20 basic car maintenance tips – chloeculture
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20 basic car maintenance tips

Common Maintenance Every Vehicle Needs

As we have promised in the beginning of this article, we’re going to be presenting to you a very comprehensive guide on how to properly maintain your car. We’ve collected about 20 basic car maintenance tips for you to observe and hopefully adhere to. While these tips are intended to make your life a lot easier as a vehicle owner, we really cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading the owner’s manual.
To start off with our list, we’ll take a look at two of the most basic prerequisites to vehicle maintenance.

1. Inspect your vehicle on a regular basis 

Performing the activities in your car maintenance checklist is quite easy. As we have already mentioned, the owner’s manual contains everything, including how you can perform a variety of basic car maintenance. More importantly, you will also know when you should perform these inspections.
As much as possible, you have to perform the inspection yourself. This is just the simple process of assessing the different parts and components of your vehicle so that you will know what you need to do next. If the required action can be accomplished by you, then you’re performing basic car maintenance. If it requires some advanced tools or even extra pair of hands, then maybe bringing it to a professional will help.
Performing an inspection is quite easy especially if you know what things you need to look for. Again, your owner’s manual can give you an idea of what to look for. This way, if something looks amiss, then you can take note of this and have a professional either confirm it or dismiss it as normal. Either way, the mere fact that you’ll be poking your nose around your car will greatly increase your knowledge of the different parts that make it such a wonderful machine.

2. Learn the meaning of different warning light indicators 

Modern cars have sophisticated sensors and warning systems that notify you that something is amiss. Even with meticulous inspections and maintenance, it is inadvertent that you’ll be able to cover all of them. That is why, as part of basic car maintenance, you need to learn the meaning of the different warning light indicators that flash on your instrument panel. Here are some of them.

  • Check engine light – This typically indicates a problem in the various components of your car’s motor that has sensors connected to and actively monitored by an OBD-II interface. There are more than 4,000 OBD-II codes that have their respective meanings. If this indicator light comes on, you might want to use an OBD2 scanner tool or have a technician do it for you.

  • Service engine light – This is an indicator light that will usually tell you you’re nearing a scheduled maintenance. It may come in various prints like “service”, “maint reqd”, or “service engine”.  You can check your manual for the exact meaning of this indicator light.

  • Electrical fault light – If this stays lit even after the car’s self-test, it simply means that your car’s electrical charging system has some issues that need to be assessed further. More often than not, an issue in the alternator will be at fault.

  • Brake warning light – There are many reasons why this will suddenly flash on your instrument panel. It could be that your parking brakes are engaged or that your brake fluid levels need topping up. It can mean other things so your best bet is to check with your manual.

  • ABS warning light – If this flashes, you’d better bring it to the nearest automotive shop for proper diagnosis. Anti-lock braking systems keep your car stable and controllable in sudden stop situations. Special tools are necessary to find out what’s wrong.

  • Coolant warning light – You know what this means. Your engine is overheating. Pull over, open your hood, and just allow it to cool down. Do not ever attempt to open the radiator cap as the cooling system is actually highly pressurized. Do so when the engine has already cooled down.

  • Oil warning light – This typically flashes if the oil pressure in your engine it too low. Don’t ever attempt to drive your vehicle with this warning light on as it can severely if not totally damage your engine. This warning light can be set off by low oil levels, oil pump failure, or even oil filter or oil strainer blockage

Wheels and Tires

3. Check tire pressures 

One of the things that impact fuel economy is tire pressure. It also affects comfort and handling. Your owner’s manual will have the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle. There are also gadgets and simple tools you can use to check the tire pressure. Ideally, this should be done on a weekly basis, although making it part of your daily routine won’t hurt. Some cars have tire pressure monitoring systems installed from the factory. There are also smart gadgets that connect with mobile devices that constantly monitor tire pressure and send out notifications in case one or more tires need some air.

