Introduction to Car Maintenance
While some maintenance procedures require professional auto technicians and tools, there are many car maintenance tasks you can do on your own.
So why would you want to do your own car maintenance? Isn’t that what repair shops and dealerships are for? Not if you want to save a significant amount of money in operational costs year after year. How significant? Learning how to do your own oil changes alone could save you $500 per year.
We know you may not be ready to tackle oil jobs just yet, but there are some quick and easy maintenance tasks that can pay big dividends for your wallet and your car’s longevity.
Most of these maintenance procedures only take a few minutes each, and the supplies and tools you need aren’t expensive or hard to use.
Here are some of the top maintenance tasks you can tackle that will save you a lot of money over the lifetime of your vehicle.
Change the Air Filters So You, and Your Engine Can Breathe Easier
You need to replace or clean your vehicle’s air filter every year or 12,000 miles, or as often as your vehicle’s manual recommends. An air filter only costs about $10 and replacing it only takes about 10 minutes.
Compare that to the $30 or $40 you can pay a mechanic, plus the gas and time to take your car and wait, and it’s easy to see why doing it yourself is a smart move. Here’s how to do it:
- Your vehicle’s air filter is usually in a black rectangular box with metal fasteners on the lid.
- Open the air filter housing and not how the filter is inserted, so you replace the new one the same way.
- Remove the old air filter and vacuum out and debris.
- Insert the new air filter.
- Close all the fasteners on the air filter housing.
And you’re done! How easy and convenient is that? To save even more money, you can learn how to change out your vehicle’s cabin air filter too.
Keep Your Battery Clean, Charged, and Ready to Start Every Time
Most modern car batteries require little in the way of maintenance, but they’re still susceptible to corrosion. Corroded battery cables, connectors, and posts can cause your battery to not hold a charge or send enough juice to your starter. The result is a dead battery that will inevitably die at the worst possible moment. Don’t risk getting stranded.
Keeping your battery in good shape only takes a few minutes, some baking soda, an adjustable wrench, disposable gloves, and a wire brush.
When many car batteries can cost over $100, you want to do everything you can to make sure yours lasts as long as possible. Here’s how to keep your vehicle’s battery clean and corrosion-free:
- Put on your disposable gloves to prevent any of the corrosives from irritating your skin.
- Loosen and remove the negative (black) battery cable and then the positive (red) cable.
- If the cable connectors don’t come loose, pry them up with a flathead screwdriver.
- Clean the battery posts with baking soda, water, and the metal brush.
- Move on to the inner side of the cable connectors and the surrounding area to get all the corrosion removed.
- When all the buildup is gone, rinse the battery with water.
- Dry the battery and the cable connectors and hook everything back up.
Start your vehicle to make sure you’ve reconnected things correctly and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Maintain Proper Fluid Levels So Everything Runs Smoothly
Once you get the hang of it, checking and maintaining important fluid levels in your vehicle is quick and easy. Fluids that should be monitored will have a dipstick or other measuring option to ensure you have the proper levels.
Measuring fluids with a dipstick is about as easy as it gets. Remove it, wipe it clean with a paper towel, reinsert it, remove it again and take a reading. Each dipstick will have clear markings for the required fluid levels, making it easy to get the levels right.
Check your owner’s manual for the fluids to use and tackle these three fluid maintenance procedures to keep your car road-ready:
Transmission Fluid Maintenance
Check your transmission fluid by locating a dipstick that fits into what looks like an oversized tube. This layout differs from other fluids with a dipstick because it’s also where you add fluid.
Pull the dipstick out while keeping the dipstick straight up and down to prevent fluid from leaking up the dipstick, giving you a false reading. If you’re low on fluid, add a little at a time and check the dipstick between additions.
Power Steering Fluid Maintenance
Power steering fluid is stored in a small plastic reservoir that is typically labeled on the screw-on cap. Before you unscrew the cap, wipe away dust and debris so it doesn’t contaminate the fluid in the reservoir.
Automakers will usually secure the measuring stick to the lid for convenient and easy reading. If you need more power steering fluid, just add it to the reservoir.
Coolant and Antifreeze
You can easily check the coolant and antifreeze levels by locating a large translucent plastic jug with a cap and hoses that connect to your radiator.
Most of these overflow reservoirs have indicators for the correct fluid levels, making it easy to see if you need to add more.
But because antifreeze and coolant have to be at a certain ratio, you also need to use a coolant tester to test the mixture in your overflow container.
If you do your homework, you can often find a great deal on the perfect used car and save some serious money. But if you want to get the biggest return on your investment, you’re going to have to maintain your vehicle to keep it running smoothly. Use these simple maintenance tips to cut your operating costs and still get the most out of your vehicle.
Shane Vossough is the Finance Director and General Manager at Car Time Supercenter since 2012. He works closely with lenders in Arizona, as well as national banks to ensure customers are offered the best finance options possible.