December 7

9 Steps for a Better Car Maintenance Checklist

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Last Updated on February 17, 2022

Do it yourself, or DIY, as many people like to say, is gaining in popularity. From home renovation to gardening to cooking, anyone with drive and an ability to learn can do a great many things on their own. Just how much may surprise you, and cars are no exception. In fact, within the realm of DIY, vehicles present a number of opportunities for do-it-yourselfers. Oil changes, small repairs, or routine cleaning, just to name a few. And the benefits are clear – become more independent, problem solve, keep your vehicle in working order, and save so much money. If you’re wondering how to get started, don’t fret. Here we cover the 9 steps for a better car maintenance checklist.

Chances are you’ve been doing a few things on your own already, cleaning off your windshield, refilling your gas, putting air in your tires. Taking ownership of your vehicle means doing all these things, but also a few more tasks too. Some things you may not have even considered before.

Following our tips and tricks will require plenty of time and commitment starting out. Like learning anything new, not everything comes naturally, especially if you don’t have a knack for cars. But that’s okay! 

After reading through, figure out what you can do on your own. Every person is different. Every vehicle is different.

The more experience you gain by doing small things, the more comfortable you will be performing bigger tasks later. In the end, expect to be spending less and less time in the repair shop and saving more and more money.

Car Maintenance Checklist - vehicle body

1. Identify Your Car Needs

What kind of vehicle do you drive? Is it a truck or a car? A work vehicle, something you use for commuting, or a leisurely ride?

Understanding your car needs is the first step toward a better car maintenance checklist. Every vehicle has universal similarities like needing an oil change or getting tires rotated. Only a few cars will differ from the norm. For example, electric cars require a recharge rather than refill. Or if your vehicle is a leisurely ride, oil changes will occur less frequently, along with tire rotations.

Figure out what makes your car similar to most, and different. This will give you a good idea of what maintenance you should expect. Referencing your vehicle’s instruction manual is also a good idea. These booklets let you know which type of gas will keep your vehicle running the longest or whether or not driving on the highway with your windows down is a good idea. Maintaining a car is much easier with the right knowledge.

After you have a firm grasp on your vehicle needs, move on to the next step.

2. Schedule those oil changes

One of the most common car maintenance tasks is changing oil. For most people, this means calling up a dealership or automotive shop and finding a capable mechanic. Too often, capable in these settings means overpriced. Plus, your schedule has to work with the mechanic’s. 

Do-it-yourselfers have a different option. They save money by buying the necessary supplies and changing the oil themselves. You can buy what you need from your local car parts shop. Oil changes typically require at least the following:

  • A plastic pan for draining out old oil.
  • A funnel for pouring in new oil.
  • A container of purchased oil.

Anything else may depend on your vehicle’s size and shape.

Like most, you probably heard or read in an instructions manual to change your engine oil every 3,000 to 4,000 miles. However, this advice has become quite outdated. Thanks to advances in automotive technology, most modern day cars require a standard oil change somewhere between 7,500 to 10,000 miles

Read over your vehicle’s manual to know the suggested mileage specific to your car. Then once the time comes, get that oil change done.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing this yourself:

  • Always wait for the engine to cool down before getting started.
  • You may need to use a jack, so make sure you’re comfortable with handling one. 
  • Fill the engine only with the amount of oil suggested – don’t overfill it. 
  • Turn on the engine for about 30 seconds to circulate the oil.
  • Circulation will help you spot any leaking.

After replacing the old oil, use a dipstick to check the new oil level. You want to ensure you added enough.  If everything looks good, you’re all set.

3. Refill all the other fluids too

Oil is a fluid everyone thinks about with car maintenance, but there are other liquids that keep our cars in good condition. Namely, the windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, and coolant are also fluids we need to keep in mind. These will not require nearly as much time or focus as oil. Still, from time to time, we need to check on their levels and refill or replace when necessary.

Don’t sweat about when to check these other fluids. Keep them on the same timeline as oil. Whenever you check your oil, or replace it, take a look at the other fluids. Replenish whatever is low, and replace the brake fluid if needed.

You’ll know when brake fluid should be replaced. The liquid becomes a dark brown or black color. The other fluids will simply become low and need to be refilled. 

