Keeping up with maintenance on a vehicle can be tough if you aren’t a car expert and don’t have an experienced and trusted mechanic who regularly works on your car. It’s tough to determine on your own what is necessary versus what might not be as important and could just be paying your mechanic’s rent.
Regular maintenance can be even more challenging if you don’t know a ton about cars (most of us don’t) and don’t have a clear idea of what parts you’re supposed to be maintaining. Whether you’ve just purchased your first car or you’re trying to do a better job of maintaining your vehicle, this guide is to help you figure out what is standard maintenance on most cars.
These are the basic parts that you can expect to renew:
- Oil and oil filter
- Engine coolant
- Fuel filter
- Power steering fluid
- Timing belt
- Spark plugs
- Windshield wipers
Resources For The Novice Car Maintainer
Here you will find lucrative resources to help you better care for your vehicle.
- Service Advisor– Dealerships will almost always have someone whose sole responsibility is helping clients properly maintain their vehicles. They are usually highly knowledgeable on your car’s make and model and can look at your records and tell you what you are doing a good job of and where your maintenance strategy has some room for improvement. My one reservation on these individuals is that they are typically paid on a commission basis so I would get a second opinion and fact check anything they tell you is necessary online. Take notes!
- Your Car’s User Manual– There is no better information on your vehicle than the maintenance suggestions provided by the engineers who designed the car. Vehicles go through a ton of testing before they are unveiled on the car market, in that testing the manufacturer tests each individual part to determine what is needed to keep them operating at optimal performance. Your user manual should be like your guiding light. Follow it closely.
- Your (trusted) mechanic– A trustworthy mechanic is priceless if you are a novice. Mechanics understand the working components of vehicles. They know how to care for them and they know what it looks like when parts are not properly maintained. On the other side of that coin, mechanics definitely have money to be earned by recommending services.
If you don’t have a close friend of the family that spends all of their free time tinkering under a car in their garage, never fear! Thanks to technology and online reviews you can absolutely find someone you are comfortable with. I always advise people to trust their gut when hiring a mechanic for the first time. If something seems off, it probably is.
If you are truly uncomfortable negotiating with a mechanic, it’s okay, a lot of people are. You can hire a company on your behalf (like Protect My Car) to do the wheeling and dealing. The best part is that these companies usually have a relationship with the mechanics and send them enough business that they significantly knock down the price of repairs.
Standard Car Maintenance Items
There are quite a few items on this list that won’t vary whether you drive a lifted truck or a hybrid. They all drive on tires. Check out this list of standard maintenance tasks you want to be sure to keep up with.
Changing Your Oil and Filter
Oil serves a few purposes when it comes to your vehicle. For one it keeps all of the engine parts nice and slick so they don’t stick together. Another benefit of oil is that it cleans the engine of the vehicle of any dirt and debris. The oil picks up any of these outside particles and brings them to your oil filter. The oil filter does its filtering duties and cleans the oil of this junk.
Over time oil breaks down and filters get clogged. So naturally, to further protect our vehicles we must replace these items. Both are relatively easy to replace and get done at the same time so the labor hours on these projects are low.
When to replace: this maintenance item will vary depending on the variety of oil that your vehicle requires. Generally, it is recommended that oil be changed on vehicles every 3,000 miles, but with newer advancements in lubricants, that standard is being pushed to 5,000 -7,500 miles with fully synthetic oils sometimes lasting up to 15,000 miles. Your user manual is a great resource and I suggest following manufacturer recommendations to a T.
Replacing Your Tires
Ah, tires the universally used car part. While cars may differ greatly on what’s under the hood, one thing they all have in common is that they run on rubber tires. Tires have a lot of responsibility both in acceleration and in braking. Without proper tread, your car can have a tough time doing both and especially in unfavorable conditions.
