Car Maintenance 101: 10 Top Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Vehicle

How to Look after Your Car

Your car is an investment, and it will need careful looking after in order to perform at its best for as long as possible. It is there to carry you from point A to point B safely, so proper car maintenance is key to its overall quality.

Cars give you an ultimate sense of freedom, so you’ll want to make sure your car looks sleek and runs smoothly, for you to fully enjoy your driving experience.

However, car maintenance can be a confusing topic, and if you’re new to keeping your car in top condition, then there are certainly a few key steps you’ll need to take to look after your vehicle and develop a good car maintenance schedule.

What is Car Maintenance?

Maintaining a healthy vehicle is essential to enhance its lifespan, and knowing how to maintain a car, along with the car maintenance cost, will save you the hassle of having to fork out on expensive mechanics to do the job for you.

In addition to this, by taking matters into your own hands, you’ll be able to maintain the vehicle in case of an emergency.

Basic car maintenance knowledge is essential for all drivers, so, with that in mind, let’s look at our top car maintenance tips for a healthy vehicle!

Car Maintenance 101: 10 Top Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Vehicle
Indicators

Flashing Lights

If you have a modern car, it will typically have high-tech sensors with sophisticated warning systems, which are in place to alert you to potential hazards and issues.

An important aspect of basic car maintenance is, therefore, to familiarize yourself with what these different light systems mean, so you can start to fix the problem and keep your car working safely.

Let’s check out what each different light refers to when it appears on your instrument panel, so that you can give your car the correct maintenance.

Flashing Lights

Service Engine Light

The service engine light indicates that your car will soon be due for a scheduled maintenance. This particular light may appear in different prints, such as “service engine,” “maint reqd,’ or “service.” If you are unsure of what this light means in reference to your specific car model, be sure to check your car’s manual.

Engine Light

When the engine light appears, it is generally because there is an issue with the parts of the car’s motor.

The engine of modern cars will have sensors that are connected to an OBD-II interface. Each OBD-II code will contain its own meaning, and there are around 4000 codes in total.

Therefore, if this light comes on, then you’ll need to get your hands on an OBD2 scanner tool to fix the problem. Alternatively, you can ask a trained technician to fix this for you if possible.

Brake Warning Light

In regards to this light, there are several reasons why it might start flashing.

One reason could be that the parking brakes are engaged, or that there isn’t enough brake fluid. These will typically be the most-likely issues, but be sure to double-check your car’s manual just in case.

Electrical Fault Light

This fault light is relatively straightforward to understand. If this light still flashes after the car’s self-test, it will mean that the car’s electrical charging system isn’t fully functioning, and you’ll need to address these issues. This could be due to a fault with the alternator, so be sure to check this out.

Coolant Warning Light

This a self-explanatory one. It means that the engine is overheating, so don’t waste any time fixing this. Make sure to pull over in a safe place, open up the good, and let it cool down. Be sure to NEVER open the radiator cap, due to the highly-pressurized cooling system, as this can cause severe injury. Only do this once the engine has fully cooled down.

ABS Warning Light

If this light flashes, this can be quite a cause for concern. ABS stands out for the Anti-Lock Braking System. This system is essential for keeping your car stable and smooth to control in case you need to suddenly bring the car to a stop. It is therefore a highly important safety mechanism, so if this flashes, take your car to a local automotive shop, where they can use the best vehicle tools and equipment to fix the issue.

Oil Warning Light

The oil warning light will flash if the oil pressure in the engine is too low. When this light flashes, do not try to drive the vehicle, as it can completely damage your entire engine. Not only can this light appear due to low oil pressure, but it can also flash if there is oil pump failure, or oil strainer blockage.

Inspection

Routine Car Maintenance

You can’t start to maintain a car without being aware of how exactly to inspect it.

Ideally, you will need to know how to perform the inspection by yourself, so that you can be fully knowledgeable about how exactly your car works and what tools and equipment you’ll need to fix it when the time comes.

As your knowledge around car maintenance increases, you can start to build a car maintenance schedule chart to help you plan in your inspections.

Let’s take a look at how best to perform regular inspections on your vehicle for car maintenance.

Routine Car Maintenance

Performing an inspection is quite a straightforward process, but it is a crucial step that cannot be overlooked.

You’ll need to be aware of the various components that make up your vehicle, and what their functions are, so that you can know what the appropriate next steps are to take for maintenance.

If you can perform the next step yourself, then you’re already getting to grips with basic car maintenance. However, there is no shame in needing professional help for certain tasks.