Buy the needed supplies online or from a local repair store, along with a funnel and siphon if necessary, The latter is only required when you need to suck out a liquid and draining is not an option.

Car Maintenance Checklist - vehicle console

4. Remove dirt and stains

Are you annoyed by those coffee stains on the passenger seat? What about the dirt-clogged windshield? Before visiting your local car detailing service, why not try using some of the cleaning items inside your home? You’ll be surprised at what they can do.

When tidying car upholstery, people make the mistake of using more water than necessary. They believe more water will give them more of a desired outcome. This is actually counterproductive. Water increases the level of moisture inside the car which causes damage to the fabric. This also leads to rust on the metal frame and leaves your interior with a musty odor. Yuck!

Instead, try using dish detergent or baby wipes. These can effectively save your seat upholstery from being harassed by any stubborn stains. Likewise, a mixture of baking soda (¼ cup) and warm water (1 cup) can keep the toughest marks at bay.

Oh, and how about getting rid of those blotchy, foggy spots on your windshield? You know, the ones that don’t fade no matter how much you scrub with cleaner. Many professionals use a single-edge razor blade. 

You likely think that razor blades will only scratch the windshield. The truth is that modern windshields consist of two thin layers of glass and a rubber layer embedded in the middle, making them invulnerable to a razor. The trick is to maintain a wet work surface by using glass cleaner. Keep the angle small and the blade flat. Avoid broad strokes and the windshield corners. 

5. Change out the air filter

Air filters play a critical role in keeping dirt, dust, and other particles out of your car’s engine. For every 12,000 miles driven, or at least once every year, you need a new air filter. It might sound a bit daunting, but the task actually only takes a few minutes. 

An air filter change is often an “upsell” your mechanic might offer when you take your vehicle in for other maintenance. Generally, the additional cost is significantly higher than what it would be for you to buy and replace your own filter.

The air filter is a black rectangular box with metal clips located under the hood of your car. If you have trouble finding this, check the owner’s manual for more information.

Note how the old air filter fits inside the case to make sure that once you replace it with a new one, it looks exactly the same. Remember to close the metal clips on the side when you’re done.

Aside from replacing the air filter when the time comes, you may also want to clean it on a regular basis. The filter can get clogged up rather quickly. This prevents air from entering the engine, reduces your gas mileage, and ultimately, costs you more money. 

Car Maintenance Checklist - vehicle battery

6. Maintain a good battery

The secret to a long-lasting and smooth-running vehicle is an efficient battery. This means giving your battery regular check-ups. Don’t worry, it’s only a simple cleaning every few months to prevent future frustrations. Namely, battery problems.

The only way to change out a battery is by first removing the battery terminals. Again, if you’re stuck, follow the guidelines in the owner’s manual. Always remove the negative cable before the positive one. Clean the posts with a wire brush and a generous amount of cleaning solution. 

We recommend using a professional cleaning product from your local auto parts store. That’s best for removing any heavy corrosion from the connectors. If you’re not dealing with extensive corrosion, a mixture of baking soda and water will do the trick.

When you’re finished, rinse with water, dry the posts with cloths, and replace the battery terminals. Make sure that all cable connections are properly tightened. Otherwise, a weak electrical connection may disable your car from starting. 

Car Maintenance Checklist - vehicle tires

7. Check tire pressure

Most modern day vehicles are equipped with notification systems that tell you when to change oil, get gas, and check your tire pressure. When you see the memo about your tire pressure, don’t even think for a second about scheduling an appointment with a professional. 

Some people just tact it onto prior appointments. Others ignore the issue entirely.

Tire pressure shouldn’t be ignored, and is something you can handle on your own. Chain stores like WaWa have free air pumps that customers can use at their leisure. There may be a line ahead of you, but this service is easy, quick, and best of all, free.

8. Monitor car brakes

Brakes are a car part you don’t have to lay eyes on to monitor. You’ll know when brakes need to be changed by the sound they make. Initially, brake pads are a decent weight and comprised of thick metal. When you hit the brakes day to day, if you hear nothing, that’s a good sign. However, this eventually changes.

One day when your vehicle comes to a stop, you’ll hear a high-pitched squeal. Brakes that are wearing down will make a brief, but audible screeching noise. Those that are severely worn will make a sound that is louder and longer. Worn brakes are also very thin compared to their initial thickness.

