After a long winter, no doubt you're ready to celebrate the sunshine. However, before you head out on a summer road trip, it's important to make sure that your car is as ready as you are.
If you've been neglecting some car maintenance items, now's the time to check them out. Has it been awhile since your last oil change? Can't remember the last time that your windshield wipers worked without leaving streaks? Even if your car isn't making strange noises or acting up in some obvious way, it may be time to give your car some TLC.
Taking care of these regular maintenance items may help your car operate smoothly and efficiently and prevent you from having to seek more costly maintenance down the road.
We came up with a list of car maintenance tasks, and how often experts recommend that you perform them. Still, keep in mind that some of these tasks may be performed less frequently, depending on:
- Type of car you drive
- Age of car you drive
- Where you drive
- Your driving habits
Check the owner's manual for your vehicle to see what the manufacturer recommends.
Note: Before you start evaluating your car, be sure that you're observing safe practices. Only evaluate your car if:
- Your car is off and
- The engine has had time to cool down completely since the last time it was in use.
If you're unsure whether your car needs maintenance, or if you believe your car does need certain items replaced, consider seeking assistance from a qualified professional. A qualified professional can tell you whether your system is operating safely and help you make any necessary replacements.
Oil and Oil Filter
When to change them: every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, depending on:
- Vehicle model - some models need oil sooner than others
- Vehicle age - older cars may require oil changes before you hit 5,000 miles
- Type of oil you're using - synthetic or conventional
- Driving environment - driving through sandy or dusty places can make it necessary to change your oil more frequently
If your car features a system that alerts you when you need to bring in your car for maintenance, pay attention to it. It's likely that oil changes are part of the routine maintenance schedule.
Why to change them: The oil and oil filter in your vehicle perform various important functions to keep your engine performing correctly, including keeping your engine lubricated and free from buildups of dirt and debris.
Other Fluid Levels
When to change them: whenever the levels of these fluids are below the safe amount.
Why to change them: The fluids in your car are all there for a reason - helping your car run the way it should. Make sure that all the fluids are at a safe level and that none of them are leaking.
The fluids to check include:
- Transmission fluid
- Coolant (which is key for the operation of your A/C)
- Brake fluid
- Power steering fluid
When to change them: Take your hoses to be changed if they:
- Are overly hard
- Are overly soft
- Make a strange noise when touched
Why to change them: Your car's hoses carry the liquids that help keep your car running safely. If the hoses are old, they may be liable to leak, which can be dangerous and/or expensive to repair.
When to change them: Take your belts to be changed if they are:
- Overly shiny and slick
Why to change them: Your car's belts power critical systems in your car, including the alternator and power steering pump. If they are not working correctly, it can be dangerous to keep driving with it and/or expensive to repair.
When to change it: usually every 2.5 - 4 years, though your car professional should be able to give you a more precise estimate. Battery life depends on:
- Where you live: temperature has an effect on your car battery's life expectancy. Battery life can be especially short in very hot climates.
- Driving habits - if you drive many short trips, your battery life may be lessened.
Why to change it: Your battery is the source of electricity in your car. It's responsible for starting your car, so if your battery stops working, you won't be able to drive.
Even if your car battery doesn't need to be replaced, it's a good idea to check for corrosion on the top of your battery and around the battery terminals. Corrosion can be cleaned off fairly easily. Doing so can help maintain a secure connection between the car and the battery, which will help prevent your car from stopping without warning.
When to change it: many people suggest replacing your air filter every 12,000 - 15,000 miles, though estimates vary greatly. If you drive in a particularly dusty or sandy environment, you may need to replace it more frequently. If not, you may be able to wait longer.
If your air filter is damaged or looks very dirty, it's time to replace it.
Why to change it: Your air filter prevents things from entering your engine, especially dirt and debris. It helps your engine run smoothly.
When to change them: usually every 6 - 12 months, or whenever the wipers cease to effectively clean the windshield. When the wipers leave streaks or take a long time to clear the windshield, it's probably time for a new set.
Why to change them: your windshield wipers help make sure that you have full visibility when driving in potentially hazardous conditions, such as rain or snow.
When to change them: Replace your brakes if your qualified car care professional tells you to do so.
Get your brakes checked out once a year, or if you notice any strange behavior that the brakes may be exhibiting. Strange behavior may include strange noises occurring when you brake, difficulty pushing down the brake pedal, or lack of difficulty pushing down the pedal.
Why to change them: Keeping your brakes working correctly is vital for safe driving. If your brakes are acting up, don't delay. Get your car looked at ASAP.
When to change them: in general, you should replace your tires every 6 - 10 years, or when the tread is worn down.
To test whether your tire tread is sufficient, you can conduct what is commonly known as "The Penny Test." To do this, take a penny and stick it into the tread of your tire as far as you can, with Lincoln's head going in first. If the top of Lincoln's head cannot be seen, your tread is generally sufficient. If you can still see the top of Lincoln's head, your tire probably needs to be replaced.
Why to change them: Change your tires in order to prevent your car from getting caught in potentially dangerous situations, such as hydroplaning or getting a flat tire.