Car Care Tips Everyone Should Know - The Ultimate Guide
There is no denying that your car is one of your most important possessions.
This is why it is so unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know how to care for their vehicles.
Most people assume that they are doing a good enough job just by keeping their car clean and taking it in for regular maintenance.
While these are certainly important, there are a lot of other aspects that you should be paying attention to.
See, by taking care of your car properly, you will be extending its lifespan, reducing the number of problems that you will have to deal with, and improving your safety while driving.
Considering all of the benefits that you can reap, here are the top maintenance and car care tips that you and everyone else with a vehicle should know about:
Tip #1: Follow the Rules: Read Your Owner’s Manual
Most people regard their owner’s manual the same way they do the terms and conditions section of an agreement – they know it is important but can’t really be bothered to pay attention to it.
See, each vehicle is built a little differently. This means that they each have to be maintained in a particular manner.
This is where the owner’s manual comes in. It gives you all of the details regarding the specific features of your vehicle, and has more specific car care tips you need to know.
Not to mention, it also lets you know when you need to take your car in for maintenance.
So, if you haven’t already, it is a good idea to go through your owner’s manual thoroughly and learn more about your car.
Tip #2: Keep Everything Running Smoothly by Topping up Your Engine Oil
If there was ever going to be a cardinal rule regarding car care, it would be this – check your engine oil levels.
Your vehicle’s engine is made up of lots of moving parts. The engine oil is the lubricant that coats each of these parts.
As a result, they are able to work smoothly, without rubbing against each other.
If the oil level gets too low, there isn’t enough oil, there is friction between the parts, causing them to wear out.
Engine oil is also excellent for washing away dirt and debris in the engine and carrying it away to the oil filter.
With this in mind, let’s move on to how to check your engine oil…
Make sure that your car is parked on a level surface and that the engine has thoroughly cooled off.
Open the hood of your car and find the dipstick – the location of the dipstick depends on whether you have an inline engine (rear-wheel drive) or transverse engine (front-wheel drive).
In a rear-wheel drive car, the dipstick will be located near the middle of the engine. In a front-wheel drive, it will be closer to the front of an engine.
Get a clean rag or paper towels.
Pull the dipstick out and wipe the oil on the rag or towels.
Check the color. Your engine oil should be brown or black. If there is a milky tinge to it, there may be coolant leaking into the oil.
Check the texture. Rub the oil between your fingers and if there is residue or the oil feels chunky, there may be residue buildup and you probably need an oil change.
Check the oil level markings on the dipstick.
Each dipstick has a different way of showing the level of oil. Some have two lines – one on the top, the other on the bottom.
Others have a MIN and MAX lettering. There are also dipsticks with L (low) and H (high) or two pinholes.
The bottom-most marking will show you the lowest oil level while the topmost marking will show you the highest (optimal) level of the oil.
Once the dipstick is clean, you need to push it all the way back into the tube.
Pull the dipstick out and examine the level. If the oil is either at the highest mark or somewhere between the two marks, then the level is fine.
However, if the level is lower than the lowest mark, you need to top it up.
Place the dipstick back in the tube.
Close the hood of the car.
Tip #3: Swap Out Your Engine Air Filter to Keep it Clean
Considering just how important your vehicle’s engine is, it does require a lot of maintenance.
Now, another element that you should examine is the engine air filter. This is what prevents dust, dirt, and other contaminants from reaching the engine.
So, as you can imagine, it gets rather dirty after a while.
Now, there is some debate on just how often you need to change this filter, especially between car manufacturers.
Many recommend swapping out the engine air filter every 30,000 to 45,000 miles. If you drive in areas with lots of pollution and dust, though, you may need to shorten this interval.
With that said, as a rule of thumb, you should only have to change out your air filter about every one to two years.
To find where the engine air filter is located on your car, check your owner’s manual.
Now, there are also air filters for the cabin of your car and these need to be replaced as well. However, we will get to that a bit later on…
Tip #4: Stay Safe, Check Your Brakes
You put a lot of trust in your brakes. After all, you expect this rather small mechanism to be able to stop a 4000-pound vehicle barreling down the highway.
This is why it is important to keep your brakes in good working order. In particular, you should change your brake fluid when needed.
The only problem with this is that most car manufacturers can be a bit vague about this process. In fact, some actually claim that you never have to change your brake fluid at all.
So, it all comes down to you to figure out if and when your brake fluid needs to get changed.
One of the more obvious signs is if your dashboard brake light goes on. This is a clear signal that it is time to haul your car into the shop to see what is going on.
That isn’t the only warning sign, however.
If you notice that there are squealing or grinding sounds, these too, are other indicators.
You should also beware of odd smells or anything else out of the ordinary when it comes to your brakes.
While it can be tempting to change the brake fluid by yourself, you should be warned that it can be quite a process. So, in most instances, it is best to let a mechanic handle this task for you.
