Blog Car Care Advice The Complete Guide to Car Maintenance: Basics to Pro Tips
Car Care Advice

The Complete Guide to Car Maintenance: Basics to Pro Tips

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A proper car maintenance schedule can help prevent costly repairs and unexpected breakdowns, regardless of whether it’s an old or new car.

But how can you tell if your car needs to be serviced?
And what specific maintenance tasks should you prioritize?

Don’t worry. Our straightforward guide to car maintenance will help you become a more informed and empowered car owner.

Let’s get started.

This Article Contains: 

10 Unmistakable Signs You Need Immediate Auto Repair Service

From minor to major car repair tasks, here are 10 signs you need to schedule service immediately:

1. Dashboard Warning Lights

Cars have elaborate systems of sensors and dashboard lights. These lights indicate you must take your car to an automotive repair shop. Some important warning lights include:

2. Strange Noises

Are you hearing strange noises like squeaking, squealing, or knocking?
These unusual sounds might be signaling problems such as worn brake pads, spark plug issues, fuel injector problems, or malfunctions in the ignition system.

3. Fluid Leaks

Any fluid leaks under your car demand immediate attention. However, your car contains various fluids. Recognizing the colors can help you identify the underlying cause. 

Here’s a quick guide:

4. Difficulty Starting

If your car struggles to start or doesn’t start at all, it’s most likely due to a weak or dead car battery. Other common reasons include a faulty starter, ignition coil, worn spark plug, and mechanical problems. These issues could potentially leave you stranded if left unchecked.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to keep contact numbers handy for roadside assistance or mobile auto repair service in case of emergencies.

5. Engine Overheating

Signs such as the temperature gauge in the red zone, steam or smoke under the hood, sudden loss of power, or a burning smell while driving indicate engine overheating. In such cases, it’s best to schedule service promptly to prevent serious damage and expensive repairs. 

6. Brake Problems

Common signs of brake problems include a soft or spongy brake pedal or a pulsating feeling when you press the brake. These could indicate issues such as air in the brake lines, a worn brake pad, or a warped brake rotor.

7. Steering or Handling Issues

If your car feels strange to steer or handle, like the steering wheel is loose or vibrating, or the car pulls to one side, there could be a problem with the steering or suspension. These issues can affect your control and may lead to unsafe driving conditions. 

8. Transmission Issues

When there are problems with the transmission, gears might slip unexpectedly, shifts could feel delayed or rough, or you might smell something burning. Also, if you see fluid leaking under your car, that’s a sign of trouble, too.

9. Excessive Exhaust Smoke

Your car’s exhaust should normally be clear. But if you see too much smoke, it needs a thorough diagnosis. Here’s what it could mean:

No matter the color, too much smoke means there’s a problem with your car.

10. Visible Damage

Damaged car tires, belts, and hoses pose safety risks and may lead to expensive repairs. Similarly, damage to the exhaust system, such as rust, holes, or loose components, can result in harmful emissions, affecting your health and the environment.

Now that we’ve covered the critical red flags, let’s focus on essential preventative maintenance steps you can take to develop a robust car maintenance schedule.

Monthly Guide to Car Maintenance: 4 Must Do’s

Here are four routine maintenance tips every responsible vehicle owner should carry out:

1. Monitor Engine Oil and Coolant Levels

Proper engine oil and coolant levels protect the engine from wear, overheating, and damage by ensuring effective lubrication and temperature regulation. 

Here’s how to go about it: 

  1. Ensure the engine has cooled down. 
  1. Locate the oil dipstick and coolant reservoir under the hood. 
  1. Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, reinsert it, then withdraw it again to assess the oil level. 
  1. Repeat this process for the coolant reservoir. If the fluid level is low, add more of the appropriate fluid.

2. Check Tire Pressure

Incorrect tire pressure increases the amount of friction between the tire and the road. This could reduce fuel efficiency and increase wear on the tire.

To ensure optimal performance, use a tire pressure gauge to check and adjust the air pressure to the recommended level in each tire, including the spare. If the tire pressure is low, use an air compressor to add air gradually until reaching the correct pressure. 

3. Assess Vehicle Lights

It’s important to check vehicle lights monthly to ensure safety, compliance with legal requirements, and visibility while driving.

