Text by Blair Korchinski
One of the best sources of information on required maintenance for your particular vehicle is the owner’s manual. It will tell you what is required and the intervals that maintenance should be performed. It is best to follow the heavy usage list, even if you don’t drive much or consider your usage to be light.
The one thing that most vehicle owner manuals miss the mark on is the frequency of oil changes. You should have the oil in your vehicle changed every 5,000 kilometers or once a season, whichever comes first. Synthetic oils can extend the period between oil changes, but for piece of mind at a relatively low cost, the 5,000 kilometers/once a season rule of thumb is still a good idea.
Check your oil once a week. The level should be at the full mark on the dip stick. If the oil looks dirty or discolored, you should have it changed even if you have not driven 5,000 kilometers. Discoloration can be a sign that anti-freeze is contaminating the oil. If your oil appears milky, have it checked by a professional.
In modern vehicles, coolant is very important. Today’s engines run hotter than engines of the past and require a proper operating temperature to achieve peak performance. Even if you live in an area where the temperature never dips below freezing, you should use a coolant that meets the specifications for your automobile and never use only water.
Coolant levels should be checked once a week, coolant strength should be checked at least once a year, and your cooling system should be flushed and the old coolant replaced at the interval recommended in your owner’s manual.
Most cars and trucks in North America have automatic transmissions. The transmission fluid level should be checked at least once a week. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual.
Transmission fluid becomes dirty, degrades over time, and with heavy use. You should have your transmission fluid and filter changed according to the recommendation in your owner’s manual.
Braking systems are composed of a combination of mechanical and hydraulic components and, on newer vehicles, electronics that control the ABS and/or traction control systems.
The service required varies with the make and model of vehicle, but most modern systems require that the system be flushed and the fluid changed at regular, though infrequent intervals. In addition to this you should have your braking system checked if the brake warning light appears, if there is a change in the feel of your brake pedal, or if squealing occurs during braking.
Components such as flex brake hoses should be inspected for cracking and wear at least once a year.
A dirty vehicle wears out more quickly. Rust is a problem on the outside, and dirt will cause interior components, such as seats and carpets, to wear prematurely. Dirt on mechanical components can cause them to dissipate heat improperly, leading to breakdowns.
You should wash the exterior of your vehicle once a week. Pay particular attention to the area around the wheels and the underbody of the car. This is especially important in areas where road salt is used.
Interior carpets and cloth seats should be vacuumed once a week and shampooed or steam cleaned once per season. Vinyl and leather seats should be cleaned with a suitable product once per week.
The engine compartment should be washed or steam cleaned once a season.
The Walk Around
Once a week, you should walk around your car. Check underneath for leaking fluids, check the tire pressure, make sure that your headlights, marker lights, and signal lights are working, check the operation of your windshield wipers and the level of the washer fluid.
This is also a good time to check for any scratches or small dents and lubricate any squeaky door or trunk hinges.
Taking care of small problems will keep them from becoming big problems.
Regular maintenance will extend the life of your car, lead to greater reliability, and increase the resale value when it comes time to replace your vehicle.