Last updated: October 2023
Many of us only think about car maintenance when things go wrong and repairs are needed. But by being proactive and following basic car care tips, it’s possible to save yourself time, money, and headaches by decreasing the odds you’ll have to deal with a breakdown. You might also extend your vehicle’s life by a few years! So, if you’re trying to hit the 200,000-mile mark (or if you already have and want to keep your car in good shape), here are some general car maintenance tips to keep your vehicle running like a fine-tuned machine. Many of them will also help maintain your car’s resale value.
Best Vehicle Care and Maintenance Tips
1. Wash your car regularly.
First thing’s first: wash your car. Dirt, grime, and salt from icy roads can damage your car’s paint and corrode the undercarriage. This quick cosmetic improvement helps remove unwanted substances, makes your vehicle look better, and helps keep it in good shape.
2. Wax your car to protect the paint.
It’s a simple step that can go a long way in helping to protect your car’s exterior. A few extra minutes after a carwash can keep your car looking much younger than it really is.
3. Clean, protect, and refresh your floor mats.
Your car’s floor mats can only handle so many rain-soaked boots and muddy shoes. Protect them with a protector spray or clear vinyl mats to keep them looking new. However, when they still look dirty after a good cleaning with soapy water or carpet cleaner and need replacing, buy new ones.
4. Lighten your load.
Hauling around heavy items can weigh down your vehicle and decrease your gas mileage. An extra 100 pounds could reduce your fuel economy by about 1%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Take inventory of what’s in your trunk and remove any unnecessary items, only keeping the “must-haves” for emergencies.
5. Change your air filter.
From pollen during allergy season to dust from construction sites, you probably spend a good bit of time driving through unclean air. Replacing your air filter will help keep fresh air running through your vehicle.
6. Refresh your windshield wipers.
When it comes to driving, there are few things more annoying (or dangerous) than windshield wipers that don’t work properly. Extend their life and clean them by soaking a rag in your favorite glass cleaner and wiping them up and down. You’ll be pleased with the results when it starts to rain!
7. Top off the fluids.
You don’t have to be a mechanic to know how to pop the hood and check fluid levels (and top them off if you need to). The engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid should all be checked regularly.
8. Fix foggy headlights.
Has your nighttime visibility decreased? When your headlights get too foggy, try cleaning them with baking soda or toothpaste. However, some headlights may require a more traditional headlight restoration kit. It’s also easy to replace your own headlights to improve visibility.
9. Get your oil changed regularly.
There are a number of reasons to get your oil changed regularly, and doing so can help prevent you from paying for costly repairs later. Check your owner’s manual to see how often the manufacturer recommends an oil change and stick to that schedule. You can also learn how to change your oil by yourself to save some money.
10. Use the right grade of motor oil.
Switching to the right grade of motor oil could improve your gas mileage by up to 2 percent. Check your owner’s manual to find the recommended grade for your vehicle.
11. Have the brakes checked.
You’ll want to have the brake system checked regularly, generally every six months. One good tip is to have them looked at when you bring your car in for a tire rotation. Something simple, like replacing the brake pads, can make a big difference.
12. Flush and refill the radiator.
Removing the old antifreeze by flushing your radiator system each year will help remove rust and scale buildup and other contaminants. You can have the procedure done at most places that offer oil change services.
13. Check hoses and belts.
Proactive car care is highly important. Visit a qualified mechanic when your vehicle’s owner manual recommends it to make sure that none of your car’s hoses and belts, like the timing belt, are cracked, brittle, or loose. These inspections could prevent you from ending up stranded on the highway shoulder while you wait for roadside assistance.
14. Check the exhaust system.
Exhaust leaks are extremely dangerous. It’s important to have your exhaust system inspected, even if you don’t think there is a problem. An emissions test will typically give you a good idea of your exhaust system’s overall health, but on vehicles over five years old, it’s a good idea to have it checked every year or two, according to Cars.com.
15. Check the check engine light.
Don’t panic, but don’t ignore it. Diagnosing this “trouble code” will help you determine why your check engine light is on and how to address the issue. There are some relatively inexpensive code readers out there if you want to take the DIY approach. Or you can search for an auto shop that offers to retrieve engine codes for free.
16. Don’t neglect your A/C.
Driving without air conditioning during the summer months is brutal, but you can hopefully avoid this fate by getting your A/C system checked. You should be able to take care of any small issues before they lead to more costly repairs, and if a more expensive problem is on the horizon, you’ll be able to prepare (and budget) in advance.
