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What Car Maintenance Schedule Should I Follow?

By Autolist Staff | December 12, 2018

Everyone knows that there are general things you should do to keep your car running smoothly, but what are they exactly? Here's a quick look:

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After research and inspection, here are the required actions that every car requires:

Oil:
While your mechanic may say you should stick to the 3,000-mile interval that has long been touted as the industry standard, modern cars can often go between 5,000 and 10,000 miles thanks to improved engine and oil technology.

Air Filter:
Air filters should be changed every 15,000 to 30,000 with possible exceptions if you live in a demanding climate.

Fuel Filter:
Fuel filters should be replaced around the 30,000-mile mark, though this may vary slightly based on your car's age and mileage.

Brake Fluid:
Replace brake fluid every 20,000 to 45,000 miles.

Transmission Fluid:
Automatic transmissions should have its fluids changed every 30,000 to 100,000 miles, and manual transmission fluid should be changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles.

Antifreeze:
Coolant should be changed at the 60,000-mile mark, depending on the climate where you live and how you use the vehicle.

Power Steering Fluid:
This fluid should be changed at the 75,000-mile mark if no prior issues appear.

Spark Plugs:
Depending on the type of plugs installed, replace them every 30,000 to 90,000 miles. This is a common part of a standard tune-up for a vehicle.

Brake Pads:
Most brake pads need to be replaced every 50,000 miles. However, this will vary based on your vehicle's size and weight, your driving style and how you use the vehicle (particularly if you use it to tow).

Rotors:
Resurfacing a rotor once is acceptable if it is in good condition and cost is a factor, but rotors should be replaced at the 60,000-mile mark.

Battery:
Typical use of a car requires a battery replacement every four to five years or about every 50,000 miles.

Timing Belt:
Belts should be changed at the 75,000 to 90,000-mile mark. This is a crucial step in vehicle maintenance; a belt failure can do expensive or even permanent damage to an engine.

Preventative maintenance is the key to avoiding the other side of car ownership -- major car repair. Follow these steps to keep both your car and finances and in good condition.

Learn Your Car

The first step in choosing the best preventative methods is to understand the unique needs of your car. Thankfully, every car comes with an owner's manual to specify what it requires.

The manual gives you clear information on the following:

  • What type of oil your car needs (what weight and whether synthetic is ok)
  • How much oil to use
  • Recommended oil change frequency
  • Preferred fuel type to use
  • The optimum amount of coolant
  • What "DOT" rating your brake fluid should be
  • What to do in case of specific emergencies related to your car

If your car didn't come with a manual in the glove compartment, there might be a copy on your manufacturer's website or other sites such as Edmunds. You can also order a replacement from your local dealer that sells that brand of car.

The Car Maintenance Schedule

Once you're more informed about your vehicle, it's time to do the work.

Here is a detailed to-do list that you can complete on your own or with a little assistance from a knowledgeable source:

Inspection- The little things go a long way -- it is important to take the time to look over your car regularly. Get an air pressure gauge and check your tires' air pressure (your manual will tell you the optimum pressure amount or use the guidelines on the side of the tire).

Also, check the tires' tread. This can be done with an easy test: take a penny and put it in the tread groove with Lincoln's head upside-down. If you can see all of his head, it's likely that you need to replace the tire. If the tread groove is still deep enough relative to the edge of the tire, it should cover up part of Lincoln's head.

It's also important to check to be sure the vehicle's lights -- including the brake lights -- are working properly. Take a drive around the neighborhood and press your brakes both lightly and firmly and listen and feel for any subtle changes, and drive both straightaways and with turns to check your alignment.

Next, it's time to raise the hood and check the fluids.

  1. Oil- Pull out the dipstick to see if the oil levels are too high or too low. Your owners manual will have detailed instructions on where to find the dipstick and how to read it; it's a simple and quick process and all you'll need is a rag to wipe off the excess oil. The manual will also tell you if you should do this when the engine is cold (most common) or after it's been running for a bit. Make sure you do this while parked on level ground.
  2. Power Steering Fluid- Your manual will tell you if the car should be running to keep the engine warm while you do this. Locate the reservoir cap and remove the cap. Some caps have a dipstick connected to determine fluid levels, and other tanks are clear with measuring lines to easily determine levels without opening it.
  3. Coolant/Antifreeze- Sometimes you can determine these levels without removing the radiator cap; look on the outside to see if the liquid reaches the "full" line on the tank. Otherwise, make sure the vehicle is cool (if the engine is hot, the radiator cap can burn you as can the steam or coolant itself).
  4. Transmission fluid- Put the car in park with the emergency brake on, locate the automatic transmission cap and pull it out, wipe the dipstick, reinsert and check the levels. Manual transmissions often require jacking up the car and locating the filler plug to check the fluids.

While the hood is up, check these important components next:

  1. Air filter- Hold the filter to the light and determine if you can see through it. Tap it lightly to remove any loose debris.
  2. Battery- Check the battery connections to make sure they're secure, make sure that it is not leaking and clean up any buildup with a cleaning brush (never with your hands).
  3. Spark plugs- This can be a more labor-intensive project, depending on how easy the plugs are to access on your vehicle. If you do pull them, look for buildup and signs of wear at least every 30,000 miles.

Car Maintenance Schedule Keeping Assistance

Considering this extensive maintenance list can be overwhelming, but there are helpful ways to keep track of these important elements. You can very well opt to keep all receipts in your glove compartment, or you choose more organized options such as:

  • Keep a chart/checklist/maintenance log in your garage
  • Take a picture of all receipts and place them in a folder on your computer
  • Dedicate a notebook to car maintenance
  • Use an app such as Car, Road Trip, or AutoCare to track car mileage, maintenance history, and more.

DIY or Professional Maintenance?

Choosing to perform these tasks on your own or with professional help depends largely on your skill set. Even removing a dipstick to check fluids without the knowledge of how a cap should be replaced securely could result in damage to your car's components and you could hurt yourself in the process. If you are not sure of the components in your vehicle, it will help to have a knowledgeable person on hand to guide you.

Changing the oil, air filter, and other components can possibly be done on your own, but a professional checkup is also recommended at intervals. Keep a watchful eye on how your car responds after performing maintenance tasks, and do not hesitate to take it to a mechanic if it shows no improvement or begins to run with difficulty.

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