You may find that some car maintenance will require special tools, such as a QuickJack, or an additional person for assistance, so you’ll need to contact a skilled mechanic or technician for these issues.

Once you know what to look out for, inspections are relatively simple to perform. If you are unsure, consult your car’s manual for more information on how that specific model is built, and what tools certain components may require you to use.

It is important to not ignore something if it doesn’t look right, as yours and others’ safety will otherwise be put at risk. The longer an issue gets ignored, the more time it has to develop into a serious problem.

The best way to become more knowledgable about your car and its inner workings is to keep performing these regular inspections, even on a casual basis. This will ensure that you’ll become more familiar with your car’s parts, and soon you’ll be able to spot a problem as soon as it occurs.

Engine

Running Smoothly

The Engine is essentially the ‘heart’ of your vehicle, as it keeps it up and running.

There are lots of components that make up the engine, and it’s vital that you familiarize yourself with these. However, in regards to car maintenance, there will be different areas to consider while you’re inspecting the engine.

Simply put, if the engine fails, you won’t be getting very far, so make sure the engine undergoes a thorough inspection with regular car maintenance, to keep your car in the best condition possible.

Here are our top tips for keeping your engine maintained and healthy!

Running Smoothly

Check the Engine’s Coolant Level

As the engine is built to keep your car moving, it will generate heat when the car is running. The oil in the engine will work by reducing the friction between its moving components, which helps the engine to not overheat or get too hot, too quickly.

However, the impact of the oil can only go so far, so your engine will need to be able to get rid of all of the heat it has generated over the course of its time spent running. This is where the engine’s coolant comes into play.

The engine’s radiator will have fluid inside, known as the ‘coolant.’ However, if there isn’t any coolant, or if the radiator is running low, then the generated heat will struggle to disappear.

That’s how overheating happens, so it is essential that these coolant levels are checked out on a regular basis. When performing a maintenance inspection, the coolant level will need to be one of the first areas to assess.

The good news it’s pretty easy to do this, especially with modern cars. Many coolant reservoirs are translucent, with level markings on the panel to help you.

Oil Levels

The moving parts of the engine will cause friction as they move against each other, which will lead to heat generation. Heat generation can cause the engine’s performance to suffer, which is why this friction will need to be reduced as much as possible in order to encourage a smooth running engine.

That’s why oil is so important, and when it comes to car maintenance, it is paramount that you check the car’s oil levels. This is a key part of basic car maintenance, and it’s not too difficult to perform.

  • You need to remove the oil dipstick and wipe it with a clean cloth. This stops any excess oil from concealing the level indicators on the dipstick so that you can read it clearly.
  • Then, once it is wiped, reinsert the dipstick fully back in and pull it back out.
  • It should then be clear to see exactly where the current oil level is, by following the indicators near the tip.
  • There will typically be two notches or dots, with a ‘H’ and an ‘L’ next to them. In some vehicles, it is worth noting that this instead be represented by two shaded or patterned points for additional clarity.
  • You’ll need to ensure that your oil level is focused between these two points for optimal oil levels.

Make sure the oil is an amber color, and not black, as this can indicate that it is contaminated or too hot. There are different types of oils available, so you’ll need to choose this depending on the type that your vehicle requires, and be sure to check the manual for when exactly the oil needs to be changed.

Drive Belts

The engine works by providing energy to not only the wheels, but also to other parts of the car so that they run smoothly too. This is done by the use of Drive Belts.

Drive belts shift power from the crankshaft to the car’s alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, or other parts of the vehicle that require mechanical power.

Many modern cars will typically use a single belt, often referred to as a ‘Serpentine Belt.’ This works by rotating from the crank pulley. However, as these belts are generally designed with rubber, they are not particularly durable.

That’s why it is essential that these belts are regularly checked over time. You’ll need to look out for visible hairline cracks, or any kind of wear and tear.

Some drivers believe that the serpentine belt needs to be changed every 40,000 miles, but this isn’t a given fact. Instead, be sure to check out what your car manufacturer recommends, but again, only take these guidelines as a suggestion. If you find that your drive belt is no longer working to its best ability, it’s up to you to decide whether it needs changing.

Replace the Air Filter

For your engine to run efficiently, it will need to have an excellent combination of air and fuel working together. That’s why the engine’s air filter needs to be clean, without any debris affecting the running of the engine or its overall operation.

If the air entering the engine is contaminated, then your car’s horsepower will decline, and you may start to hear irritating sounds coming from the engine too.