Tip #5: Change Your Spark Plug for a Smooth Ride
Spark plugs may be small but they play a rather vital role in your vehicle.
Spark plugs are used to keep your fuel efficiency at optimal levels, to make sure the car can accelerate properly, and to start your engine on the first try.
As you can see, it really can pay to make certain that they are not worn out or malfunctioning in any way.
The first thing you will need to do here is to figure out what kind of spark plugs have been used in your car.
This can be done by flipping through your owner’s manual.
The reason you will need to do this is because it will give you some idea of how often you will need to change your spark plugs.
For instance, if you have stock spark plugs, you can get them changed every 30,000 miles. However, with copper ones, you may have to do this sooner – around the 20,000 mile mark.
High-performance spark plugs will also have to be changed sooner as they wear out more quickly.
On the other hand, the extended life plugs only need to be replaced every 100,000 miles or so.
This is because your vehicle has been designed specifically to run with this kind of spark plugs in place.
Tip #6: Enjoy Streak-Free Glass with Fresh Windscreen Wiper Blades
Although you don’t really think about it too much, your windscreen wipers do a lot of work. Unfortunately, the blades attached to the windscreen aren’t too durable.
As a result, they need to be replaced quite often. So, how do you know when it is time to get some new ones?
Well, it is pretty simple, actually. Just turn on your wipers and watch them work. Are they making any noise as they move back and forth? Or, are they leaving streaks on the windscreen?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then it is time for a change.
Wiper blades are a dime a dozen, but you need to make sure that the one that you are choosing is right for the particular make and model of your car.
Tip #7: Prevent Your Engine from Overheating While Flushing Your Radiator
The last thing you want is for your engine to overheat.
However, when you see people pulled over by the side of the road, smoke billowing from under the hood, you realize just how easy it is for this to happen.
If you are wondering how to prevent this, you need to make it a point to keep your coolant in good condition.
With time, the coolant running through your car can begin to collect contaminants. At this point, the functioning of this substance decreases significantly.
To clean it out, you will need to flush the cooling system. Now, while this is technically something that you can do yourself, it is often better to let a mechanic handle it, as it can be a rather delicate process.
What you need to be concerned with is getting the coolant or radiator flush when you need it.
As you have probably already figured out, this means turning to your owner’s manual.
At the same time, you will find that getting a coolant flush every five years or 30,000 miles (whichever comes first) is rather prudent.
Tip #8: Keep It Bright, Maintain Your Headlights
While you probably take a lot of care in keeping your car clean, there is a good chance that you don’t pay too much attention to your headlights.
Well, this is a mistake.
While your headlights are made out of durable polycarbonate plastic, these can cloud over with time. This is due to constant exposure to UV rays.
The good news is that you can actually have them looking new again, without spending too much of money.
First let’s look at what you are going to need for this task:
- 1000-grit sandpaper
- Plastic polishing compound
- Masking tape
- Flannel cloth
- Car wax paste
- UV sealant
Now, let’s get started on the actual cleaning process:
Cover the area surrounding the headlight with masking tape.
The plastic headlight can withstand the sanding but the paint and the chrome on the rest of the car cannot. So, make sure that these areas are properly protected.
Soak the sandpaper in cold water for 10 minutes.
Wet the surface of the headlight thoroughly.
Sand the plastic in a horizontal direction until all of the marks have disappeared.
Sand the plastic in a vertical direction until the surface is smooth.
Wipe off the water and residue.
Use the plastic polishing compound and the flannel cloth to clean up the scratches left behind by the sandpaper and to smooth out the surface further.
Clean up all of the polishing compound completely before proceeding to the next step.
Apply the car wax paste and rub it into the surface well. This will act as a future protectant against the elements.
Carefully apply the UV sealant to every inch of the headlight as you removed the initial layer when sanding the plastic.
Tip #9: Keep Your Car on an Even Keel By Rotating Your Tires
Even if you know absolutely nothing about cars, you have stumbled across the phrase “rotate your tires” more than a few times.
Well, the concept behind tire rotation is simple:
It is where the drive wheels are switched with the non-drive wheels every so often.
See, your drive wheels are used more often than the non-drive wheels and so, they are more likely to wear out sooner.
To make sure that all of the tires have an even level of wear on them, the tires are rotated every so often.
The precise rules regarding tire rotation vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. This is why you should look at your owner’s manual for the most precise advice.
This isn’t the only way that you should take care of your tires, however. We will discuss some more tire maintenance tips a little further down the list…
Tip #10: Avoid Sudden Problems by Knowing How to Care for Your Batteries
For the most part, your battery doesn’t actually need much maintenance, which is why it is easy to ignore this particular feature.
If you do, however, you will come to regret your decision.
Every so often, it can help to take a peek under the hood. Check out your battery terminals to see if there is any corrosion or mineral build-up forming.
