A Thorough Car Maintenance Checklist for the Not-So Mechanically Inclined

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car maintenance checklist

There are many things that we care for in our lives that we put a great effort into maintaining. We go to the doctors to maintain ourselves, we clean our refrigerators and freezers to maintain those. 

We get work done on our homes, and clean regularly to maintain them, and we should also be maintaining our cars. This doesn’t just mean a trip to the garage though. Oh, no. 

We would be doing our own maintenance on our cars, even if it is just the minimum, to ensure the longer life and better working of our vehicle in the long run. Don’t wait for your check engine light to come on, be proactive!

Car Maintenance Tips

car maintenance checklist

Car maintenance is the things we do to ensure the smooth running of our vehicle. Instead of just getting in it and hopping off on whatever adventures we have planned. Car maintenance means that we put in the time and effort to check in on our vehicle and make sure everything is okay. 

Even if you just open up the hood and look over everything inside, you do not have to be a master mechanic to be able to do some basic car maintenance. 

Many of us do some simple car maintenance without even knowing it, especially after and before long trips. We check everything is working smoothly, or at least a few things, but car maintenance is a bit deeper than just those most basic checks. 

Car maintenance means that you are putting the effort in to check all the crucial components of your vehicle. 

Granted, some things you won’t be able to check and are best left to mechanics, but there is plenty that you can check. So, let’s start with the most basic of questions…

What is Basic Maintenance for a Car?

manual transmission vehicle

What is car maintenance? Well, there is much to be said about this. 

Aside from just keeping YOU safe on the road, car maintenance vastly improves the reliability of your car and enhances its performance. If you look after it, it will look after you as the saying goes. 

Car maintenance minimizes the chance of you having a scary and irritating roadside emergency, and if you maintain your vehicle well, it will also increase the resale value of your car when you come to sell it. 

Taking part in regular maintenance will also prevent any surprising repairs that may end up being fairly expensive, so it is wise to be aware of when you should be maintaining your vehicle. 

You should also ensure that you keep yourself familiar with the owner’s manual before you start doing maintenance checks, this is simply because there will be much information required inside the manual, and it will make your job easier. 

It will also include important information such as a suggested schedule for maintenance. It will cover all the parts and the fluids that your car will need to have changed on a regular basis. 

The vehicle’s owner’s manual is your first go-to for maintenance!

When Should You Perform Maintenance To Your Car?

power steering fluid

Although every car is different there is a vague idea of when you should perform certain maintenance on certain parts of your car. 

For example, only on a monthly basis you should do a check-up on the tires, the lights, and the windshield, you should also check the oil and the coolant levels. 

Depending on how much you drive, the tire tread depth could decrease quickly, and checking it every month will ensure that you catch this early. Lights should also be tested on a regular basis, and while it’s unlikely you’ll need to top up on oil, it’s wise to check.

Every three months you should change the oil, and the oil filter, and inspect the hoses and belts. Do not forget to check the car’s cables and battery. Oil changes and filter changes may not always be necessary, but being prepared is always wise. 

If you inspect the belts and battery as well as the hoses and cables, this will give you an idea of their condition and let you know if you need to go to a garage any time soon.

Each year you should also rotate the tires, check the brakes, brake pads, brake fluid, lubricate the hinges and replace your cabin and engine air filters. It is also wise to get your car serviced each year as well, just to be on the safe side. 

Seasons can change fast, so always be sure to swap tires as the seasons change and replace the windshield wipers for more suitable ones. Also check your washer fluid levels as well. 

A Detailed Car Maintenance Checklist

vehicle maintenance checklist

Caring for your car should not be a difficult task, and in the short term, the more little tasks you do, decrease the amount of big tasks you will end up needing to do, which will cut down on the costs of car maintenance as well. 

So, let’s take a look at some of the smaller checks you can do over the short term to decrease the amount you will need to do when it comes to your long-term checks. 

Creating a checklist/ calendar could be useful for this! 

Check Your Engine Air Filter

The air filter in the engine is what will regulate the air flowing into the cars’ engine, thus helping to keep debris and particulates out of the engine. When you ensure that the air filter is flowing properly, you will improve the car’s fuel efficiency, and decrease your emissions, this helps to ensure that your engine has a long life. 

