Car ownership involves more than just the initial purchase; it includes insurance, registration, possible property taxes, and maybe most importantly, maintenance.
Maintenance comprises various elements, like oil changes, tire rotations, brake checks, and filter replacements. Following your owner’s manual can help you manage about 30 different car care items with suggested intervals, but remember, these can vary based on your vehicle and driving conditions.
While our list may not encompass every maintenance task, it certainly covers a majority of them that car owners are likely to encounter throughout their vehicle’s lifespan.
Table of Contents
Most Common Car Maintenance Tasks
1) Oil Change
Recommendation: Every 3,000 to 7,500 miles or as advised by the manufacturer.
If your vehicle is new, conventional motor oil is typically fine unless your vehicle's manufacturer specifically recommends a certain oil type. As your vehicle ages, special blends will help extend the engine’s life, including full synthetics.
2) Tire Pressure
Recommendation: Check monthly (when tires are cold).
Don’t forget to check the spare so it's ready to be used when you need it. The correct PSI will be listed in your owner's manual or on a sticker inside the driver's door jamb.
3) Tire Rotation
Recommendation: Every 6,000 to 8,000 miles.
Extend tire life by rotating on schedule to distribute wear evenly. Unusual changes may mean a front-end alignment or other suspension adjustment is warranted.
4) Tires (Tread Depth)
Recommendation: Check monthly or before long trips.
Adequate tread depth helps to maintain traction on the road, especially in wet or slippery conditions, while worn tread can lead to decreased handling, longer stopping distances, and an increased risk of hydroplaning or skidding.
To assess battery health, use a multimeter. A reading between 12.2 and 12.6 volts signifies a full charge.
7) Engine Air Filter
Recommendation: Replace every 15,000 to 30,000 miles or as required.
A dirty or clogged filter will restrict airflow and can impact performance and reduce fuel efficiency. The replacement process is typically very easy making this as DIY task for almost anyone.
8) Cabin Air Filter
Recommendation: Replace every 15,000 to 25,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes first.
Ensure clean cabin air by changing this filter with regularity. In some cases, you can simply clean it if larger debris are clogging it up. The cabin air filter is typically found behind the glove box in most vehicles.
Those with severe allergies may see benefit in replacing the filter earlier than the recommended interval.
9) Spark Plugs
Recommendation: Replace every 30,000 to 100,000 miles, or as directed by your car's manufacturer.
It's worth considering Iridium spark plugs due to their robust metal composition compared to copper or platinum variants, leading to a slower wear rate.
10) Brake Fluid
Recommendation: Check every 20,000 miles; replace every 1-2 years.
Noisy brakes, including vibration, and fluid discoloration are all signs that your brake fluid needs to be changed.
11) Power Steering Fluid
Recommendation: Check every 30,000 miles; replace as needed.
Recommendation: Check every 30,000 miles; replace every 2-3 years.
Oddly sweet odors coming from under the hood indicate coolant problems. Also, if the car over heats or heater malfunctions, check the coolant level and its condition.
13) Transmission Fluid
Recommendation: Change every 60,000 to 100,000 miles or as advised by the manufacturer.
Typically, good transmission fluid is either clear or bright red. Once it turns deep red or brown, it must be changed.
14) Serpentine Belt
Recommendation: Check every 50,000 miles; replace every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.
Fraying, cracking, loosening, and squealing are signs that the serpentine belt needs replacement.
15) Timing Belt
Recommendation: Check every 60,000 miles; replace every 60,000 to 100,000 miles or as advised by the manufacturer.
If your vehicle uses a timing belt (some use a timing chain), it's imperative that it is in good operating condition. Timing belt failure is often because of age and has the potential to cause catastrophic engine damage. Always get your timing belt replaced at the recommended interval or when if you notice it becoming worn, stretched, or damaged.
16) Windshield Washer Fluid
Recommendation: Check monthly; top off as needed.
For extreme cold, consider a special de-icer blend to keep it flowing all season long.
Recommendation: Check annually or if ride quality decreases.
Take note of leaking around the shocks and struts for trouble signs. Also, excess tire wear, a shaky steering wheel, clunking noises, and a bouncing car are additional signs of concern.
26) Differential Fluid
Recommendation: Change every 30,000 to 60,000 miles or as advised by the manufacturer.
Also known as gear oil, differential oil is in the axle housing. Therefore, it is an easily overlooked maintenance item.
27) HVAC System
Recommendation: Check annually, especially before summer and winter seasons.
For the summer months, replenishing refrigerant (R-134a or R-1234yf) and inspecting for leaks should ensure months of cool cabin driving. In colder months, a lack of heat in the cabin could be due to low coolant, a thermostat that's stuck open, or a blocked heater core.
Recommendation: Inspect annually; clean/flush every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
This is a job you can handle yourself with a pre-mixed coolant and radiator cleaner utilized. Keep in mind, though, you’ll need to recycle the old coolant.
Recommendation: Check every 30,000 miles; replace every 4-5 years.
Neglecting this task may lead to engine overheating. Warning signs such as bulging, cracking, a fluid pool beneath your parked car, moisture spots on the hose exterior, or minor coolant drips around the engine bay indicate a potential issue and shouldn't be ignored.
30) Underbody Wash
If you regularly wash your vehicle, the underside may not receive the proper attention. At least once annually or more often if you live near the ocean, in an area that uses road salt, or if you take your vehicle off-road, use a pressure washer to wash and unclog the drains underneath. This prevents rust and may extend the life of the vehicle.
Car Care Considerations
Being proactive with these 30 essential car care maintenance checks can greatly extend your vehicle’s lifespan and boost its performance.
Your owner’s manual is indeed a great guide, but bear in mind that individual maintenance requirements can vary depending on the specific car and the driving conditions it’s exposed to. Therefore, staying informed and alert is key to maintaining the reliability and value of your vehicle.
As an automotive journalist and owner of Driven Autos, Matt has made a name for himself by providing regular reviews of new cars and educating consumers about their current vehicles. Although originally from New Jersey, Matt now calls North Carolina home, where he lives with his family.