How to Maintain a Car

Doing the right kinds of maintenance on your car will not only help it to hold its value, it will also help to keep it safe and reliable. Regular car maintenance involves a wide variety of projects that may not all be easy to do at home. However, by understanding what needs to be done to maintain your car, you can be better equipped to talk to your local service center about doing the work your car needs.
[Edit]Steps [Edit]Managing Your Car’s Fluids and Filters Look for application-specific needs in your owner’s manual. While many aspects of routine maintenance on your care are universal, there are some that may be specific to your car’s particular make, model, or year. Check in the owner’s manual for scheduled maintenance requirements to ensure you don’t miss any important ones.[1] Some cars need to have their timing belts replaced at specific mileage intervals. Otherwise, you risk doing damage to your cylinder head. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, refer to the manufacturer’s website for further guidance. Check the fluid reservoirs in the engine bay and add more fluid when needed. Your engine bay has plastic reservoirs for brake fluid, engine coolant, windshield washer fluid, and power steering fluid. The lower line on the reservoir is the “fill” point. Any time you see the fluid drop below that line, add more until it’s back up to the higher line, which is the “full” point.[2] Some vehicles have specific requirements for the type of coolant or brake fluid you use. Refer to your owner’s manual or an application specific repair manual to see what kind is right for your specific car. To fill each reservoir, unscrew the cap and pour the fluid in until it reaches the “full” point as indicated on the side. Then screw the cap back on. Change your oil every 3,000 miles. Once you hit the 3,000-mile mark, jack up the car and slide a container beneath the oil pan. Remove the drain bolt (the only bolt running into the oil pan) and allow the oil to drain out into the container. Then locate the oil filter and remove it it. Put a bit of oil on your finger and run it along the seal of the new filter, then screw it in place. Return the drain bolt to the oil pan once it has finished draining.[3] Refill the engine with the correct amount and type of oil once the new filter is in place and you have reinserted the drain plug. Different vehicles have different oil capacities and requirements. Refer to your owner’s manual or an application specific repair manual to find out what type and amount of oil you need for your car. Swap out your air filter every year. The air filter prevents sand and debris from getting into your engine from outside. Most filters need to be replaced annually, though some aftermarket filters can be cleaned instead of replaced. Find the airbox at the end of the intake pipe that leads into the top of the engine. Release the 2 to 4 clips holding it closed and open the top to access the air filter.[4] The filter just sits inside the air box. Remove it with your hand and set the new one in its place. Close the air box again and use the clips to secure the lid. Use the right octane fuel for your engine. The octane rating of fuel is a measurement of the fuel’s stability under pressure. High compression or forced induction engines (turbocharged or supercharged engines) require a higher octane fuel than most other vehicles. Using a lower octane fuel could cause damage to the engine and create real problems in the future.[5] Most cars that require “premium” fuel will say so on the instrument cluster of the dashboard and over the fuel filler cap. Check your owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website if you’re still unsure what octane level of fuel your vehicle needs. Install a new fuel filter every 40,000 miles. The fuel filter blocks the passage of dirt and sediment from your fuel tank to the engine itself. To replace the filter, locate it along the fuel line running from the gas tank to the front of the car. It will look like a cylinder with a nozzle coming out of the front and back. Place a container beneath it to catch any leaking fuel, then use a flat head screwdriver to pop off the clips holding the fuel lines on the nozzles.[6] Loosen the bracket holding the old fuel filter in place and slide it out. Slide the new one into the bracket and tighten it down. Attach the fuel lines to each nozzle and reinsert the clips to hold them in place. If you break the clips, you can buy new ones at your local hardware store. Drain and flush your coolant system once a year. Jack up the vehicle and place a container beneath the radiator’s drain plug. Open the drain plug and allow all of the coolant to pour out. Then close the drain plug again. Open the radiator cap at the top of the radiator and fill it with water, then close the cap and drain it again. Then refill the radiator with the right coolant for your vehicle.