It does not actually take much to do this at home, and your owner’s manual should have plenty of instructions on how often you need to change it and any information on how to do so as well. 

Check Oil Levels

Before you take a long road trip, it is ideal to get the hood of your car up to check the oil levels while the engine of your vehicle is running cool. 

If your motor oil has a low level, then this can lead to issues on the road if it is left alone and not dealt with. 

Your owner’s manual should help you to locate the engine oil cap under the hood on your specific vehicle. It is inexpensive and really easy to change. 

Even just topping up the engine oil should do the trick, use the oil level indicator to know how much oil you have in the engine and when you should top it up.

Check Coolant Levels

You should not only be looking at the engine oil level but also the coolant levels as well. You should also be checking this before long road trips as well, or just every few months. While it is unlikely in a majority of cars that it will get low fast, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Get under the hood with your owner’s manual and inspect the coolant levels. There should be an indicator on the side of the coolant that will let you know when it needs to be refilled. 

The manual will show you where this is on your car, it is also really simple. 

Check Tire Pressure

Tire pressures are extremely important to be monitoring. Well-maintained tires are absolutely crucial to being safe on the road and maintaining a good fuel economy. You should check your tire pressures every month or so, especially before you go on a long trip or if you are carrying a lot in the car. 

You can get a tire pressure gauge that will aid you in checking the tire pressures, although some gas stations will have these now as well. 

Note that not every car will have the same tire pressures, so you should refer to your owner’s manual to find out what tire pressures your tires need. 

Check Tread Depth

You also want to consider tread depth, tread depth is a legal requirement to make your car roadworthy. When you check your vehicle’s tire pressures it is worth checking your tread depth as well. 

You can use the penny method to do this. If you have a penny on you, turn the penny so that the head points into the tread of your tire. If the tread covers the top of the head then the tread is above 2/32”, if you can see all of the head then it is time for you to replace the tire, as the tread is not deep enough.

Check Headlights

You should check that your headlights are working properly on a regular basis, as you never know when you might need them. In order to check them, turn on your headlights while you are parked in a safe area where you won’t disturb anyone, and walk around your vehicle. 

Check that your headlights are working properly, and that they are well positioned. 

If you have a garage this is even better because you can check all your lights in your garage as if it were night without disturbing anyone! 

You can also check your reflection in windows, ideally when you are at a stop.

Check Signal Lights

You will also need to check your signal lights regularly as well. You can do this using the same method as to check your headlights. 

While parked, simply activate your turn signal, and get out of the car and walk around your vehicle to check that your signal lights are working, both at the front and at the back of your vehicle. 

If you do not feel like doing this, and you are driving late, you can often check if your signal lights are working in reflections. They will likely reflect on cars in front of and behind you, however, this is not advisable when driving, only when parked. Keep your eyes on the road!

Check Brake Lights

You cannot check your brake lights while the car is parked. You need to be in the car with your foot on the pedal to be able to check this, so how do you do so? 

Well, you can check your brake lights using reflections in windows, or if you have a friend who is willing, have them stand behind the car while you engage your brakes to make sure that they are working properly. 

It is crucial that these are working. While it is important that each of these is working, brake lights are the most likely to cause an accident if they are not. 

Check Parking Lights

The easiest way to check your parking lights is much like with brake lights, and luckily these are super easy. 

If you are parking in a dark area with someone else, friend or family, perhaps in an indoor car park, or in your garage, or even just at night, ask them to get out of the car and check that your parking lights are working as you park up. 

However, you could also use reflective surfaces as well. 

Generally, parking lights will be obvious if you are driving on a well lit street at night, however, it is still wise to check them! 

Check Filters

Not only should you check the engine oil as we said above, but you should also be checking the filters. You see the oil lubricates moving parts, is a sealant against debris, keeps the engine cool, and prevents corrosion and more. 

It does depend on the type of car you have and what oil you use, but you may need to change the oil and its filter every 3 months, or even every 3000 miles. 

A majority of manuals will recommend less than this, perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 miles, check your manual or ask a professional if you are unsure how often you should change it. 

Rotate Your Tires

Depending on how your vehicle is aligned, and used as well as a plethora of other factors, the tread wearing patterns might actually be different between the front and rear tires, or even from one side to the other. 

