Car care tips

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There is more to owning a car than filling it up with gas and driving to your destination. If you want your vehicle to last, you have to take care of it, which means routine maintenance. Maintaining a log of all your car maintenance intervals is a great way to stay on schedule and help keep your car on the road for years to come. Tracking issues and the car’s maintenance schedule will also make it easier to know when the time has come for professionals to get under the hood.

These car maintenance tips will help you keep your car running smoothly in between trips to the mechanic. The more you know about your vehicle, the quicker you can spot an issue and have it looked at by a professional before a minor problem becomes a big issue.

Taking care of your car

Part of maintaining a car is having the right insurance coverage in place. Car insurance helps protect your investment by providing coverage to pay for damages caused by negligence. If your vehicle is damaged because of a covered claim, the insurance company will help pay to fix the damage or replace the car, depending on your level of coverage and the amount of damage.

Some car insurance companies offer specific coverage for car maintenance, which is typically not covered by standard car insurance. Mechanical breakdown insurance, or MBI, offers coverage for mechanical parts failure, which can offset the cost of paying a professional to fix your car. Here are more tips on taking care of your car with routine maintenance:

  • Check all your lightbulbs: At least weekly, you should turn your car’s lights on and walk around it. Check to make sure no lights are burned out and, if they are, have them replaced. Do not forget about the tag lights in the back. Depending on your make and model, you may be able to replace them yourself for a few dollars. If not, you will have to pay labor costs to have a professional do it for you.
  • Wash and clean your car: Another part of car maintenance is washing your car regularly. Whether you do it weekly or monthly, washing and waxing your car removes dirt, pollen, oils, road salt and other grime from your car. Allowing contaminants to sit on the paint can cause damage over time, and people living in snowy states may have road salt on their cars that can cause rust damage. While you’re cleaning the outside, don’t forget about the inside. Pick up all the trash, wipe down the interior, vacuum the floors and seats.
  • Check fluids monthly: You should check all the fluids, including oil, coolant, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and differential fluid, once a month. If you notice any fluid leaks, make an appointment with a mechanic to have it checked. Fluid changes depend on make and model and are usually based on mileage. A brake fluid flush can cost around $100, while a transmission fluid flush could be as high as $400. For all-wheel or four-wheel-drive cars, differential or transfer case fluid should also be checked and changed when stated in the owner’s manual, which can cost about $100.
  • Change your oil regularly: Regular maintenance includes oil changes, but the frequency depends on how much you drive and your driving style (short vs. long trips, highway vs. city, etc.). Some cars can go 7,500 miles or more, while others need more frequent oil changes. The cost will vary based on the type of oil needed, how much your car takes and where you live. Checking your battery life, air filter and whether a wheel alignment or rotation is needed is also a good idea during each oil change.
  • Schedule recommended maintenance: Certain parts have recommended scheduled maintenance after a certain number of miles, usually at 12,000, 24,000, 36,000, 60,000, 75,000 and 100,000 miles. The car owner’s manual will provide recommended maintenance intervals. Make it easy to remember by putting the schedule in your calendar so you can keep up on your car maintenance.
  • Check your windshield wipers every six months: Damaged or worn windshield wipers can impair visibility during a storm. Once the wipers stop working or you notice streaks on the windshield, you should replace them. If you are not sure what size you need, someone at the auto parts store can assist you in finding the right wipers for your car. Costs for wipers vary by size and conditions needed and can be anywhere from $10 each to over $100.
  • Change your engine air filter: Engine air filters keep dirt and other particles out of your engine so it can run smoothly and efficiently. Even if it is being checked during other maintenance appointments, inspect it at least once per year and replace it accordingly. You can purchase an engine air filter yourself or have a shop do the work for more, but it should cost less than $100.
  • Keep an eye on your brakes: Your car’s brakes are vital and can prevent an accident. While they should be checked regularly during other maintenance appointments, you should also listen to them while driving. If you notice noise coming from the brakes, including shuddering or vibration in the pedal, set up an appointment with a mechanic. The cost for brakes and rotors varies, but it can be as much as $400 per axle but could be more for performance cars.
  • Check your tires: Check to make sure your tires are properly inflated based on your owner’s manual recommendations at least once a month. Each time your car goes in for maintenance, you should also ask for the mechanic to check your tire tread depth. How often you should buy new tires depends on how much you drive and the road conditions. Irregular wear could be a sign of a bad alignment and could cause your tires to wear prematurely, so make sure that you include tire rotation as part of your regular car maintenance routine. Most tires start with a tread depth of 10/32 and should be changed before reaching 2/32. Cost for tires and replacing them vary widely by tire, location and labor costs.
  • Change belts and hoses regularly: It is recommended to change belts and hoses every two or three years, even if they have not failed. If you notice a squeaky belt, it may need to be adjusted. The timing belt or chain is usually done every 60,000 miles, though each manufacturer has its recommendation in the car’s owner’s manual. The costs for parts and labor vary by location, manufacturer and which belts and hoses need replacing. The average cost for a drive belt replacement is $175.

AAA estimates the cost of car maintenance to be between 8.39¢-10.11¢ per mile. By understanding how and when to care for your car using these maintenance tips, you can keep your vehicle running better for longer.

Written by
Mandy Sleight
Insurance Contributor
Mandy Sleight has been a licensed insurance agent since 2005. She has three years of experience writing for insurance websites such as Bankrate.com, MoneyGeek and The Simple Dollar. Mandy writes about auto, homeowners, renters, life insurance, disability and supplemental insurance products.
Edited by
Insurance Editor