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Under The Hood: Your Guide To Routine Car Maintenance

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Whether it’s the old beater or the new ride, your vehicle is not something to be neglected.  Not only will this routine maintenance save on your car’s wear and tear, these ten tips will extend the life of your car and actually help you save money on gas and future repair needs.  In many ways, you can think of your car like your body:  if you take care of it, it performs the way you want it to and trips to the doctor will be few and far between.  If you treat it like garbage, trips to the doctor will be more frequent, and “treatment” will get expensive.  Treat your car how you (or how you should) treat your body and follow these routine maintenance checks to avoid costly repairs and dangerous driving conditions.

oil change

Oil Change:  Quench your car’s thirst every 3,000-6,000 miles.

The king of routine maintenance is the oil change.  Depending on the make of your car, it’s recommended every 3,000-6,000 miles.

Why?  Metal on metal is not good.  Oil lubricates your engine to run on maximum efficiency and keep those pistons firing on all cylinders.  Over time, sediment and grit can get in your oil and grind away at your engine.  Wait too long on an oil change and your engine can overheat… and in worst case scenarios, your engine will seize (not cheap to fix, people!).


Brakes:  Stopping is not optional.

As your brakes help you deal with stop signs, deer in the road, and traffic jams, they slowly wear down.  Luckily, break pads let you know with a loud and squeaky warning when it’s time to change.  With brake pads and rotors, it’s tough to give an exact (or even a rough) estimate on miles. It depends on how often you stop and what driving conditions you’re in.  Most importantly, look at your brakes and listen to them too.  Brake Pads AND Rotors?  There is a good debate as to the necessity of changing both. Ultimately, it’s up to you as to which route to take, but certainly the look and listen tests apply to rotors.

Why?  Brakes can fail and impede your ability to stop – which impedes your ability to live.


Air Filter:  Breathe it in!

Engines require air to operate.  Remember:  intake, compression, power, and exhaust!  Air filters make their cameo during the intake step bringing in (hopefully) clean air to feed the process.  It’s not much more complicated than that.  An air filter filters the air used to help run your engine.  Check it every 6,000 miles to be safe.

Why:  An air filter that is dirty can decrease power to your engine and increase the chances of stalling out.

Do it yourself:  Air filters are extremely easy to inspect and replace.  There’s a reason every time you go for an oil change they try to sell you one “installation included.” Check out this quick video on how to change your air filter.

broken down

Timing Belt:  A must-do for the preemptive striker.

An absolute must-do if your car is approaching 60k-100k (important to check owners manual recommendations on this one).  Timing belts are like the bike chain for your car.  You’ll want to get the timing belt replaced before it’s too late.  Unfortunately, there are few warning signs to a brittle timing belt other than being stranded on the side of the road wondering why you didn’t get it fixed sooner.

Why:  The timing belt keeps the entire operation of the car running smoothly. The timing belt controls the camshaft and if you remember from before, intake, compression, power exhaust does not happen without it.  In auto repair speak, it’s much easier to replace a timing belt before it breaks than to try and rip apart the engine after it breaks.  Save time and money:  replace your timing belt while it’s still running.  Not convinced? What if we told you that a broken timing belt made the list of the ten worst things a mechanic can tell you!

spark plug firing

Spark Plugs:  Fun for the whole family!

Spark plugs are small and hidden away in the engine.  Don’t let this fool you.  Neglecting spark plugs can ruin your day. Recommended at different intervals, never trust the lifetime spark plug guarantee.  50,000 miles is safe if you want the maintenance to be smooth and keep your engine firing great on all cylinders.

 Why:  Spark plugs provide the charge for the power portion of the intake, compression, power exhaust portion of your vehicle.  Without a spark, there’s no go.


Best of the Rest:

Anything that could prevent “intake, compression, power, exhaust” is mandatory.  Your engine will not run unless all four of these steps are working (all items listed above).  Now, there are other routine maintenance items that might not be absolutely required to keep your engine running, but would be a great idea to maximize fuel efficiency and the life expectancy of your vehicle.

tire pressure

Tire Pressure

Always check tire pressure.  Although your tires may look inflated, your pounds per square inch (PSI) might be low.  Check tire pressure to keep your tires healthy and improve gas mileage.  If tires are not checked regularly, tires can wear unevenly and need replacing.  If tires are inflated too much the same thing can happen.  Checking your tires is worth the 75 cents next time you fill up your tank!


Car Wash

Required to attract members of the opposite sex, washing your car is not required to keep the engine healthy.  But, if you live in an area where the roads are salted, washing your car can have awesome results in preventing rust.


Car Battery

Technically a car battery can leave you hanging high and dry if not maintained.  Swing your car through any auto repair chain store to have them check the juice left in your battery (for freee!).

radiator flush

Radiator Flush and Drain

Keep your engine cool in the summer and prevent it from freezing in the winter.  Now that’s some magic potion!  Most car manufacturers will recommend draining every year and flushing every 40,000 miles or so, but it varies.  Again, check your owner’s manual for recommendations.

Why?  Flushing and draining the radiator helps clear out sediment that can build up and also energizes the car with fresh fluid.  Remember, put good energy in, get good energy out.



Although technically your car can run without windshield washer fluid, it might not be a good idea to go anywhere.  Fluids you should be checking regularly include engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid.  Not sure where to find these, check out this helpful list of where and how to check your car’s fluids.

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