30 Car Maintenance Tasks (and Suggested Intervals)

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.

Related: 5 Most Frequently Done Car Repairs in the US

Most Common Car Maintenance Tasks

1) Oil Change

best oil drain pan

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

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.

If you need new tires, check out our tire brand recommendations.

5) Brake Pads

installing brake pads

Recommendation: Check every 10,000 miles and replace if necessary.

Signs of worn brake pads include grinding, squeaking, vibration when braking, and taking longer to stop.

6) Battery

Recommendation: Inspect every 15,000 miles and replace every 3-5 years.

Be aware that extreme weather conditions may reduce this lifespan. Most car batteries today don't require any water addition, qualifying as maintenance-free. However, cleaning corrosion off battery posts and terminals and securing the connections can prevent unexpected breakdowns.

To assess battery health, use a multimeter. A reading between 12.2 and 12.6 volts signifies a full charge.

7) Engine Air Filter

clogged 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

DIY spark plug replacement

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

low power steering fluid

Recommendation: Check every 30,000 miles; replace as needed.

If you have difficulty turning the steering wheel, you may be low on power steering fluid, perhaps due to a leak.

12) Coolant

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

adding 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

replace 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.

17) Windshield Wipers

squeaky windshield wipers

Recommendation: Replace every 6-12 months or as needed (ie: when they get squeaky or skip).

A good rule of thumb is to change wiper blades in the spring and again in the fall, between weather extremes when blades are subject to much wear.

18) Lights (Headlights, Tail Lights, Turn Signals)

Recommendation: Check monthly; replace as needed.

Replace bulbs in pairs, even if only one has burnt out. You’ll be glad that you did.

19) Exhaust System

Recommendation: Check annually for leaks, damage, or malfunction.

May require placing the vehicle on a lift for close inspection.

20) Shocks and Struts

Recommendation: Check every 50,000 miles; replace if necessary.

If the nose dives while braking, the vehicle sways while cornering, or you’re experiencing uneven tire wear, the struts or shocks may be worn.

21) CV Joints/Boots

types of CV joints

Recommendation: Check every 30,000 miles; replace if damaged.

Commonly found in front-wheel-drive cars and electric vehicles. Found in some rear-wheel-drive models. You'll notice certain symptoms with CV joint failure.

22) Fuel Filter

Recommendation: Replace every 20,000 to 40,000 miles or as advised by the manufacturer.

Hard starting, stalling, occasional misfiring, rough idle, and poor engine performance indicate a bad fuel filter.

23) Brake Rotors/Discs

rusty brake rotor

Recommendation: Check every 10,000 miles; replace if necessary.

Noisy brakes, vibrations, groove marks on the rotors, and extended stopping distances are all signs of problems with your brakes.

24) Wheel Alignment

Recommendation: Check every 10,000 to 20,000 miles or if steering issues noticed.

You can have this done at the same time as the tire rotation but expect to pay quite a bit more for alignment.

25) Suspension

suspension fluid leak

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

car air conditioner not cooling

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.

28) Radiator

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.

29) Hoses

upper radiator hose

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.

Matt Keegan
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