If you do see this, then get a battery terminal cleaning brush and rub the residue away. It is important that you use this specific kind of brush.
The other aspect to be concerned with is battery life. On average, you can expect your battery to last around 4 years.
Unfortunately, when it does die, there will be no warning signs whatsoever.
Not to mention, this normal lifespan is a rather rare estimate as your battery has to withstand a variety of extenuating factors all the time.
This includes extreme temperatures, driving style, and vibrations from the engine. Thus, your battery may give out before it's supposed to.
To avoid this, you should ask your mechanic to check on the state of the battery, every time that you go in for maintenance.
Since they have the proper equipment, mechanics are in the best position to give your battery a more thorough check-up.
Tip #11: Drive More Efficiently to Prevent Wear and Tear
One of the main reasons that the various components in your car are wearing out could be due to the way that you are driving.
After all, few people think of how their driving affects the interior elements of their vehicle.
This is why you need to be aware of some car driving tips to keep all of the gears in good shape.
Well, one of the main causes of wear and tear is sudden starts and stops in your driving.
To combat this, you should always adhere to the speed limit in any zone. This way, you will not be forced to come to a screeching halt on a regular basis.
Also, when you do hit the brakes, make it a point to be gentle, rather than flooring it. By doing this, you can avoid the brake pads wearing out too quickly.
Tip #12: Breathe Easy by Changing the Cabin Air Filter
So, a lot earlier on in the list, we talked about the engine air filter and the importance of changing it.
Well, while cabin air filters aren't mentioned as often, they still have a significant purpose. They make certain that you are breathing in clean air while the windows of your car are rolled up.
Of course, as you can imagine, these filters do have a tendency to get rather dirty.
This brings us to the question of how often these filters need to be changed.
Well, once again, your owner’s manual will offer you the best directive.
Still, you will find that there are a few additional guidelines that you should follow. For the most part, you will find that it is best to change the air filters every 15,000 to 20,000 miles.
This does depend on where you live and how often you drive your car. So, under certain circumstances, you may only have to replace the filters every 30,000 miles.
Regardless of the actual mileage, though, the filters should be changed at least once a year.
Tip #13: Know the Signs of Drive Belt Wear to Prevent Bigger Problems
It provides power for your alternator, power steering, and air conditioning.
The unfortunate part is that it can also get worn out rather easily, even if you don’t do too much driving.
If you are lucky, your belt will last you at least 50,000 to 80,000 miles.
Still, you should know the warning signs to look out for so that you can tell when the belts need to be replaced.
One of the more common issues is a high-pitched squealing noise that will come from the front of your car. This is often due to misalignment, although it could be a sign of worse wear and tear.
The other thing to keep an eye on is your air conditioning and power steering. If these features aren’t working properly and you can't detect another cause, the belt may be to blame.
Last but not least, an engine that keeps overheating could be also due to a belt issue.
If you notice any of these things, it is best to drive to a mechanic who can take a closer look and let you know if your belt needs to be changed.
Tip #14: Check Your Tire Pressure Monthly to Prevent Accidents
A lot of people are guilty of only checking their tire pressure when they feel they might have a flat. Well, this is not nearly enough.
To keep your tires in good order, you should check the pressure either once a week or monthly.
See, tires that are underinflated can seriously impact the fuel efficiency of your car, causing it to use up a lot more fuel. At the same time, your weakened tires are at a greater risk of damage.
On the other hand, if you inflate your tires too much, you will find the vehicle difficult to handle and that it has a higher chance of experiencing a blowout.
Believe it or not, the tires of each brand and make of vehicle need to be filled up just so. To find what the ideal PSI for your car is, you should check your owner’s manual.
Tip #15: Choose the Right Fuel for Your Car for Optimal Performance
It is rather easy to be swayed by advertising and false information regarding the type of fuel that you should be using.
So, while you are aware that unleaded fuel is the way to go, do you know how important the octane level is as well?
Despite what the name may sound like, the octane level doesn’t actually have anything to do with the power potential of a fuel.
Rather, it is a measurement of how long the fuel can withstand early self ignition despite heat and pressure.
To be on the safe side, you should check your owner’s manual for the minimum octane level that it is capable of withstanding.
These are the car care tips that everyone one should know, regardless of how long you have been a car owner.
While it can seem rather tedious, being aware of all of these facts makes you better equipped to handle your car properly.
In the long run, this will actually save you quite a bit of time and money. So, do yourself a favor and keep all of these tips in mind.
I appreciate your tip about getting the air conditioning inspected. Last summer, the AC in my car stopped working in July. This make the rest of the summer a particularly sweaty one for me. I’m sure that if I had inspected it early, I would have caught the problem before the inconvenience was much more significant. I will keep all of your helpful summer car maintenance tips in mind, thank you!