4. Check tread depth 

In case you’re wondering why racers can put slick tires into their cars yet you cannot in your own car, the answer is quite simple. They have a pit crew that can literally put on a different kind of tire into the car whenever there is a change in weather and they do so in less than 10 seconds; you don’t. Race cars need optimum contact with the ground surface; that’s why their tires are unusually larger, wider, and come with very smooth, tread-less surface. However, in wet racetrack conditions, these super slick tires are replaced with more appropriate rubber to help channel the water on the racetrack away from the contact patch. If not, a multi-million dollar F1 car might as well be a multi-million dollar pile of wreck.
In the real world, you need tires that can function in all weather conditions, be it dry, wet, or freezing cold. This is where tire treads come into play. If you look at your tires you’ll see tread patterns with wider contact patches to give you a more versatile rubber. Like we said, we don’t have the luxury of an F1 pit crew to replace our tires in a flash when the weather suddenly changes.
The good news is that tire manufacturers today already integrate treat wear bars into their compounds to eliminate the hassle of guessing whether your tire treads are still deep enough to help channel water away from the tires and maintain excellent ground contact even in wet conditions. So if your tires don’t come with these tread wear indicators, you might as well get a new set. It may sound expensive but not as expensive as a vehicular accident.

5. Rotate tires and have the alignment checked 

Wheel balancing and alignment are important aspects of basic car maintenance since these can play a role in your car’s fuel economy, not to mention safety while on the road. It is thus crucial to have your tires rotated, balanced, and aligned according to the mileage that was indicated in your owner’s manual. The rule of thumb is to have it rotated every 5,000 miles although you can always double check with the manual for better accuracy.

6. Clean the brake dust off your wheels 

While brake dust doesn’t affect the full functioning of your brake system, they do make your wheels a little bit unpleasant to look at. One thing you need to understand is that brake dust is merely the accumulation of a variety of materials that come from the brake rotor and the brake pad itself as they come in contact when you apply the brakes. Iron accounts for about 92% of the dust. The remaining 8% will be carbon content, grime, dirt, and other particles that, if left to bake under the sun, will leave you with a severely stained wheel. As such, it is important to clean the dust off your wheels with a damp sponge. You will also need clean cold water because brake dust typically clings to your wheels via static electricity.


7. Check drive belts 

Your engine does not only produce power to your wheels so your vehicle will run. It also generates power so that other parts and accessories run as well. This is the function of drive belts. They transfer power from your cam or crankshaft to the car’s alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, air pump, water pump, and any other device that relies on mechanical power. Modern cars use a single belt (also known as serpentine belt) to connect and rotate from the crank pulley. Unfortunately, because these belts are typically made of rubber or other polymers, they do wear a lot even with normal use. Over time, they lose their integrity and simply degrade. As such, it is important to check these belts from time to time to inspect for visible hairline cracks or any change in their integrity. You will need to look at the integrity of both your serpentine belt or V-belt and your timing belt (unless your engine is chain-driven). You also need to know the differences between the three.
Most folks will tell you to replace your serpentine belt every 40,000 miles and your timing belt every 60,000 miles. We don’t actually have any numbers to recommend because we know only your car manufacturer has the solid backing to recommend what is the ideal mileage for replacing your drive belts. Still, we don’t recommend sticking to these guidelines blindly because these numbers are the results of tests on laboratory conditions, not in real world applications. Let these numbers, however, guide you so that if you’re already nearing the recommended mileage, then maybe it’s about time to have your drive belts be thoroughly inspected and evaluated. Of course, a better approach is to visually inspect them more frequently. This should help lower your average car maintenance costs by avoiding costly repairs.