[7] Most vehicles require a 50/50 water and coolant mixture. You can usually purchase pre-mixed coolant at your local auto parts store. Check your owner’s manual or a vehicle specific repair manual to see how much coolant to add and what specific type of coolant your car needs. Clean your radiator with bug remover when it gets dirty. Spray radiator bug remover onto the radiator and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Don’t touch or scrub the radiator itself. Touching it may bend the blades or result in injury since they are sharp. Instead, allow the bug remover to set for around 2 minutes and then spray it off with a hose.[8] Read the instructions on the bug remover you purchase to make sure you use it properly. [Edit]Taking Care of Brakes, Belts, and Hoses Replace your brake pads every 20,000 miles. Failing brakes can be extremely dangerous. If you think your brakes may be failing, have them serviced immediately. To do it yourself, loosen the car’s lug nuts and then jack the vehicle up. Support the car with jack stands then remove the lug nuts the rest of the way. Locate the brake caliper (it looks like a vice clamped onto the circular rotor) and remove the 2 bolts that hold it in place. Slide it off the rotor and use a C-clamp to compress the piston back into the caliper.[9] At that point, you can install the new brake pads into the caliper by sliding them into place where the old ones were. Remove the C-clamp, place the caliper back on the rotor, then reinsert the 2 bolts that hold it in place. Repeat that process on the other side, then put the wheels back on and lower the car. Change out worn or damaged belts. Check your belts for signs of cracking or advanced wear like rub marks. Then, check the belt’s tension to ensure it hasn’t stretched out. If you spot signs of damage or the belt doesn’t have enough tension, replace it. Insert a breaker bar into the opening on the auto-tensioner pulley and turn it counterclockwise if your car is equipped with one, otherwise, loosen the 2 bolts holding the alternator on the bracket to relieve the tension on the belt. Slide it off of all the pulleys then put the new on one in its place.[10] Make sure to follow the diagram on the sticker in your engine bay (or in an application-specific repair manual) when running the new belt through the pulleys. Use the breaker bar on the auto tensioner or apply pressure to the alternator to add tension to the belt, then release the tensioner pulley or tighten the alternator bolts in place to keep the belt tight. Replace cracked or damaged hoses. With the hood open, look over the rubber hoses in the engine bay for any signs of damage. If you spot a damaged hose, place a drain pan beneath it and loosen the hose clamps with pliers or a screwdriver. Remove the hose and take it to your local auto parts store to get a replacement one of the correct length and interior diameter.[11] Install the new house in place of the old one and re-tighten the hose clamps. Add a 50/50 water and coolant mixture to the coolant reservoir until it reaches the full line again when you’re done. [Edit]Maintaining the Electrical System Clean your battery contacts once a year. The connection for your battery can sometimes get corroded or covered in grime, making it harder for the electrical current to flow through the car’s system. Use the correct sized wrench or socket and ratchet to loosen the bolt holding the negative (-) cable on the battery, then slide the cable off. Then do the same with the positive (+) cable. Add 1 tablespoon (13.8 g) of baking soda to of water, then dip a steel toothbrush in the mixture.[12] Use the brush and mixture to clean all corrosion and grime off of the battery posts and the metal connections on the cables. Wipe the battery posts clean with a damp rag, then connect the positive cable to the battery again. Reconnect the negative cable last. Test your lights and replace any bulbs that have blown out. Ask a friend to stand in front of your car while you turn on your headlight low beams and then high beams. Then test the left and right turn signals. Next, ask your friend to move to the back of the car while you test your brake lights and each turn signal once again.[13] You can access blown out headlight bulbs from behind the headlight housing inside the engine bay. Tail lights are usually accessed through the inside of the trunk. Unplug the wiring pigtail going into your headlight or taillight, then twist the bulb housing counterclockwise and pull it backward to remove it. Replace the bulb and reinsert it. If you can’t figure out how to replace a bulb that’s gone out, refer to the vehicle’s owner’s manual or an application-specific repair manual for more guidance. Check and replace fuses as they blow out. If some lights go out in the interior of your car, chances are good that it’s a blown fuse. Locate the 2 fuse boxes in your car. One is usually near your left knee when sitting in the driver’s seat and the other is often found inside the engine bay. Use the diagram on the fuse box lids to find the right fuse for the lights that went out, then remove that fuse and replace it with one rated for the same electrical amperage.