Over time, the tough rubber that your tires are built out of will wear away against the pavement. Tread is measured in the United States to the 1/32nd of an inch. New tires will offer tread depths between 9/32 and 11/32 of an inch. Tires are considered unsafe when they reach 2/32 of an inch but it’s best to replace tires before it gets close to that tread depth.
When to replace: In general, it is advisable to check your tire’s pressure once a month to ensure your pressure levels are at a safe driving range. At this time you can also check over the tires for damage from nails or tread wear. With all parts, you have to judge the individual specimen to know when it will need to be replaced. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to get between 25,000 and 50,000 miles out of your tires, unless you’re in the practice of drag racing and regularly stopping short. Winter tires will usually last you 3- 4 seasons again, dependent on usage.
Replacing Engine Coolant
Engine coolant is the liquid that surges through your car cooling off the molten hot metal and preventing the heat from warping the components. Engine coolant contains a substance known as antifreeze which as a chemical additive raises the boiling point of the fluid and lowers the freezing point. This is important because frozen engine coolant won’t move through the coolant system and boiling liquids, in general, can’t accept more heat.
Maintaining the integrity of your coolant as well as making sure the levels are above the acceptable level is really important because the impact of not taking these measures can leave you with costly repairs and even a totaled vehicle.
When to replace: I sound like a broken record but the answer is that it varies. The most accurate information will once again be found in the user manual of your car as well as the recommended coolant type. The widely practiced average is around the 30,000-mile mark for most engine coolants, but if you don’t drive a vehicle regularly you’ll want to replace the coolant every 3 years.
Replace Your Fuel Filter
The fuel filter is used to ensure that no outside particles (dirt, paint chips, etc) are able to make it into the combustion part of your car. The fuel filter does exactly as its name commands and filters the fuel. While the filter has an important job, it can also cause a lot of issues if it isn’t maintained properly.
As most filters do, fuel filters become clogged with the contaminants they seek to remove. Eventually, a filter can become so clogged that your car struggles to push the fuel through. Owners can see issues arise such as decreased power when towing a heavy load or driving up a hill. In severe cases, the car may not start or will stall out when the filter is suffocating the car from its fuel source.
When to replace: Fuel filters come in an array of options from single-use paper filters to other types of reusable and washable filters. While maintenance time and mileage ranges vary greatly with fuel filters, you can expect your range to be somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 miles.
Since the 1920’s vehicles have relied on electricity to start their engines and run the electrical components, including lights. The standard car battery is 12 volts and has 6 chambers. How it works is when you press the start button or turn the key, the battery will convert its chemical energy into electrical energy which in turn is delivered to the starter which cranks the engine. In original cars, this starting process was cranked by hand and could be very dangerous.
Without getting overly technical, the way a battery works is chemicals flow between a cathode and an anode. Over time, this process will destroy the cathode thus limiting the full capacity of energy the battery can hold and thus convert to power. Thanks to our batteries and the electric starting system, we no longer have to put human lives at risk to start the car, but because we rely so heavily on batteries it’s imperative that we replace them when they begin to wear out.
When to replace: It’s pretty normal to have to replace the battery in your vehicle after 3 years though they can last up to 5 years with proper maintenance. You can have a mechanic check the volts produced by the battery or you can check them yourself with the proper battery testing equipment. If your battery does not maintain at least 9.6 volts it is considered bad and will need to be replaced.
The stopping features on your car are definitely important to the health and wellbeing of you and anyone you are on the road with. Brakes stop your vehicle by converting the kinetic energy of your moving car into heat using friction.
All that heat can take a toll though, and eventually, brake pads wear down. The fluid in your brake system will also need to be replaced with time along with the master cylinder and brake lines.
So what is the time frame that brakes need to be maintained? While with all maintenance items timing of replacement will vary, you can expect a certain mileage count to be an accurate representation of product life. Your vehicle’s parts may vary and the best resource for information on the specific parts in your vehicle is going to be the user manual of the vehicle.