This is why it can actually be very beneficial from time to time to rotate your tires, as it will actually help you to extend the life of your tires as it more evenly balances the tread wear on them, making them last longer. 

Tire rotation will also help you to prevent and reduce noise and vibration problems that you may have otherwise. Check if your vehicle is one that will reap the benefits of doing this.  

Wax Your Vehicle

You should ideally wax your vehicle every 6 months or so once you have given it a wash. Doing this does not only keep it shiny, but it also keeps the paint in good condition and will reduce the chances of rust catching and staying. 

There are many irritants such as sand, salt, and dust which can easily build up on your car. Let’s not forget environmental factors such as ultraviolet, and ozone light that can cause microscopic damages as well. 

Waxing helps to minimize any damage to the paint job as it creates a protective barrier over the paint and extends the life of the paint job. 

Long Term DIY Check-Ups

timing belt

As well as your short-term check-ups that you should be checking every now and again, which pay off in the long term, there are also long-term check-ups. These you do not need to do all the time, but it is wise to do these as well.

Doing long term check-ups will help to extend the life of your car even further. Often, if you service your car every gear and get it seen, it will often have these things done by a professional. However, it is always wise to keep an eye open anyway. 

Transfer Case Fluid

First of all, you should be looking at your transfer case fluid which is present in all four-wheel or all-wheel driving vehicles. It is the part of your car that shifts from transmission to axles. 

You will need to have the fluid checked in accordance to the vehicle’s manufacturer’s recommendations to be certain that it is property filled and is leak-free. 

Doing so will require you to get underneath your vehicle, so it is better to get a professional to do this than it is for you to do it yourself. If you have a service plan, make sure this is a check that is included (although it should be). 

Inspect Shocks And Struts

Next you should be looking at the struts and shocks on your car’s function, as they control the rebound and impact as your car passes over road bumps. They are a key part of your car’s steering system, so checking them is incredibly important. 

They should be looked at by a professional for every 50,000 miles or so. If you do notice there is a decrease in the smoothness of your ride then you should be taking your car into the shop. 

The same can be said if you notice a decrease in how much control you have when you are driving. This is never a good sign.

Check Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is not unlike the oil found in your engine, it is also a lubricant that aids in keeping all of the moving parts of your vehicle inside of the transmission working as they should. 

No matter if you drive an automatic or manual transmission, you need to have the transmission fluid checked. It should be checked and changed as required to avoid any costly damages or need for replacement. 

You should always follow the recommendations of the vehicles’ manufacturer in this, it may state in your manual, if not, the manufacturers’ website should also have key information on your type of vehicle including this.  

Check Spark Plugs

Inside your vehicles’ engine there will be spark plugs, these ignite the gas and air mixture in the engine that powers up your vehicle. 

If the spark plugs in your engine are not properly functioning then your engine will start to lose power, and it will not run at its optimal capacity. You should have a professional investigate and replace any parts of the engine that have faulty spark plugs. 

When the professional investigates any faulty spark plugs and seeks to replace them, they will do so depending on the vehicles’ manufacturer recommendations. 

You should also get them looked at if you feel there is a decrease in the power of your car’s engine. 

Coolant Fluid Exchange

Your vehicle’s radiator is absolutely pivotal to the smooth running of it. It helps keep the engine cool and allows it to function properly. You should have your coolant system flushed regularly as it will avoid contaminants that may have built up inside of the system. 

Doing so will also ensure that your radiator is properly filled to the level it should be. 

You should check the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations to note just how often you should be exchanging your coolant. Sometimes it is best to get a professional to do this. 

Frontal Differential 

There are differentials inside your vehicle, they are devices which split the power (torque) from your car’s engine, allowing it to send power to your tires. In front/rear-wheel drive cars there will only be one, but in 4-wheel or all-wheel drive cars there will be a front and a rear. 

If you need to check the front differential you should ideally have a professional look at it, it may seem better to just do it yourself, but it is better for your car to have a professional do so. Check your manufacturer’s guide to find out how often this should be done to keep your car happy. 

Rear Differential

Some cars may also have a center differential, although this is rare, they will either have a rear differential, a front differential, or both. 

Much like many other parts inside your vehicle, the differentials, wherever they are and however many you have, will need to be lubricated in order to be properly functional for the operation of your car. 