8. Check oil levels 

Your car’s engine contains a lot of mechanical moving parts that create friction as they brush against each other. Friction generates heat and this can lead to a significant reduction in engine performance. That is why minimizing, if not eliminating, friction from these moving parts is critical to ensuring smoother operation; otherwise, you’d definitely be experience loud noises or knocking from your engine and even substantial reduction in fuel economy.  Checking your engine’s oil level should thus be made an integral part of basic car maintenance. It’s quite easy, actually. Simply locate where the oil dipstick is, pull it out, and evaluate the oil. Well, not exactly.
Always make sure that your car is parked on level ground. Remove the oil dipstick and wipe it first with a clean rag. This helps remove oil that may obscure the level indicators on the dipstick, making it quite difficult to read accurately. Once wiped clean, reinsert the dipstick all the way in and pull it out. Now, you should see exactly where the level of the oil is. The dipstick typically has indicators near the tip. There can be two notches or even dots marked by an H and an L. In some vehicles the area between these two points are also shaded or come with patterns to allow for easier assessment. Make sure that your oil level is within these two points.
Also, it is critical to look at the color of the oil. It should not really be black. Engine oil is usually amber in color. Dark colored oil usually indicates the presence of contaminants, excessive heat, the addition of chemical additives or worst, sludge.
As for the frequency of oil change, your owner’s manual can tell you exactly when you should change your engine oil. There are different types of oils, too, that can range from regular to semi-synthetic to fully synthetic. You will also need to check the correct viscosity grade for your car and for the environment upon which it normally operates on.

9. Check engine coolant level 

All moving things generate heat. And while there’s oil in your engine to help reduce the friction between moving parts and help prevent it from getting excessively hot at a much faster rate, your engine will also need a system that will help it get rid of this generated heat. That’s the function of your radiator and the fluid supplied to it is your engine coolant. If there’s no coolant in the reservoir or it is running low, then heat from the engine won’t get dissipated into the environment. This can lead to engine overheating. As part of your car maintenance checklist you need to check your engine coolant levels even before you start rolling out of your driveway. Checking it is quite easy since most cars today come with coolant reservoirs that are somehow translucent and with appropriate level markings on the panel. Even without you opening the lid of the reservoir, you should be able to visually inspect whether it is running low or not. The question now is where to look for the engine coolant reservoir in your car. The answer is simple – read your manual.

10. Take note of fuel economy 

Your engine’s performance is affected by a lot of things. And while there are several factors that may require some level of technical competence to evaluate, there is one thing you can try to assess yourself without so much as breaking a sweat – fuel economy. The idea is an efficiently running engine will burn fuel at a much steadier, more constant rate. If it works too hard, then it burns more fuel. If it burns more fuel, then you are going to feel it in your wallet. You’ll be finding yourself going to the petrol station to refuel a lot more often than you used to despite the fact that there is no change in your driving habits. This is often an indication of the engine working too hard that it is already burning more fuel than necessary. That is why it is important to be very mindful of your odometer and your trip readings. There are certain gadgets and apps, too that help you evaluate your current gas mileage.
One of the more common reasons why you may have a sudden change in fuel economy is your tire pressure. If the tire is under inflated or is not aligned properly, your engine will have to increase its power output to propel your vehicle down the road. Adding extra weight on your car also affects fuel economy. Sudden acceleration and braking can also negatively impact your fuel economy.

11. Replace engine air filter 

The efficient operation of your engine is quite dependent on the excellent mixture of air and fuel. And for this, it is very important to make sure that the air being sucked into your car’s engine does not contain any debris, particulate matter, or any other contaminant that can undermine efficient engine operation. If not, you’re looking at mediocre gas mileage, significantly reduced horsepower, and unusual sounds emanating from the engine. Your engine can also misfire in some cases. It is for this reason that your engine air filter should be replaced according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations.
However, while basic car maintenance guidelines dictate that you should adhere to the car manufacturer’s recommendation, we’d say you’d better gain access to your air filter and carefully assess its condition and integrity. If it is already too dirty yet you haven’t met the mileage recommendation for replacement by the manufacturer, it’s best to replace it. Do take note that a lot of factors can affect the integrity of your engine air filter. For instance, if you use your car on daily stop-and-go traffic situations or take it on long drives every weekend, there is a great chance that dirt and debris will accumulate in the air filter a lot faster than if you were driving in open roads or driving it over long distances very rarely. The point is, while the owner’s manual can give you an idea of when you need to replace the air filter, a better approach is to visually inspect the filter.
Accessing your engine air filter shouldn’t really be challenging; albeit it depends on your car model. Your manual can show you how. If not, you can always ask a mechanic to do it for you.