When to replace: As a general rule of thumb, brake pads need to be replaced every 12,000 miles. The fluid can go about double that and is replaced at the 25,000-mile mark or every other time you replace the brake pads.
Power Steering Fluid
The power steering in your vehicle uses hydraulics to help amplify turning measures, making it easier to turn the vehicle by augmenting effort. The power steering requires a special type of fluid to keep it running smoothly, power steering fluid.
When to replace: Over time this hydraulic fluid does need to be replaced to keep your steering running in optimal condition. There is some debate in the car industry on the length of time or mileage at which your power steering fluid should be replaced. The most popular opinion is at 2- 3 years or 50,000 miles. This maintenance item may not be detailed in your user manual.
A timing belt is responsible for opening and closing the chambers in your engine at the appropriate time during a car’s intake and exhaust strokes. The timing belt, also known as the timing chain or cambelt is a vital part of the combustion engine in your car, synchronizing the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft.
Over time this toothed belt will wear down rendering it incapable of completing this important task.
When to replace: You will find the manufacturer recommendation for timing belt replacement in your owner’s manual of your car. While the time frame on replacing these belts may vary especially when the belt is covered with a metal or polymer covering, you can assume the belt will need replacement around the 40,000-mile mark. Replacement can however come as early as 30,000 miles or as late as 50,000 -60,000 miles. Some car manufacturers recommend that the water pump in your vehicle be replaced at the same time as the timing belt.
Your vehicle’s spark plugs are responsible for igniting the air and fuel mixture which then creates energy to power your car forward. The plugs will create an arc of electricity between them allowing this ignition to take place.
When spark plugs become worn and begin to deteriorate it can have several impacts on your vehicle. Car’s with spotty spark plugs have a tendency to either misfire and/ or overheat. As this part is vital for keeping the vehicle moving forward, it’s important to replace your spark plugs before they have worn down to the point where you have a misfiring engine or overheating engine.
When to replace: You should plan on replacing your spark plugs every 30,000 miles though this range can be somewhere between the 20,000 and 40,000-mile mark based on wear and tear. It won’t break the bank to fund this repair. On average you can expect to spend somewhere between $16 and $100 to replace this part.
Windshield Wiper Blades
Windshield wipers are essential for safety when driving through heavy rain and inclement weather conditions. It’s very difficult to safely maneuver a vehicle if you can’t see where you are going. It may seem a simple concept but this maintenance item is one that is neglected more than almost any other.
Over time the rubber that pushes the water from the glass will wear down and the wiper blade is not able to do its job as effectively. For this reason, we must replace this part before it becomes a safety hazard for the car owner and the other drivers on the road with that vehicle.
When to replace: Windshield wiper blades should be replaced every six months to a year depending of course on vehicle usage. Someone who lives in the desert will likely not have to replace their blades as quickly as someone who lives in the tropics and frequently relies on their wipers to guide them to safety. You can tell a wiper blade is ready to be replaced when it begins to squeak during use, chatter, skip, smear or streak.
This is another replacement that won’t break the bank and you can even perform very easily at home. Average cost for replacing windshield wiper blades is around $10 and is almost always under the $20 mark.
Does A New Car Warranty Cover Maintenance?
Unfortunately, dealership warranties almost never cover maintenance. Dealership warranties, also known as a factory warning, offer bumper to bumper coverage in the case of anything malfunctioning at no fault of an accident or negligent care of the owner.
They will for instance cover a bad air compressor or a faulty transmission that malfunctions in the standard 3 years 36,000 miles, or whatever time frame the dealership warrants their vehicles. What they won’t cover include your standard maintenance items like tire replacement or oil changes.
Some dealerships will offer maintenance plans for purchase where you prepay or pay a monthly amount for a certain month count or mileage range amount of service. This is where the mechanics at the dealership care for your car. These services tend to be less valuable than providing routine maintenance yourself using a maintenance schedule and a trusted mechanic, but can be a great option for certain situations like a parent sending their kid to college.