Replacing car brakes does require a decent chunk of time – plan for at least an hour. However, doing this yourself or finding another do-it-yourselfer will save you on mechanic costs. Note, replacing the brakes is a good time to also replace the rotors. To begin this process, secure some work gloves for yourself. Get a jack for lifting up the car, and a socket wrench/lug wrench since the car tires will have to come off. Oh, and don’t forget to buy new brake pads and rotors. You can acquire these at a local auto parts store or online. Just be sure to get the right ones.

Before you start, we recommend finding an instructions manual specifically for your make and model vehicle. That way you have instructions tailored to your ride.

Ultimately, what every vehicle will have in common is removing the tires, and moving any part that is in the way of the brake pads. This could includes any nuts and bolts, the caliper, and anything else. Take off the old worn pieces to throw away, then replace them with the new brake pads and rotors. Put everything back as before, and reattach the tire.

Now, you’re good to drive, this time without the squealing.

Car Maintenance Checklist - vehicle wipers

9. Replace broken parts

The thought of replacing broken car parts sounds intimidating at the very least. But what seems intimidating could actually be easier than you think!

There are thousands of YouTube video tutorials that tell the average everyday person how to change out car parts. With the right tools, a listening ear, and plenty of patience, you can learn a great deal from these videos. You can find instructions for replacing broken mirrors, spark plugs, lights, doors, and other things like windshield wipers.

Windshield Wipers

One great example are windshield wipers. This particular car part is easy to attach and detach. Whether or not you use them often, at some point the wipers become defunct. They won’t clean as efficiently. When the time comes and you have to replace them, don’t make an appointment with anyone. Instead, head to the local car parts shop. Check out what wipers they have available for your car. Then decide whether or not you want to buy new wipers from them or online.

When you’re ready to replace, lift the wiper from its resting position on the windshield. Next, pinpoint where the wiper blade meets the wiper arm. Most windshield wipers are simply held by some sort of hook or clamp. Slide the old wiper blade off and attach the new one on. Then you’re all set!

If you go to a repair shop for this issue or another, you could face costs for the initial inspection, the labor, and the parts. Don’t forget, these shops sometimes do more or take longer than they need to so that they can charge an extra buck. Save your money and handle the minor repairs on your own.

You don’t know what you can do until you try.

Schedule professional maintenance

When at last you don’t succeed you can try, try, try again, or you can go ahead and call a professional. DIY requires time, effort, and resources. While the average layman can partake, sometimes you have to know when to get help.

Some scenarios require you fixing your car before a deadline. If a business trip is coming up and you need to drive out of town, but your sideview mirror is broken, that is problematic. If you can’t fix your headlights but you have to go to work that night, then travelling could be dangerous. 

You should determine for yourself how much time you want to spend tinkering with your vehicle. Once you’ve exceeded the time limit or you’re at a wit’s end, make the call. DIY is cheaper, but sometimes seeking a professional takes away a headache.

Truck body

Perfecting Your Car Maintenance Checklist

Improper maintenance on your vehicle not only costs you money, but can cause huge interruptions in your busy schedule. Not to mention, driving around in a poorly-kept vehicle is risky business.

The importance of DIY cannot be underestimated. There are so many reasons the concept is gaining traction in society. DIY offers you, the customer, more options, more control, and so many ways to save money.

Much has been said about the frugal aspect of making or repairing our own items. However, the hidden gems of DIY are more than monetary. It’s fun to learn something new. You become smarter.

When it comes to vehicles, you may think that DIY is overly complicated and should be left in the hands of mechanical experts. The truth is that there are certain tasks you can handle – quickly and easily – regardless of your previous DIY experience.

The trick is to know when and when not to do things yourself. Start with a small project if this is your first time. Seek help from someone who has some experience fixing or making things on their own. That way, you’ll be able to learn from them and ask questions.

Every car is different, some more complex than others, but once you familiarize yourself with your vehicle, you’ll learn what you can and can’t do.

DIY projects are much simpler than you may expect. Plus, you can have lots of fun during the process. Twenty minutes to half an hour is all it takes to care for your beloved car and keep you safe on the road. If you’re interested in finding a new ride to take care of, why don’t you start searching for vehicles.


Tags

car maintenance, tune-ups, vehicle maintenance


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