If you’re wanting to learn how to maintain a car, then replacing the engine’s air filter is a key step that cannot be missed. You will need to check out your car manufacturer’s recommendations beforehand, to see how exactly it should be replaced.

It is worth noting that there are many factors that can contribute to the durability and cleanliness of an engine’s air filter. If you drive amongst a lot of traffic, or go for long drives on a regular basis, then the debris can gather much quicker than it would otherwise.

Visually inspecting the air filter can be more useful than checking the manual’s guidelines, with this in mind, as you’ll be able to see just how clean or dirty it really is.

Replace the Spark Plugs

If you have noticed the car’s engine misfiring at times, then you’ll need to look at replacing the spark plugs.

It is suggested that spark plugs are replaced after every 30,000 miles if it is a copper style plug. If your vehicle has an iridium spark plug, then these can last up to 100,000 miles, but be sure to check the owner’s manual for more information related to your specific car model.

Tires and Wheels

Under Pressure

Tires and wheels are undoubtedly crucial parts of any vehicle, and their quality is incredibly significant to their overall running.

When you’re maintaining a car, there are several steps to take regarding the tires and wheels, in order for your car to function to the best of its ability. This includes checking the tire pressure and the tread depth, for example.

Let’s check out what to inspect when you’re maintaining the tires and wheels.

Under Pressure

Examine the Tread Depth

Your tires will need to function well in any and all weather conditions, and that’s why the tires’ tread depth is so important.

Each type of tire will have its own tread pattern. Many modern car tires will have wide contact patches, which all the rubber of the tire to act in a more versatile way.  You can check out our review of Hercules tires if you’re looking for a high-quality, modern tire brand.

Tire manufacturers will use treat wear bars into their compounds, which help you to easily decipher whether the tire treads are deep enough to prevent water from damaging them.

If your tires do not feature tread wear indicators, then you’ll need a new set. Although this can be costly, it is far better than having an accident in wet conditions where you’ll be forking out much more, or you’ll have suffered from injuries, neither of which is a situation you want to be in.

Assess the Tire Pressure

Tire pressure can have a big impact on the vehicle’s overall performance, as well as the fuel economy. The pressure can also affect your overall control and comfort when using the car.

That’s why you’ll need to consult the owner’s manual, to find out the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle. There are also advanced tools and technology available to help you gauge your tires’ current pressure.

In an ideal world, for the best car maintenance, this would be done every day, but a weekly assessment should work well too.  If your car is more advanced, it may include a tire pressure monitoring system already, but there are also apps you can use via smartphones to help you have the tire pressure consistently monitored, and some will even send out notifications to alert you.

Dust Off Your Wheels

Brake dust, although not likely to cause serious issues with a car’s overall functioning, it can make the wheels look unappealing. Brake dust typically comes from various materials from the brake rotor and the brake pad, once they come into contact after applying the brakes, and the dust will generally be iron particles.

It is essential that the dust gets cleaned off regularly, to prevent the wheel from staining. It’s easy to clean – simply use a damp sponge and cold water.

Tire Alignment

One important component of basic car maintenance is the balancing and alignment of your wheels. As the wheels are such a key factor in terms of the car’s overall safety, it is essential that they are balanced correctly.

You will need to make sure your tires are rotated, balanced, and aligned, in accordance with the indicated mileage in the car’s owner’s manual. Generally, it is recommended that they are rotated every 5000 miles, but the manual will give you a more accurate idea based on the car’s specifications.

Electricity

Batteries and Power

Many modern vehicles will include advanced batteries and electronic components to help give you as much power as possible, and for your car to be reliable on the road.

While electric car maintenance may be slightly different than gasoline-powered engines, electricity plays a vital role amongst all cars.

However, car battery problems can be common, and if they aren’t maintained properly, you might find yourself in a difficult situation.

Particularly during cold weather, it is essential that your car battery and the car’s electrical features are looked after carefully, to prevent accidents or breakdowns from happening.

Let’s take a look at how best to maintain your car’s electrical components.

Batteries and Power

Assess and Clean Battery Terminals

If your battery is described as maintenance-free, it doesn’t mean that you can ignore it completely.

As the first step, it is crucial that you find out whereabouts the battery is located within the engine bay. Then, you’ll need to check if it needs cleaning or replacing.

If you notice that the battery has signs of corrosion, then it’s time to get it cleaned up. For the most thorough clean, you’ll need to buy a cleaning brush that has the specific purpose of scrubbing battery terminals. With proper cleaning, you’ll help to extend the battery’s lifespan, so you’ll be less likely to have to fork out for replacement batteries.