These lights include: 

4. Refill Windshield Wiper Fluid

If you use your windshield wipers frequently or drive in dusty or rainy conditions, it’s best to check the windshield wiper fluid (windshield washer fluid) to ensure clear visibility. All you need to do is check the reservoir under the hood and refill the washer fluid if necessary.

Next, let’s explore specific maintenance tasks categorized by mileage intervals.

How to Maintain Your Car by Mileage

Manufacturers often provide a mileage-based maintenance schedule to make sure you do the necessary tasks at the right times. 

Here’s a general guideline on car maintenance by mileage: 

1. Every 6,000-8,000 Miles

Note: Consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s recommendations on tire maintenance, as certain types of tires require specific rotation methods or shouldn’t be rotated at all.

2. Every 12,000-24,000 Miles

3. Every 12,000-15,000 Miles

4. Every 15,000-30,000 Milesf

5. Every 30,000-60,000 Miles

In addition to regular maintenance by month or mileage, it’s crucial to perform specific preparations to address changing weather conditions.

Let’s take a look.

6 Essential Seasonal Auto Maintenance Tasks

Prepare your vehicle for the changing seasons with these maintenance tips:

1. Inspect Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

Before each season, ensure your vehicle’s heating and cooling systems are in top condition. Check the heater core, blower motor, and thermostat for winter readiness, and inspect refrigerant levels, hoses, and connections for summer comfort. 

2. Wash and Wax Exterior

Wash your vehicle and apply wax to shield the paint from winter’s harsh elements, such as salt, snow, and ice. A clean and waxed exterior prevents corrosion and preserves your vehicle’s appearance.

3. Install Winter Tires

Switch to winter or snow tires to enhance traction and handling on snowy, icy, and wet roads. These specialized tires come with deeper tread depths and specialized rubber compounds for improved grip and braking performance in low temperatures.

4. Check Antifreeze

Ensure you maintain a 50/50 ratio of coolant and water in the radiator to prevent it from freezing in cold weather. Use a coolant tester to determine the freezing point and inspect for any cooling system leaks that need prompt attention.

5. Windshield Wiper Blades

Assess the condition of your windshield wiper blades and replace them if worn or damaged. Reliable windshield wipers are vital for maintaining visibility in winter or rainy weather conditions. 

6. Check Battery Health

Extreme heat or cold can significantly impact car battery health and performance. Have your vehicle’s battery tested at an auto parts store to ensure it’s in good condition and capable of delivering reliable starting power throughout the winter and hot summer months. 

Planning to store your car for a month or more?
Let’s examine the necessary tasks to maintain its health and performance.

How to Store Your Car: 8 Basic Car Maintenance Tips

Follow these maintenance tips when storing your car for an extended period: 

  1. Clean the interior and exterior of the car to remove dirt, debris, and moisture. 
  1. Check all fluid levels, including engine oil, coolant, brake, and transmission fluid. Top up any low fluids and consider an engine oil change to prevent contaminants from settling in the car’s engine.
  1. Add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and fill it with fresh fuel to prevent moisture buildup and degradation. Run the engine for a few minutes to ensure proper circulation. 
  1. Inflate the tires to the recommended pressure and either place the car on jack stands to relieve pressure or move it occasionally to prevent flat spots.
  1. Disconnect the battery or use a trickle charger to maintain its charge, preventing it from draining during storage.
  1. Place desiccant packs or moisture-absorbing products inside the car to prevent mold, mildew, and odors. Use a car cover to shield the interior from dust and debris.
  1. Block any openings where rodents could enter the car and use rodent-repellent sachets or traps to deter pests.
  1. Start the engine occasionally and let it run for a few minutes to keep components lubricated and prevent corrosion.

Important: Review your car insurance policy to understand how storage impacts your coverage. Some policies offer specific provisions or discounts for cars in storage.

Keep Your Car in Top Shape with AutoNation Mobile Services

A well-maintained car ensures a smooth, safe, and cost-effective driving experience. It also preserves the long-term health and resale value of your vehicle. Fortunately, car maintenance doesn’t need to be complex. Our detailed car maintenance guide covers everything from identifying urgent signs to preventative maintenance tasks.

If you need help tackling specific maintenance tasks for an old or new car, you can always rely on AutoNation Mobile Service

We’re a mobile auto repair and vehicle maintenance solution offering easy online bookings and a 12-month | 12,000-mile warranty on all services.

Contact us for vehicle maintenance or other automotive needs.