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A car maintenance schedule tells you when to inspect and change everything, but it stops after the dates and miles. It doesn’t tell you what to expect or how it’s done. Maintaining a car takes finesse, patience, persistence, consistency, and a few tricks of the trade to keep on track.
If you’ve ever caught your mom, or any home mechanic/gearhead, riding in the car with the radio turned off, it’s not because she hates the radio’s profanity-edited songs, it’s because she’s listening to the car. And if you know what the car sounds like when it’s running smoothly, you’ll know the sound of something running incorrectly.
It’s this type of attentive relationship that results in a long-lasting vehicle that you can count on. The editors at The Drive have been fostering these automotive relationships since they could pick up wrenches. Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way to make car maintenance less of a hassle and more of a point of pride.
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Maintain a Log
If you look in the back portion of your car’s owner’s manual, there’s a good chance it has a bunch of blank pages, pages with blank lines, or pages with blank boxes. Those are there for writing down your service history, but an owner’s manual is not the only place you can write down work.
Just grab any notebook and keep a record of oil changes, tire rotations, fluid flushes, brake jobs, and any other maintenance done to your vehicle. You’ll never forget the last time you did something, it will help you stay on schedule, and your vehicle will be safer and healthier for it.
(I write down every fill-up, along with the mileage and fuel economy, too, but not everybody’s that intense.—Ed.)
Keep an OBD Reader in Your Car
Knowing more information before proceeding with a situation is never a bad thing. With an OBD reader on deck, you can always instantly look up a warning code or dashboard light and consider your next steps.
Keep a Toolkit in Your Car
If you operate by the principle “better safe than sorry,” then this is a no-brainer. Just a few basic tools such as a multi-tip ratcheting screwdriver, pliers, common wrenches or socket wrenches (hello, 10 mm), and a flashlight could be the difference between a tow and a quick fix. Even if it’s a patch to get home, it’s better than waiting and paying money to drag your ride around town. A few common macgyver tools include zip ties, duct tape, bungee cords, and WD-40.
Use Repeating Phone Reminders for Fluids, Tires, Filters, Etc…
You have a personal assistant in your pocket. You could tell your phone that you need to rotate your tires in August, 2076, and it will ask you what noise you’d like it to use as an alert (We prefer the sounds of revving or burnouts.). Sit down with your owner’s manual and program the suggested service intervals into your phone. You’ll never miss a checkup again. Just make sure that’s 3 p.m., not 3 a.m.
Always Use Jack Stands
A jack stand is the metal safety mechanism that goes underneath the car when you lift it up into the air. Typically made of two pieces for adjustable heights, a jack stand placed under a strength point such as the frame will catch a vehicle in the event that the hydraulic jack fails. If you’re working under the car, this could literally be the difference between life or death. Get a good set, no the Harbor Freight ones, and always use them for every job, no matter the length of time or difficulty of the job.
Buy a Big Pack of Microfiber Towels
You will never encounter a time when you’re working on your car and you don’t need a microfiber towel. Because many will be contaminated beyond reuse, having stock ready is a must. Brennan Huff will be proud.
Tires Require Near Constant Monitoring
Tire pressure is not the only part of the tires that needs monitoring. Neither is a tire’s tread. You must monitor tire pressure, tread, rotation, and balance. It’s also important to know what type of tires you’re driving on, so you know how to drive in different weather conditions. Maintaining a car isn’t just about keeping it running, it’s about keeping it healthy and clean, as well.
Regularly Wash Your Car
This is like how everybody always tells you to drink more water. You get it and know it's a good thing to do, but you don't always keep up.
Your vehicle is constantly under attack from the ground up and the sky down. Dirt, water, road oils, road salt, and a variety of other invaders are wearing down various components of your ride just by coming in contact with them. Like sugar on tooth enamel, the longer these contaminants remain on your car the more damage they could potentially do.
There’s no specific rule for how often to wash your ride because we don’t know where you live, how you drive, or how often you drive. Just be aware of dirt on your car, and use your best judgment. And if a bird releases fertilizer onto your paint, clean that off immediately.
Always Buy Specified Parts and Change at Specified Timelines
The manufacturer built the car. They know what they’re talking about. Listen to them, and don’t cut corners with some one-size-fits-all junk.
Don’t Ignore Warning Lights
Dashboard warning lights were not installed as some sort of decorations, they’re automotive premojis that vaguely tell you when something goes wrong with your car. If you have an OBD scanner, you can easily look into the issue. Regardless of whether you work on it yourself or hand it off to a professional, resolve issues as soon as possible. If left, they could further bomb your engine or cause more issues that cost more money.
Put In the Time and Effort
Just as easily as you can press the gas pedal and be up to 80 mph, a car part can fail, and the freedom machine can quickly become an inanimate object. We understand not everybody is an enthusiast who knows the smell of burned clutch, but we do know that cars are expensive as hell. And we know that good maintenance reduces wear on your vehicle, will keep it running well for longer, and will reduce future costs. It also helps reduce unexpected catastrophes.
Furthermore, many people consider their rides extensions of their personalities, much like clothes are a primary medium for the public to express themselves. With a little pride, hard work, and attention to detail, even a $1,000 ride can look sharp and run strong.
Don’t Forget the Spare Tire
The one thing that will make a blown tire more frustrating is waiting on a tow company to come save you because your spare tire is also flat. Any time you have to fill up a tire, check the air pressure of the spare tire, as well.
Helpful Maintenance Guides
The Drive has several guides to maintaining your vehicle. Learn the basics with these starter guides.
Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org