12. Replace spark plugs

If your car’s engine has a rather rough idle or misfires from time to time, maybe you need to consider replacing your spark plugs. Other symptoms of a malfunctioning spark plug can include lack of acceleration, trouble starting your vehicle, unusually high fuel consumption, or even engine surging. Ideally, you need to replace your spark plugs after every 30,000 miles if it is the standard copper type. However, if yours is of the more advanced iridium spark plug, then these can actually last for up to 100,000 miles. Again, you need to check your vehicle owner’s manual or even your car maintenance checklist to determine when you should replace your spark plugs.
Replacing these should not really be difficult. With the correct tools, you can access these with the turn of a few bolts. However, if you lack these tools or you simply are not confident enough about your skills in the checking and replacing of these plugs, then having a professional do it for you should be an option.

Fuel / Gas

13. Stick to the octane rating recommended by car manufacturer

There is this notion that higher octane fuel means more power. Well, technically, this is true. But you do have to understand how this came to be in the first place. Sports cars and cars with purpose-built engines that run on very high compression ratios have the tendency to ‘knock’ if they use lower octane fuel. To provide the necessary power needed for such high compression, a higher octane fuel is needed to help prevent the ‘knocking’ or detonation. Unfortunately, people have quickly picked up on the idea that higher octane fuel means more power.
Either they forgot the reason for the high-octane fuel is to prevent detonation in higher compression engines or they simply chose to ignore it. Going back to your car, if you don’t have any intention of running it like a race car driver, then stick to regular fuel as your owner’s manual says. Now if your manual specifically says that you need to stick high octane premium gasoline into your tank, then do so. Otherwise, there clearly is no point wasting a few dollars per gallon on something that your car’s engine doesn’t really need.

Bodywork / Paint

14. Use superior detailing supplies 

No one wants to drive in a dilapidated, boring, rusting, and dull-looking car; well, at least, none that we know of. While we don’t actually recommend having a complete wash over of your car’s paint every so often, it is critical to keep it shining like new. However, choosing the right kinds of detailing tools and supplies not only gives you the near-showroom appearance of your car, they also help provide a protective barrier against the elements. The key here is to use only those detailing products that are proven to be of superior quality.
Car waxes and polishes have significantly improved over the years. They are now more sophisticated, offer better protection, and guarantee longer-lasting effects on your car than products from 10 or 20 years ago. We know it’s more of a vanity thing, but considering that cars are a reflection of one’s personality, you clearly would want to make it look good in other people’s eyes. More importantly however, you’re not there standing guard beside your car every time to help prevent bird droppings and fruits from ever ruining your car’s precious paint. If your car is not properly waxed, these ‘things’ are a lot more difficult to remove. With wax on, it would simply be a matter of wiping these off with a clean piece of cloth.
A word on bird droppings: the moment you notice any on your car, make sure to wash it off as soon as possible. Bird poop contains chemical compounds that can be damaging to your car’s paint. True, wax makes it easier to remove bird poop. However, if you leave it long enough and allow it to bake under the sun, you may still remove it, but the chemicals would have already damaged a part of the car’s paint, leaving in its wake a dull spot.