You should have a professional look at your differentials to ensure that they are properly lubricated as they should be. 

If you have a rear differential or both front and rear, check your manufacturer’s guide to see how often you should get these lubricated and seen to by a professional. 

Check Serpentine Belt

The serpentine belt may just look like a simple bit of rubber inside your car, it is actually extremely important in keeping your car running smoothly. It powers peripheral devices, including the power steering pump, the alternator, and the compressor for your air conditioning.

You should visually inspect this to ensure that it is not cracked or suffering any wear or tear. 

If it is damaged you should be seeking to replace it as according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Sometimes you do not need to act upon just one crack, but it is best to get it seen sooner rather than later if a crack does appear.

Importance Of Car Maintenance

car battery

If someone were to ask us why vehicle maintenance is so important, we would probably give them a funny look. Is it not obvious, there are so many reasons, but we won’t give a funny look, instead, we will let you. 

Many think it is all about safety, and… yes, it is, but there are many other reasons on top of safety that tell you, you should be properly looking after and maintaining your car. Safety is number one, but there is more to proper car maintenance than meets the eye. 

Increases Your Safety In The Vehicle

First of all, vehicle safety, as we know, most believe this is the only reason, and on top of the fact that you spent thousands of dollars on this vehicle, safety is right up there.

A car breaking down on a quiet road is dangerous, you can never predict what might happen if you break down on a quiet road. 

Maintaining your vehicle reduces the chances of this happening, and your car will always be in perfect condition to carry you safely along on your journey. Not to mention how it also reduces the chances of road slips, losing control of the vehicle, poor grip, and how it increases your comfort! 

Increases Performance

As well as increasing your safety (and others) on the road, maintaining your car regularly also keeps it performing better than it would be if you held back on maintaining it. You can get better traction from your tires, stable steering, and more reliable starts! 

Doing proper and regular maintenance on your vehicle will ensure all of this and more. Even if you are busy, and you feel like your car is slacking a bit, you can take it to a mechanic, book in a time and date, and leave your car with them while they ensure it is in optimal condition.

Reduces Repair Costs

It does not take a genius to know that the more little things you do here and there to ensure that your car is in good condition, the less you will end up spending in the long run. 
might sound obscene to some, but if you do the little things that do not cost a lot, sure, those little things add up, but those little things stop a big thing from happening, and those big things can set you back by thousands of dollars. 

So, it’s best to just let the little things add up, and prevent any big, expensive things from rearing their ugly heads.

Keeping On Top Of Schedule Can Save You Time In The Long Run

If you stay on top of a maintenance schedule then you can prevent larger issues that would prevent your vehicle from running smoothly. Were you to send up getting super unlucky and having to deal with a massive car repair issue, you may not have your car for days, or even weeks! 

It is not only inconvenient, but it will also waste your time, time you could have spent doing literally anything else. Time is a resource in this day and age, and we are getting ever busier, with cramped schedules, the last thing you need is a major vehicular repair weighing you down. 

Keeps Car High Value

If you intend on selling your car one day, which, let’s be honest, most of us do. Then you will want to stay on top of your schedule for maintenance. 

This is because not only do these little things make the whole driving experience of  your car more pleasant for you, but they also keep the value of your car up as well.  So, when you go to sell, you will get more money for it! It’s a win-win situation.

Extends Life Expectancy Of Vehicle

No one wants to have to fork out money for a whole new car when they don’t expect to. Looking after your car and maintaining it properly will keep any potential problems away. 

When you are traveling, you do not want to have a breakdown, and maintaining your vehicle properly prevents this in the transmission, power steering, cooling system, drivetrain, and elsewhere. Car care is preventative against normal wear and tear. 

It extends your vehicles’ life, and prevents you from needing to get a new car before you really need to, or are ready to! 


cabin air filter

Looking after your car is about more than just giving it a wash, so it looks pretty, it is about much more than this, you should be comfortable and able to do light checks, oil checks and changes, tire checks and much more. 

The difficult stuff can be left to the mechanic, but there is much that you can do as well, and being familiar with what is under the hood of your car will keep you in the loop, so you know when you need to take a trip to the mechanic. 

Not only does car maintenance keep your vehicle fit and healthy, but it also ensures that you are safe on the road, your car lasts longer, drives better, and will maintain more of its value at resale! 

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