Car maintenance: Oversights you should avoid

Last updated: January 1

When it comes to your car, simple oversights may turn into costly repairs more quickly than you might think. Fortunately, a few simple car maintenance tips can help keep you out of the repair shop. But, you may be negatively affecting your car’s performance and value if you’re forgetting some basic tasks. Adding these five items to your car maintenance routine may help keep your car looking good and running smoothly.

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1. Wash your car

Whether it's road salt from a harsh winter or bird droppings from that trip to the beach, your car is subjected to all sorts of elements. Keeping your car clean may actually help prevent long-term damage, according to Meineke. Bug splats, tree sap and bird droppings are not only unsightly, they may also corrode the paint on your vehicle. And ice melt building up over winter can lead to damage to your car's undercarriage, says Meineke. Also, if you are selling your vehicle, a clean vehicle will likely look much more appealing to a potential buyer. Generally, you should wash your car at least every two weeks, says Meineke.

2. Check the fluids

Making sure that all your car's fluids are topped off is key if you want to keep your car running smoothly. Popular Mechanics notes that keeping fluids at the correct levels may help your car last longer, boost fuel economy and improve the way it drives. According to Popular Mechanics, you or your mechanic should check:

  • Motor oil
  • Coolant
  • Power steering fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • Transmission fluid

Consult your vehicle owner's manual for the proper levels to help ensure that you're adding the correct fluids to your car. Also, be sure that you're changing your fluids at the recommended intervals.

Having enough windshield washer fluid is important, too. Even though a low windshield washer fluid level won't affect engine performance, you'll appreciate it when you need to clear road salt or bugs off your windshield for better visibility.

3. Inspect and maintain your tires

Tire pressure shouldn't be a "set it and forget it" affair. All tires will lose a bit of air as time passes, even if they're in good shape, and it's a good idea to check your tire pressure regularly to make sure that they're inflated to the proper level. Don't know how much air to put in? Check the driver's side door jamb for a sticker noting the recommended pressure, rather than the suggested pressure on the tire itself, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says you should follow the vehicle manufacturer's recommendation.

Consult your owner's manual, too. In addition to listing the recommended tire pressure, the manual should also provide insight on when to rotate your tires. Rotating your tires at the recommended intervals will help ensure that they wear evenly, which should help you get the most miles possible out of your tires.

4. Change your engine air filter

An air filter is meant to keep harmful dirt and debris out of your engine, says A dirty filter may lead to reduced fuel economy and engine power, but changing your air filter at the appropriate mileage intervals may help keep your engine's performance at its best. Check your manufacturer's recommendations for how often to change your air filter, but replacing your air filter is a quick and easy fix if it looks dirty.

5. Check belts and hoses

Keeping your car's belts and hoses in good shape may help you avoid a breakdown on the road. For example, a snapped serpentine belt could cause a number of your vehicle's systems to fail, including your air conditioner compressor, power steering and water, according to Consumer Reports. A cracked or damaged radiator hose could cause it to leak coolant, which may lead to your engine to overheat.

To keep things running smoothly, make sure that your hoses are checked at each oil change. If you're inspecting the hoses and belts yourself, look for cracked, broken or hardened hoses and split or slick belts, says Consumer Reports. If you notice unusual noises, such as squealing or whirring, you may have an issue with a belt. Follow your car's manual for instructions on when specific belts and hoses should be replaced, and consult a mechanic as needed.

It doesn't have to take a lot of effort to make sure that your car is in tip-top shape. Paying a little extra attention to things like the fluids, belts, hoses and tires may help keep costly trips to the repair shop at bay, and keeping your car clean can help prevent corrosion.