17. Test tire tread.
The penny test is the easiest way to check your tire’s treads. You can also look to see if the treads are visibly worn down and make mental notes of how the car is handling. Driving on tires with poor tread depth can be very dangerous.
18. Keep your tires properly inflated.
Having your car’s tires properly inflated is important for safety, and it can increase your gas mileage. The proper tire pressure for your vehicle can probably be found on a sticker in the driver’s side door jamb (which is near where the door hinges are) or in your owner’s manual.
19. Rotate your tires.
Bring your car in for a regular tire rotation as recommended in your owner’s manual. This should make sure your tires wear out more evenly, keeping you safe from the dangers of uneven tread depth. Want to save a little money? Some companies will offer free tire rotation for the life of your tires if you purchase a set from them.
20. Get your tires serviced.
Drive over a nail or screw? While this is certainly an inconvenience, it might not set you back any money. Some companies might offer free flat tire repair or other free tire services. You can also consider adding roadside assistance to help you fix a flat.
21. Keep an eye on the battery.
Too much buildup around the battery posts is a common reason you might need to change your battery. Try to keep it clean so it stays running longer. When the time comes, you can change it yourself with our guide to changing your own battery.
22. Find a free car care event.
The Car Care Council sponsors free events to help you understand your car’s maintenance needs.
23. Get free car maintenance services and diagnostics.
Many retailers offer free testing and other services like battery testing and charging, brake inspection, code retrieval, and more. They should be able to give car repair recommendations.
24. Get “the” Car Care Guide.
The CarCare.org Car Care Guide is a fairly comprehensive car maintenance checklist. It uses everyday language to explain typical preventative maintenance repairs. Print it out and keep it your glove box for a handy guide to caring for your car year-round.
25. Call a pro when necessary.
Car struggling to start? Are you noticing weird noises when you accelerate? Sometimes, it’s best to call in a pro early to get to the bottom of any issues before you have a breakdown.
26. Limit your mileage.
The fewer miles your car has on it, the less its pieces and parts have been used and the newer it’s likely to feel. Driving less helps keep the mileage down and the resale value up!
27. Check for safety recalls.
We hope you’re never affected by a vehicle safety recall, but millions of vehicles and equipment are recalled every year. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall page on an annual basis and type in your vehicle’s VIN number to make sure there are no issues.
28. Use covered parking if possible.
If you have access to a carport, garage, or parking garage, use it. This can help protect your vehicle from snow, ice, hail, and whatever else Mother Nature throws at it.
29. Check weatherstripping and seals for leaks.
As your vehicle ages, door seals and weatherstripping around sunroofs can deteriorate. Keep an eye on them and repair them if necessary. You don’t want to end up with any water leaking into your car.
30. Check the suspension system.
Make sure your shocks and struts are in good working order. Otherwise, even small bumps in the road can make your ride uncomfortable.
31. Touch up paint as needed.
Paint scratches, chips, and flakes are prone to rust and can affect your vehicle’s look and value, so it’s best to fix them sooner rather than later. Fortunately, these blemishes are easy to hide in a matter of minutes with a bit of touch-up paint. You should be able to find the right paint color by locating the factory-paint code in your car.
32. Use seat covers and steering wheel covers.
Sometimes cosmetic fixes can significantly improve the life of vehicle parts. For example, you can help prevent your seats and steering wheel from getting worn down over time by investing in covers. They’re a relatively cheap investment that can help keep your car’s resale value higher and help ensure you have a comfortable ride for years to come.
33. Keep detailed records.
Holding on to documents such as repair invoices, service receipts, and warranties will help you keep track of what work you’ve had done. If something fails before it’s supposed to, you might be able to get it repaired for free depending on the warranty or repair guarantee. These documents can also be valuable if you ever decide to sell your vehicle.
Bonus Tip: Get Covered with Direct Auto!
We hope you’ve learned how to take care of your car a little bit better, but the advice doesn’t stop there. Finding the right insurance plan can be crucial for your car’s future. If you end up in a car accident, insurance can help pay for any covered damages, meaning you get your car back in working order without breaking the bank. Also, roadside assistance can help you keep racking up the miles by coming to your rescue when you’re stuck on the side of the road. Give us a call or stop by one of our locations to talk about your insurance options!