In addition to this, you may want to consider purchasing a battery tester and a jump starter. Although modern car batteries are generally built to be reliable, you never know when the unexpected may happen and they could die on you. With this in mind, having a spare battery is also a good idea.

Disconnecting

When you need to disconnect the battery terminals, it is important that you don’t simply dive on the first connector that you see and unfasten it. There is a safe procedure that you’ll need to follow for this process.

You’ll need to make sure to always disconnect the negative terminals before the positive ones. This will prevent any potential chance of electrical short-circuiting, which will keep you safe and prevent the current from having a complete circuit at any point.

When disconnecting the batteries, remember to remove the negative before the positive. However, when reconnecting the battery, you’ll need to do the opposite – first positive, then negative.

Fuel

Fuel Performance

If you’re serious about car maintenance, then you’ll need to seriously consider how you use fuel, and how it can affect your car’s performance and durability.

It is easy to think that modern cars can handle you putting your foot down on a regular basis, but overdoing it in the fuel department will only cause you issues further down the line.

The chances are, you’ve made an investment in your car, and you’ll therefore want it to last you as long as possible. Even if your car is highly-advanced, you’ll still need to be conscious of fuel to keep your car well-maintained.

Here are our thoughts on how to maintain your car when thinking about fuel:

Fuel Performance

Consider the Octane Rating

Many drivers may be of the assumption that higher octane fuel means that the car will be more powerful. Although this is true to an extent, it is an essential part of why sports cars run well with their purpose-built engines.

These engines will have high compression ratios, which means they will be more likely to ‘knock’ if lower octane fuel is used.

If you are not intending to use your car for high-speed purposes, such as race car driving, then this won’t really apply to you. So, with that in mind, be sure to use the regular fuel that the owner’s manual will suggest.

However, if this does state that you need high octane gas in the tank, then you’ll need to do this too. Your car will thank you in the long run.

The Importance of Fuel Economy

Running an engine efficiently will help to burn fuel at a more consistent, and therefore less aggressive, rate.

Good car maintenance will come from taking preventive measures to ensure that your car doesn’t suffer damage in the first place. It’s crucial that you to try to be aware of your odometer and trip readings whilst driving, to prevent your engine from working too hard unnecessarily.

Exterior

It's What's on the Outside That Counts

Ok, it’s really more about what’s inside. But having a clean and smooth-looking exterior all plays into the role of good car maintenance, and if you want to feel confident driving in your vehicle, then it will need to look the part.

You won’t want to drive around in a dull car with damaged paintwork. The outside should reflect the inside, and if you’ve followed these steps and looked after your car’s health, then the outside can be the finishing touch.

It may seem like an costly expense, but in terms of how much to budget for car maintenance, the exterior maintenance doesn’t need to break the bank.

It's What's on the Outside That Counts

Let’s Go to the Car (Hand) Wash

Having a clean car doesn’t just mean you can show it off whilst you’re driving around town.

Cleaning your car is also a way of prolonging its lifespan. By removing grime and dirt from the outside of the car, the vehicle will be less likely to suffer from corrosion and long-term wear.

While automated car washes are a convenient method to scrub your vehicle, the stiff brushes used in these places can cause scratches on the car which will have the opposite intended effect on its durability.

Robots may seem like the way of the future, but these machines aren’t perfect, and they can miss parts of the car, leaving you with a half-clean job.

Instead, it is recommended that you go to a hand wash, as your car will be cleaned more thoroughly, or you can do some DIY car maintenance, and wash it from home.

If you are planning to take up the job yourself, then you’ll need to use a good cleaning solution, not just dish soap, and the car will need to be dried using a soft chamois cloth for best results.

High-Quality Detailing Supplies

To enhance the overall quality of your car, you’ll need to look into purchasing the best kind of detailing supplies, to push your car’s appearance to the next level.

The good news is that supplies such as car polishes and car waxes have advanced over time, giving you long-lasting, sophisticated results that will keep your car looking supreme.

Although it might seem superficial, cars are an investment that you’ll likely be using day-in, day-out, so you won’t want to overlook the quality of its exterior.

If a car isn’t waxed properly, it can be difficult to remove unwanted stains and damage to the car, such as annoying bird droppings. The chemical compounds from bird poop are something you don’t want to deal with, as it can seriously damage your car’s paint job. Make sure to wash this off as soon as possible, if it occurs.