[14] The number of amps a fuse can withstand is written on the fuse itself. Make sure the new fuse has the same number written on it as the blown one you’re replacing. If you can’t locate your fuse boxes or they don’t have the diagram, refer to the owner’s manual or an application specific repair manual to find the fuse that’s gone out. Replace your spark plugs every 30,000 miles. Open the hood and locate the spark plug wires running into the top of the engine. Grip the closest wire to you low at its base and pull it up to unplug it from the spark plug. Use a spark plug socket and a ratchet to unscrew the spark plug and pull it up and out of the engine.[15] Gap the new spark plug using a spark plug gapping tool. You’ll find the correct gap measurement in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or an application specific repair manual. Place the new plug in the spark plug socket and insert it into the engine. Insert it first by hand and then tighten it with a ratchet. Reconnect the spark plug wire and repeat the process for each cylinder. Use an OBD-II scanner to check and clear error codes. If your check engine light comes on, turn the vehicle off and plug an OBD-II scanner into the rounded trapezoid-shaped port located beneath the steering wheel. Turn the key in the ignition to “accessory” and turn on the code scanner to see what set off the check engine light.[16] Write down the code if the code scanner doesn’t give you an English description. You can look the code up on the manufacturer’s website or in an application-specific repair manual. Use any error codes you find to help you determine if there is something wrong with your vehicle that may need repairs. Once you make repairs, use the code scanner to clear the error codes and turn off the check engine light. You can purchase OBD-II scanners at your local auto parts store, but they can often scan your car for your for free. [Edit]Handling Exterior Maintenance Check your tire pressure and add air when needed. Look at the side of your tire and find where it says, “max pressure” followed by a number and the letters “PSI.” Then, unscrew the cap on the tire and press a tire gauge onto the nozzle to see what the pressure inside the tire actually is. If it’s lower than a few PSI (pounds per square inch) below the maximum rating, use an air compressor to add air to the tire until it’s within a few PSI of the max.[17] Many tire air machines at gas stations have a tire gauge built into them. Low tire pressure can reduce your fuel mileage and cause your tires to wear out prematurely. Use a penny to check the tread on your tires for wear. You can use a penny to assess the level of tread left on your tires quickly. Turn the penny upside down and hold it so you can clearly see Lincoln’s head. Insert the penny into the groove between the tire treads and see how much of Lincoln’s head you can still see clearly.[18] If you can see Lincoln’s hair, you will need new tires soon. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head, you need new tires immediately. Rotate your tires every 5,000 miles. Make sure the tread on your tires wear evenly by swapping them on the car periodically. Jack the car up and support its weight with jack stands, then take the wheel and tire from the rear of the car and install on the front. Install what was the front wheel onto the rear. Then do the same on the other side.[19] Front and rear tires wear differently because the front tires do most of the braking and turning. With some tires, you can swap them from side to side as well. If your tires have directional arrows on the sideway, keep those arrows pointed toward the front of the car. Do not swap the tires to the other side. Swap out your windshield wipers when they start to streak. Windshield wipers are an important piece of safety gear for your car. When they begin to make streaks on your windshield, it means they need to be replaced. On most cars, you can grab the wiper and pull it out away from the windshield. Then turn the wiper so it is perpendicular to the wiper arm and slide it down off the arm’s hook to remove it.[20] Slide the new wiper onto the hook, then rotate it so it is parallel with the wiper arm. If you can’t figure out how to remove the wiper blade, refer to your owner’s manual or an application-specific repair manual. Wax your car to protect the paint twice per year. The paint on your car does more than just keep it looking nice. It also prevents rusting that can lead to expensive repairs. Wash your car and then apply a fresh layer of wax to the paint every 6 months to give it a bit of added protection and stave off any potential rusting that could develop.[21] First wash the car with automotive soap and rinse it thoroughly. Allow it to dry or dry it with towels. Apply the wax to the car’s paint using the provided applicator in a swirling motion, then wait for it to dry completely. Buff the wax off using a clean chamois cloth. [Edit]Tips Many service centers and auto mechanics will offer “tune-ups.” These aren’t always worth it. Ask for an itemized list of what work each shop will do during their tune-ups. Most of these items can be done at home with common hand tools, or by your neighborhood auto service or auto repair facility. [Edit]Related wikiHows Change the Oil in Your Car Change a Fuel Filter Read and Understand OBD Codes [Edit]References [Edit]Quick Summary ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