Your car is one of your most important investments. You spent thousands on a vehicle in order to have safe, reliable transportation to work, family gatherings and all of life’s important events. But in order to make the most of your investment, you’ll need to perform regular maintenance on your car — and that means more than just taking it to the repair shop when something’s broken.
There are minor things mechanics do on a regular basis to keep their cars running smoothly — and you can do many of them yourself. NAPA AUTO PARTS asked these car pros to reveal their top 10 tips to help ensure your vehicle gets you around for years to come.
1. Pay attention to your parking spot
Looking at the ground beneath your car where you park it regularly can reveal a lot of clues about what’s going on under the hood. If you notice a pool of fluids, you might have a coolant leak or a gasket failure.
“Waiting for your dashboard to tell you there is a problem is a very reactive mindset that will typically cost you more money in repairs and inevitably lead to a failure at the worst possible time,” said Brad Updegraff, owner of Dave's Ultimate Automotive NAPA AutoCare Center.
2. Check your battery
There’s nothing worse than jumping into your car when you’re running late and finding that the battery is dead. Michelle Greeson, service manager at Gunter Automotive NAPA AutoCare Center, said that proactively checking the voltage of your car battery with a multimeter can help you avoid an unexpected failure. She also recommends checking the terminals for corrosion.
Don’t have a multimeter? Take a look at your headlights after you start the car. If they’re dim, stop by your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store to get your battery checked by a professional for free.
3. Check your tire pressure
Your tires play a big role in the safety and efficiency of your car, and it starts with proper inflation. Outdoor temperatures and use of your vehicle can cause inflation to change, so it’s important to check your tire pressure, said Updegraff.
“Keeping them inflated to optimal pressure, as noted in the placard on your driver’s door frame, allows for optimal fuel economy and the lowest rolling resistance,” he said.
4. Inspect your tire tread
Proper tire care doesn’t stop at checking your pressure, though. You should also take a look at the tread, advised Updegraff.
“Putting a pair of eyes on the condition of your tread lets you know how much more life is in your tires and allows for you to catch structural deformities,” he said.
You can easily test your tread depth using a penny. Just insert the coin into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head facing downward. If you can see the top of his head, it’s time to replace the tire. This little test can help you notice and repair tire damage early, before you end up with a blowout.
5. Monitor your brakes
The safety of your vehicle depends on having brakes in great condition. Greeson said one of the best ways to maintain your vehicle is by checking the thickness of your brake pads and maintaining the hardware of the braking system.
However, if that’s not in your wheelhouse or you don’t have the proper tools, you can use your senses to monitor your brakes. Do you feel vibrations when you tap the brake pedal? Is it taking you a long distance to come to a complete stop? Does your foot go down lower than usual when you hit the brakes? If so, it might be time to replace them.
6. Change your engine air filter
A dirty air filter can lessen your fuel efficiency and reduce air flow to your engine. That’s why Greeson said you should change your air filter as frequently as your owner’s manual recommends, but severe driving conditions, such as excessively dusty roads, might cause clogs in your air filter even sooner than that.
To see if your air filter needs replacing, you just need a flashlight. If you can’t see any or very little light, it’s time to get a new one.
7. Check your fluids
Want to avoid a breakdown? According to the pros, checking your fluids often, especially as your car ages, is key.
“Lubricated car parts operate better and last longer when your fluids stay clean,” said Updegraff. “If your intention is to get the most miles out of your vehicle with the least amount of trouble, this is a very important piece of that puzzle.”
Park your car on a level surface and open up the hood. You can check your oil and transmission fluid by looking at the dipsticks. You should also make sure your coolant comes up to the line on the tank and your brake fluid is a golden color. Add or replace the fluids as necessary.
8. Get a multipoint inspection
Whenever you take your car in to the repair shop, ask your mechanic to conduct a multipoint inspection, advised Greeson. The service is often offered for free when you’re getting other services. A trained mechanic can then let you know what maintenance should be performed now, and what parts need to be replaced in the coming months, so that you can plan ahead.
9. Change your cabin air filter
Many drivers overlook their cabin air filter, but it’s another important part that needs to be changed when dirty, said Greeson. A clean cabin air filter allows you to have a pleasant ride by filtering out pollen, dust, pollution and other particles. It also helps keep air flowing, which is good for your air conditioning.
10. Develop a maintenance schedule and stick to it
Neglecting key maintenance services on your car will significantly reduce its lifespan and cause problems as the vehicle gets older. Write down exactly what needs to be done to your car each year and create a calendar for when the services need to happen. Updegraff recommends having your alignment checked every six months, changing your fluids every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, getting your fuel system/intake system cleaned every 15,000 miles, and replacing your struts or shocks every 80,000 miles.
Your owner’s manual can be a good starting point for determining how frequently maintenance should be performed. However, every car is different, and you might need certain services more frequently depending on the age and condition of your car, and how much you’re driving it. When it doubt, it never hurts to ask a NAPA AutoCare Center mechanic to take a look under the hood — and be sure to stop by your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store for expert advice and any parts you may need.