Bulbs

Don't Forget the Bulbs

It can be easy to forget about your car’s bulbs, but they are an extremely important fixture within any vehicle.

They play a key role in keeping you safe, so you shouldn’t overlook them when it comes to car maintenance.

They work by informing other drivers of your intended direction, or if there is an oncoming hazard.

Let’s see how you can look after your car’s bulbs to keep your vehicle well-maintained, as part of your car maintenance checklist.

Don't Forget the Bulbs

Keep Away From the Glass

When it comes time to replace a bulb on your headlight, you don’t need to worry about any complicated processes. It is easy to do, but you will need to keep yourself safe.

You’ll want to avoid the glass part of the bulb, and instead only touch the metal bulb holder, which is fixed at the base of the lighting mount.

If you do have to touch the glass, then you must wear a mechanic’s gloves or sterile surgical gloves as protection.

The reason for this is to prevent the transfer of any grime or oils from your fingertips to the bulbs, as the bulb will have a special coating on its surface which can be affected by this.

If you don’t take proper precautions, and then turn the headlights on, the affected part of the bulb will heat up faster than the rest of the bulb and will start to crack.

Be on Top of Replacements

As we’ve mentioned, the bulbs are an incredibly important part of a car, so you’ll need to ensure that they are working properly at all times.

If you start to notice issues with the indicator lights, for example, if they start flashing quicker than usual, then you may blown a light bulb, and it will need replacing.

Replacing car bulbs is an easy process, and many modern cars feature lighting modules that don’t require you to go to a shop to replace them.

However, make sure to only use the correct, specific kind of bulb for your car model.

Extras

The Finishing Touches

It may seem like we’ve covered all there is to know when it comes to car maintenance, and you could think that now you know exactly what car maintenance is necessary for your vehicle.

However, if you want to really know how to maintenance a car, then you can’t leave any stone unturned. Each part of the car will play some kind of role in its overall functioning, and the often forgotten components, such as the windshield wipers, can make all the difference.

With that in mind, work on maintaining these extra parts for that perfect finishing touch.

The Finishing Touches

The Cabin Air Filter

Although replacing the cabin air filter isn’t likely to make a noticeable difference to your car’s general performance, it is good practice to replace it if necessary, especially if one of your car’s regular occupants suffers from dust allergies.

Doing this is a straightforward and practical way to keep everyone safe in the car. It is typically said that the cabin air filter should be replaced every 12 months, or every 12000 miles, depending on which happens first.

Windshield Wipers

When your driving, one of the most important safety aspects to consider is the amount of visibility you have. That’s where your windshield wipers come in to play, and it’s crucial that they’re looked after properly.

To maintain a healthy vehicle, you’ll need to ensure that your car’s windshield wipers are working to their highest level at all times. As they can be used quite often, they are not the most durable components of any car, so it’s likely that they’ll suffer wear and tear more easily than your tires, for example.

With that in mind, you may need to replace the windshield wipers from time to time. If you start to notice a lot of squeaking noises when they are activated, then it’s time for them to go.

You can buy a replacement wiper, and this should ideally be the suggested one for use in your vehicle.

 

Technology

How Technology Can Improve Your Maintenance

Performing basic car maintenance doesn’t need to feel like a huge chore nowadays.

With the advancement of modern technology, it is now easier than ever to keep your car in great condition, by using a car maintenance app.

Here’s a look at some of the best car maintenance apps to use, to help you keep track of your car’s condition!

How Technology Can Improve Your Maintenance

AutoCare

This app is available on iOS and Android operating systems and lets you track your car’s maintenance, with a car maintenance log and repair history. It will notify you when it’s time to get to work on maintaining your vehicle.

aCar

aCar is available on Android devices and works by letting you fill in records of your vehicle’s mileage, repair, and maintenance history. You can then use the custom notifications feature to choose when it alerts you.

Road Trip

Road Trip is an iOS app, that allows you to track fuel mileage, along with your repair and maintenance history. It also includes a tire log, which gives you an idea as to what tread wear you’ll need on your tires for the summer and the winter months.

Summary

Car maintenance doesn’t need to be difficult, and having a car maintenance checklist such as this guide can help you to keep your vehicle in top condition.

By using these tips, you can work out the average car maintenance costs for your vehicle, and start to get serious about a car maintenance schedule.

Hopefully now you’ll feel like an expert on car maintenance 101!

Do you have any more tips for car maintenance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, and don’t forget to share this review with your friends!

Thanks for reading!

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