9 Basic Car Maintenance Tasks You Should Master


Car maintenance can be daunting, but if you’re going to drive a car on a regular basis, you should at least know the basics. So if you happen to be a novice at everyday car maintenance, here are nine car maintenance items that you’ll want to master.

Oil. Oil is the lifeblood of your car’s engine system, so if there’s any car fluid you need to stay on top of, it’s this one. (You can learn more about the importance of keeping your engine lubricated with oil here.) You should attend to your car’s oil as frequently as your car manufacturer specifies or every six months—whichever comes first. Car manufacturers will typically recommend attending to your oil anywhere from every 3,000 to 7,500 miles. To check if you need an oil change or if your oil simply needs to be topped off, take a look at the dipstick by removing it, wiping it clean, dipping it, and then pulling it out again. If the oil looks very dark and gritty in texture, it’s time for an oil change. If it is light brown and clean looking, it can simply be topped off by pouring some oil into your oil reservoir.

Filters. The engine air filter is often overlooked. Air filters collect dirt and debris over time, and they should be replaced every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. It’s usually relatively easy to locate the air filter in your car’s engine compartment; just be sure to check your owner’s manual. If the filter needs replacing, it’s just a matter of swapping the old one out for a new one.

Lights. Lights are straightforward enough; just be sure to check them every so often by having a friend observe your headlights, taillights, blinker lights, and reverse lights while you sit in your car and push the brakes, put the car in reverse, etc. Lights are changed differently depending on which car you have, so it’s best to check your owner’s manual. Typically it isn’t hard find a good tutorial online for your particular car model.

Windshield wipers. You should aim to change out your windshield wiper blades every six months to a year. The plus side to changing your wiper blades is that most auto parts stores will help you determine which ones you need for your car, and many will even change the blades for you. So if you’re overwhelmed at the thought of learning a whole slue of new car maintenance tasks, changing wiper blades could be the one to skip.

Windshield wiper fluid. Windshield wiper fluid is incredibly easy to keep up with, and maintaining it is crucial for your driving safety. To maintain your windshield wiper fluid, just be sure to pick up some fluid at your local auto parts store, big box store, or even gas station the next time your windshield wiper fluid light turns on. Then, it’s as simple as pouring this fluid into the windshield wiper fluid reservoir (though sometimes you have to dilute the fluid first—read the instructions on the bottle to be sure).

Tires. You should consider having your tires changed once the tread reaches 4/32” in depth. Many tire specialists will tell you that 2/32” is the very shallowest your tread should get, but keep in mind that anything less than 4/32” can compromise your car’s safety, especially when you are driving in the rain. You can measure your tire tread either by using a specialized tread depth measurement tool, or by using a U.S. penny. Insert the penny upside down into your tire’s tread and observe how far up Lincoln’s head the tread gets. Then use a ruler to measure the distance between the top edge of the coin and this location on Lincoln’s head. (Most proponents of the penny test will simply tell you that the tread is deep enough if the tread covers a portion of Lincoln’s head, but this adapted version of the “penny test” will help you get a more specific measurement.)

Tire pressure. It’s also important to keep up with your tire pressure in order to keep your car driving safely. You can check your tire pressure with a pencil-sized tire pressure gauge, available at your local big box store for just a few dollars. Toss one in your glove compartment, and you’ll always have it handy. To determine what tire pressure your tires should have, check your car owner’s manual for where to look on your car. Usually there is a sticker located at the bottom edge of the driver’s side door opening. A good time to check your car’s tire pressure is just before heading out for the day, while your tires are still cold—at least monthly. (Don’t forget to check your spare tire as well!) To add air to your tires, you can use a household air compressor, or the pay-per-use air dispenser at your local gas station.

Changing a flat tire. This skill proves invaluable when you get a flat tire. The process typically goes something like this: start loosening the lug nuts, jack the car upward until the wheel is off the ground, finish removing the lug nuts, and swap in the spare tire. It’s best to do a practice run of changing a flat tire on your own car first in order to fully grasp it.

Jumpstarting a car. This is another skill to have in your back pocket for emergencies. To jumpstart a car, you’ll need to park a donor car near your own car, turn off the donor car, and then pop open the hoods of both cars. Then, attach the jumper cable clamps to the donor car and dead car batteries in this order: dead—positive, donor—positive, donor—negative, dead—bare metal (red should go on the positive ends, while black should go on the negative end and on bare metal). Next, start the donor car, followed by the dead car. Remove the clamps in reverse order of how you applied them. Just be sure to carry a set of car cables in the trunk in your car so that you’ll be ready for a car battery emergency.

By: Maurine Anderson
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