Vehicles are machines, and like any machine they need maintenance. For most vehicles, regular maintenance begins at 5,000 miles and continues from there every 5,000-10,000 miles. Of course, checking your car on a more regular basis is even better.
Maintenance keeps your vehicle running smoothly and safely down the road for a much longer distance compared to never doing upkeep. Your owner’s manual will outline all of the maintenance that needs to be done and when it needs to be done so that you’re prepared.
But do you need to pay for a mechanic to handle the vehicle maintenance? You can handle a lot of basic vehicle maintenance yourself by following the advice below.
9 Vehicle Maintenance Measures You Can DIY
You need a mechanic for most repairs, but there’s a lot of vehicle maintenance you can do on your own. Here’s a rundown that will get you started.
1. Acquaint Yourself With Your Owner’s Manual
Every vehicle has an owner’s manual. It’s a thick book typically squirreled away in the glove box. If you can’t find your copy, an electronic version could be online. Otherwise, contact your dealer for a copy.
With manual in hand, head to the maintenance schedule section. Take note of the intervals for maintenance items like the engine oil, oil filter, tire rotation, belts, hoses and so on. It’s important to follow these manufacturer recommendations to keep the engine running as smoothly as possible.
2. Check Your Tires Monthly
A lot is riding on your tires - like the entire vehicle. The thing that keeps your car driving down the road is the tires. They need to be properly inflated to do their job as well as lessen the chance of a blowout.
You probably know how to add air to your tires already. What you may not know is the correct tire pressure, which is extremely important. You’ll find the ideal tire pressure on a placard located on the driver’s door jamb or in the owner’s manual.
Tires should be inflated when they are cold (driven less than one mile) to get an accurate reading. If that isn’t possible, add 4 PSI to the recommended amount, explains Bridgestone Tire. Check your spare tire while you’re at it and confirm all pressures with a tire gauge once the tires have rested.
3. Change Your Oil and Oil Filter on Schedule
Oil is your engine’s life blood. It serves as a lubricant, keeping important engine parts from grinding against each other and destroying the engine. Motor oil that’s not changed regularly can damage your engine as accumulated contaminants cause friction when they rub against parts.
What type of oil should you use — petroleum-based or synthetic? Is one better than the other? According to Edmunds.com Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh, the type of oil is not important. He noted, “As long as the oil meets the service and viscosity requirements set out in your owner's manual, you can switch back and forth as much as you want.”
4. Replace the Air Filter With Oil Changes
When it comes to the air filter, you may need to replace it once or twice each year. It largely depends on how much you drive. It’s best practice to check the air filter when you change your oil.
5. Inspect All Other Fluids
Motor oil isn’t the only fluid that needs to be checked. Experts recommend checking your car brake fluid, transmission fluids, coolant and windshield washer fluid.
Like motor oil, you’ll check transmission fluid with a dipstick. Determine brake fluid, coolant and washer fluid levels by removing related covers and visually inspecting each. They should reach a designated fill line.
NEVER remove the radiator cap to check coolant levels. You risk getting scalded if the cap is removed. Instead, check the coolant level in the nearby transparent refill container, says CarTalk.
6. Examine Belts and Hoses
If you want to go one step beyond basic routine vehicle maintenance, then inspect the hoses and belts in the engine bay. These hoses direct coolant flow to ensure the engine doesn’t overheat. If a hose has separated, shows cracks or bulges, then have it replaced.
Similarly, check the belts too. The timing belt, as found in most cars and small SUVs, is critical to the operation of your engine, notes YourMechanic. If this belt shows signs of wear, including cracking, glazing and material loss (chunks missing from the belt itself), then replace it ASAP. If the timing belt goes while driving it can cause serious engine damage.
7. Always Listen and Feel for Brake Issues
Brakes are a critical component on every vehicle. You should always be aware of how your brakes feel and what they sound like every time you drive. If the brakes feel spongy or it takes more pressure to apply the brakes than normal they need to get inspected by a professional.
Brake sounds can indicate when maintenance or repair is needed. Here’s a quick rundown of common brake sounds:
Squealing - It’s time for new brake pads when you hear squealing because the ones you have now are worn out and rubbing against the rotor.
Grinding - This isn’t a normal sound, but it may not be a major issue if brake grinding is happening only the first time you drive the vehicle in a day. When the humidity levels are high outside, rust can form on the brake rotors in a matter of a day if the vehicle isn’t driven. The grinding sound is the rust getting knocked off. The simple fix is to park the vehicle in a garage when it’s snowing, raining or humid.
Rattling - A rattling or vibration sound suggests one of the rotors is warped or worn out and needs to be replaced.
Intermittent Sounds - If brake sounds come and go it could be an indicator of brake fade from overheating. When the brake pads, rotors or brake fluid overheat you may hear brake sounds and the brakes won’t feel as responsive. This problem should be looked at by a professional who can pinpoint the cause and fix it.
8. Replace Wiper Blades as Needed
If the windows streak or the blades screech when the system is operating it’s time for a replacement set. This is actually a very important vehicle maintenance measure. If you find yourself in a rainstorm the windshield wipers are what give you visibility. You never know when you may need them so check the wiper blades often.
9. Remove Battery Corrosion
As for the car battery, the main requirement here is to ensure that the battery terminals remain free from corrosion. Just like the brakes, environmental factors can cause buildup that hinders operation. A wire brush along with a solution of water and baking soda will knock the corrosion right off.
Now that you know vehicle maintenance 101 you’re on your way to ensuring your car keeps safely cruising down the road for miles.
Learn more about vehicle maintenance from IDriveSafely.com:
My tire blew out -- now what?
Prepare now for winter driving
Car maintenance tips -- guess which ones are costing you money?
*This article was updated on 12/9/2020.