Letting your fuel filter remain clogged can lead to damage to the engine.

The fuel filter is another part that needs replacing after frequent use. Manufacturers have different requirements for when you should change the fuel filter, so check with the owner’s manual regarding your vehicle.

Generally, a fuel filter should be changed every 30,000 miles. Your mechanic can run a pressure test to determine your fuel filter’s health and if it needs replacing.

Before 60,000 Miles

By the time your vehicle reaches 60,000 miles, there will be a few different parts you’ve probably had to replace. We’ve explained about consumables and how they will fail over time and use.

Let’s look at some of the consumables that will frequently need replacing before your car hits the 60,000-mile mark. Each of these parts should be part of your scheduled maintenance plan.

Battery

A dead battery is one of the most common car problems you can expect to experience. That dreaded click when you try to crank your engine is a guaranteed sign of a drained battery. Using a battery that continually dies can cause damage to your alternator or starter, both of which can be expensive to replace.

Batteries wear out from age, extreme weather conditions (hot summers, freezing winters), and setting up for long periods without use. Most batteries have warranties and are pro-rated to last a certain amount of time, not mileage.

Most batteries last four to five years and roughly 50,000 to 60,000 miles. So you should be prepared to replace your battery around this time. In most places, if you bring your old battery back when you purchase your new one, you get some of your money.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid reservoir
Brake fluid reservoir

Without brake fluid, your brakes have a harder time working. Over time, your brakes become squishy when you press down on the pedal. This problem happens due to the brake fluid mixing with water, which turns into a gas and evaporates. Then you’re stuck with metal on metal with no lubrication.

Manufacturers have different requirements on how often brake fluid should be changed, but it’s typically between 20,000 and 45,000 miles.

Replacing the brake fluid requires you or your mechanic to bleed the brake line and drain the old fluid. Then refill with fresh, new brake fluid, being sure to use the type recommended in the owner’s manual.

Brake Pads/Shoes

Brake pads are a consumable that isn’t designed to last forever. They will wear down over time and with use. Usually, brake pads should be replaced every 50,000 miles.

However, you should always do routine checks of your brake pads between changes to detect signs of wearing down.

Bad brake pads will make a grinding or screeching sound when it’s time for a replacement. Other signs include your car pulling to one side when you press the brakes, a burning smell, or a squishy feeling.

Rotors

Your rotors are round metal discs that your brake pads clamp to bring your car to a stop. Over time, the rotors can warp, causing your pads to have trouble gripping. You might feel vibrations when you press the brakes, a grinding noise, and grooves or gashes in the metal.

You’ll usually end up having to replace your rotors around 60,000 miles. However, rotors can be expensive, so many car owners prefer to have their rotors resurfaced instead of replaced.

Resurfaced means that the rotor is ground down to remove any abnormalities. It’s a cheaper option, but it can only be done to your rotor once.

Coolant

Your engine needs a mixture of water and antifreeze to keep your car from overheating. When your radiator gets low on coolant, your engine can run hot. Signs of low coolant include steam pouring from under the hood, a high read on the temperature gauge, and engine noises.

When your car runs hot, it will typically stop running, which is necessary to protect your engine from further damage. Letting your engine run too hot too often can cause extensive problems, including cracked or warped heads, holes in the radiator, and complete engine seizure.

Coolant needs to be changed every 60,000 miles, but you will also need to do routine checks to ensure your coolant doesn’t get low. It’s recommended to check your coolant levels every two to three weeks.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission Fluid Change Vs Flush
Transmission Fluid Change Vs Flush

Transmission fluid is what lubricates your transmission and aids in shifting. When your fluid gets low, your engine will have trouble shifting into different gears, which causes a lack of speed, driving in the wrong gear, and poor gas mileage.

Leaving your engine low on transmission fluid can end up causing your transmission to stop working. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to see the bill for transmission work, especially if you have to have one rebuilt or replaced with a new one.

How often you should change your transmission fluid will depend on whether you’re driving a manual or an automatic. With manual transmissions, you can get between 30,000 to 60,000 miles, whereas, with automatics, you can go anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 miles.

Transmission fluid should be checked every few weeks, at the same time that you’re inspecting your oil, coolant, windshield wiper fluid, and brake fluid. Most vehicles have a dipstick for easy checking. You may also get a warning indicator if your fluid is low.

90,000 Mile Maintenance

Around 90,000 miles, your car has seen some action and already experienced some general wear and tear. If you’re doing the proper maintenance, your vehicle should be holding up pretty well, with very few minor issues.

But by this time, there are going to be some parts that will wear out naturally. Most of these problems are easy and cheap fixes that won’t cause severe damage to your vehicle if treated on time.

Hoses

The hoses in your vehicle are rubber, which transfers chemicals like your coolant and power steering fluid.

Over time, the rubber will start to crack and tear. When your hose breaks, you could end up dealing with significant problems. Usually, you’ll get a notification light when there’s an issue. Replacement often needs to be done around 90,000 miles.

You should do routine checks of all your hoses when you inspect your fluids every few weeks. Replacing the hoses as soon as you notice signs of damage will save you a lot of headaches rather than waiting until it completely breaks.

Power Steering Fluid

Your vehicle turns quickly due to the power steering. Almost all newer cars will have power steering, but some older vehicles might not.

When you have a problem with your power steering fluid, you’ll hear a squeaking noise, and the vehicle will be hard to turn. You can prevent your power steering from going out by doing regular checks of the fluid levels.

Power steering fluid typically needs to be changed around 75,000 miles. Your system needs to be flushed of the old fluid and replaced with new. You may need to do this sooner if you’re experiencing problems.

Spark plugs/Ignition system

When you have a problem with your spark plugs or ignition system, your vehicle may not crank. You may also experience poor gas mileage, a sputtering engine, backfiring, or engine loading up and emitting a bad smell.

If your vehicle has iridium or titanium spark plugs, you should get up to 100,000 miles before they need replacing. But if your spark plugs are copper, which are cheaper, they won’t last as long. These typically need replacing every 30,000 miles.

You can hook your car up to a computer to check the codes to determine if there’s an issue with your spark plugs. It will also help you figure out which plugs are bad and need replacing.

Timing belt/Chain

Replacing timing belt at camshaft of modern engine
Replacing timing belt at camshaft of a modern engine

Some vehicles have a timing belt, while others use a timing chain. When you have problems with your timing unit, your engine might experience misfiring. You will also have poor engine performance, including low gas mileage and engine vibration during idle.

Timing chains should be inspected regularly for stretched links and replaced when there’s a problem. Chains will usually last into triple digits, although you may have to replace it around the 90,000-mile mark.

Belts, on the other hand, usually don’t last as long as chains. Belts typically need to be replaced between 75,000 and 90,000 miles.

In Closing

Keeping your vehicle maintained will extend the life of your engine. And if you keep up to date, organized records, it can help with the resale value. City miles are harder on a vehicle than highway miles, so you may experience problems sooner than we’ve listed.

You should do frequent checks of all the major components of your vehicle at least twice a month. Things to inspect are the oil, power steering, brakes and transmission fluid, and the coolant. And now you know everything there is to know about car maintenance.

Infographic Full Car Maintenance Checklist

Here is an infographic about car maintenance checklist for the car owner

Car Maintenance Checklist Infographic
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Mike Cross
Mike Cross
You have to look for teachers. If you want to be a mechanic, go hang out with mechanics.

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