15. Know how to properly disconnect batteries 

Disconnecting your battery terminals could very well be an easy task. It’s all a matter of unfastening the bolts that keep the cables secure onto the battery terminals, right? Unfortunately, there is a proper way to do it. You don’t just disconnect the very first connector that your hands are able to reach.
Always disconnect the negative terminals first to help prevent the chances of electrical short circuit. This effectively cuts the return path of the electric current. You see, if you disconnect the positive terminal first, current is still pretty much moving along the negative terminal. If, by accident, you dropped your wrench and it landed on the positive terminal and one of its ends also touched any other metal in your care, then you’ve got a complete circuit. Removing the negative end of the connector first will help prevent short circuit. Even if your tool drops on either battery terminals and touches anything else on the car, there simply is no return path for the current to complete the circuit.
Now, that’s disconnecting the batteries. When you’re done working on any electrical system in your car, you will then need to reconnect the positive terminal first before the negative. So, remember, if you disconnect the batteries, remove the negative first before the positive. In reconnecting the battery, do the reverse; positive first before the negative. Of course, if you’re not going to replace the battery, there really is no need to disconnect the positive terminal; the negative terminal should suffice.

16. Check the battery terminals and clean the contacts as needed 

Just because your battery is labeled maintenance-free doesn’t mean you can already skimp on this basic car maintenance activity. At the very least you should know where it is located in your engine bay. Next, check the battery terminals for any sign of corrosion or mineral buildup. If you notice any, get a cleaning brush intended specifically for battery terminals and rub off the buildup. This should help prolong battery life and lower your average car maintenance cost. It is often a good idea to get a battery tester as well as a jump starter as you don’t really know when your battery will die out on you. For that, you might want to consider having a spare battery in your trunk or those just-in-case moments.


17. Replace broken indicator bulbs 

These fixtures in your vehicle are very important and as such should never be overlooked in your car maintenance checklist. Indicator or signal lights inform other motorists of the direction you are planning to go to. This way they will also know what to do. For example, if you’re signaling left, then they should know not to overtake and to start slowing down to compensate for your own reduction in speed. The thing is that if the indicator light to the direction where you’re turning is flashing a lot faster than when you switch on to the other direction, it simply means you have a blown light bulb. The great news is that today’s cars come with lighting modules that are can be easily replaced without having to go to the shop. A word of caution though, it is important to use only the kind of bulb that is specific to your vehicle’s make. And if you can remember we did mention in the beginning that reading your vehicle owner’s manual can help you a great deal in your basic car maintenance chores. Additionally, the manual will also tell you exactly how to access and replace these lights.

18. Don’t touch the glass bulbs when replacing 

Whenever you have to replace the bulb on your headlight as it is quite easy to remove from its mounting, make sure to touch only the metal bulb holder located at the base of the lighting fixture. Alternatively you can wear clean mechanic’s gloves or better yet sterile surgical gloves if you really have to touch the glass itself. The reason is quite simple: you don’t want to transfer any of those oils, grime, dust, and dirt on your fingertips onto the bulb since this manufactured with specialized coating on the bulb’s exterior surface. The introduction of particles, grease, oil, or dirt on the bulb’s surface inadvertently affects this special coating. When you turn your headlights on, this part of the bulb will heat up a lot faster than the rest of the bulb, causing it to crack.


19.Replace windshield wipers 

Visibility is a must whenever you’re on the road. And your window to the outside world is your windshield. Keeping it in excellent order is partly the job of your windshield wiper. Now, remember that these wipers are not exactly very durable so they tend to wear out a little faster than other components of your car. The good news is that they’re a lot easier to replace, too. If your windshield is already getting streaky or that it makes a squeaking, grating noise every time it is switched on, then it’s time to replace it. Buy a replacement wiper blade that is recommended for your vehicle. And while you’re replacing your wipers, why don’t you give your windshield a thorough cleaning both inside and out.

20. Replace cabin air filter 

It may not improve your car’s overall performance, but if you’ve got a family member who’s quite allergic to dust and other airborne particles, you might want to replace the cabin air filter in your car. This is one of the easiest and most practical ways to keep everyone safe and comfy inside your car’s cabin. The current recommendation is to replace your cabin air filter every 12 months or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. However, you can always refer to your owner’s manual for the recommended schedule of cabin air filter replacement.
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