Summer means road trips, right? Well, before you strike out on the highways and byways, be sure to do a little maintenance on your car to ensure a safe, relaxing trip.
Think about it. It’s stressful enough planning a trip. The last thing you want is to deal with finding a mechanic in an unfamiliar town and having to pay for repairs you probably didn’t budget for! Even more importantly, regular car maintenance is the key to helping your car last a long time.
Today’s cars are pretty well-built. They routinely last well beyond 100,000 miles — a milestone that used to be a big deal. Now, you can prolong the zip of your vehicle by taking advantage of the change in season to do a little regular maintenance. Anyway, once you’ve done these tasks often enough, they’ll become a habit. And that habit will save not only your car, but also your hard-earned money. So without further ado, here are six things you can do to help your car live a longer, happier life.
#1 De-Winterizing: Spring Cleaning for Your Car
The change of season is a good time to think about three key de-winterizing tasks: changing your wipers, thoroughly washing your car, and changing up your coolant.
To some, washing a car may seem vain or silly. But it really does help prolong the life of the body and exposed parts of your vehicle. Make sure to wash the tire wells and undercarriage, which can carry salt and other winter road compounds that eat away at your car’s parts.
Windshield wipers tend to get dry and brittle in the winter months. Now’s a good time to replace them, especially if they aren’t clearing the window like they used to.
Finally, coolant often needs changing from winter to summer. In the winter, you’re avoiding letting things freeze over. In the summer, the radiator has to work overtime to keep the engine cool. Now is the perfect time to check, and possibly replace, your coolant.
#2 Fluids: They’re What Cars Crave
Your car requires several different fluids to keep going, including radiator fluid, transmission fluid, and of course motor oil. This is as good a time as any to make sure all of these are in good shape. They may need topping off or complete replacement.
Oil changes may be needed more regularly than four times a year, of course, as the rule of thumb is getting the oil changed every 3,000 miles. After 5,000 miles, you definitely need an oil change.
Remember, that dipstick in the engine is pretty useful! Pull it out, wipe it off, put it back in for a couple of seconds, and then remove it. See how much oil is in your engine, and how clear it is. If the oil is very dark, you’re overdue for a change. If the oil is low, add more pronto. If you’re not sure which type of oil (e.g., 5W30, 10W30, High Mileage) to use, check your vehicle’s manual.
#3 Battery and Tire Checks: Your Car’s Heart and Feet
While car batteries use different chemicals than your smartphone, they also have a certain lifespan. Your car’s battery will need replacing several times throughout its life.
Though your battery should last a while, when it’s dead, it’s just dead. It’s a good idea to buy a simple testing device to check your battery, or have a shop test it frequently to see how it’s doing.
Then there are your tires, which are absolutely critical to getting the most efficiency out of your car. Unbalanced tires can reduce gas mileage, affect steering, and be bad for your suspension. Fighting your steering as a result of uneven tires can even impact your vehicle’s body as you work to correct the car’s direction.
The good news is that you can check the wear on your tires with little grooves on the tires themselves that are called, appropriately, tire wear indicators. Do an online search for your tire brand to help you spot them easily. Then, make a habit of checking the indicators every month to make sure the tires you’re driving on are still safe. If a tire is worn to 2/32 of an inch, you need to replace it as soon as possible.
#4 Alignment: Saving Your Tires and Your Gas Money
You may not think about your alignment regularly, but you can tell if it’s out of whack. If your car is pulling to one side or the other, it increases driver fatigue and wears down your tires faster. The time between winter and summer is also prime pothole season, which can knock things out of alignment. That’s why it’s important to make this a regular part of your vehicle checks. Properly aligned tires will also save you money on gas. So have a pro take a look at your alignment when you take your car in for a fluid check.
#5 Brakes: The Foundation of Safe Driving
If you wind up unable to stop your car, all the preventive maintenance in the world won’t fix a wreck. If brakes are feeling “mushy” or take several stomps to slow down, get your car to a shop sooner than later. Worn brakes aren’t a difficult fix, but the consequences of them being unavailable when you need them… should be obvious!
#6 Routine Maintenance: Just Do It
You may not think of your car’s manual as bedtime reading material. Still, it’s a good idea to at least browse through it to see which parts are recommended for routine maintenance. Checking and maintaining stuff like belts and spark plugs, getting tire rotations, and checking fluids are all part of owning a car. In fact, it’s good to budget money for routine maintenance every year so you don’t put it off. A simple fluid change could save you thousands of dollars in later repairs.
One big factor that can affect your vehicle’s mileage and even power is the air filter. Since there’s so much added particulate matter in the warmer months (thanks, pollen!), be sure to check your air filter by fall at the very latest.
Your Handy-Dandy Car Maintenance Checklist
Here’s a quick checklist of items to keep an eye on regularly:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Windshield wipers
- Air filter
- Tire pressure, wear, and balance
- Spark plugs
Another way to take great care of your car? Making sure it’s insured properly! Talk to one of Covered’s expert advisors at (303) 302-9927 or drop us a line.