A member of our review team looks under the hood of his car while performing car maintenance.

Car maintenance is essential to keeping your car running smoothly and safely. While maintenance can be time-consuming and may cost some money upfront, it’s important to keep up to date on maintenance to ensure your car’s needs are met. This will help you save money in the long run by preventing breakdowns or excessive wear and tear.

Our team has compiled the best tips and resources for maintaining an older vehicle or a new car. From suggestions on car battery health to checking your engine oil and brake fluid, this informational guide on car maintenance tips can help any first-time or veteran car owner feel confident in taking care of their vehicle.

The Importance Of Car Maintenance

A person with a gloved hand performs engine maintenance.

Keeping up with small maintenance needs can save you cash and time by avoiding bigger projects. Having a maintenance schedule or checking the engine regularly for any small required fixes not only increases the safety and reliability of your vehicle, but it can also increase your gas mileage. 

On top of saving money and time, staying up to date with car maintenance can keep your used car value high when it’s time for you to sell or trade-in for a new vehicle. Even simple vehicle maintenance projects like checking your tire pressure or changing your engine air filter can help ensure that your car will perform at the highest level for as long as possible.

Signs Your Car May Need Maintenance

The check engine light is illuminated on a vehicle's dashboard.

There are many signs that your car may need a tune-up or repair, including issues with your car starting and your check engine light coming on. Staying on top of maintenance and noticing the signs that you may need a minor tune-up can help save you money in the long run on more extensive repairs.

Check Engine Light

Your check engine light turns on when there is an issue with your vehicle. It can indicate anything from a loose gas cap to a significant malfunction. You should not reset the check engine light on your own without knowing why it turned on. You can use an OBD2 scanner to diagnose the issue yourself or take it in to a mechanic. At an auto shop, a mechanic can run a diagnostic check and fix the specific problem with your vehicle.

Braking and Acceleration

Any issue or change in braking you experience is a safety issue for both you and those you share the road with. This should be addressed as soon as possible to identify and fix the issue. Similarly, if you are noticing a change in your vehicle performance, you may need a quick tune-up to address an acceleration issue.

Vibration and Stalling

If you notice your vehicle is stalling when it starts or your car won’t start up on the first try, this could be a serious issue with the car engine or battery. Head to a mechanic shop for a solution as soon as possible, before your car completely refuses to start. If you feel shaking or vibrating when starting or stopping your car, you should have a mechanic diagnose the issue.

Tire Pressure

Your car’s tire pressure gauge system is designed to alert you when the air pressure is off in any of your tires. Low tire pressure is unsafe, so it’s important to inflate your tires to proper levels as soon as possible. This can be done at a tire shop, oftentimes for free, or some gas stations have tire inflators you can use.

Car Maintenance Checklist

A mechanic fills out car maintenance paperwork while inspecting an engine.

Car maintenance tasks can be necessary at different times, whether it be a once-a-month tune-up or a bigger project that requires service every two or three years. To make it simple, we outline below the most common maintenance services that are likely to be necessary at specific points in your time of your vehicle ownership. We also offer information on how often it’s recommended for each service to be completed.

Monthly Maintenance

The majority of monthly tune-ups can be done by yourself, even for new vehicle owners. Many of these maintenance checks are simply being aware if something is not working properly in relation to your vehicle.

1. Vehicle Lights

Turn signals, brakes, parking, and fog lights are all essential parts of a car. While it’s easy enough to identify if a headlight is out, it’s worth taking a walk around the car to ensure all lights are working properly so you know if it’s time for a replacement or not.

2. Tires

Tire pressure can be checked for free at many gas stations or at a local auto care store. Properly inflated tires with the right tread depth are essential for safe driving, no matter how often you drive. As a bonus, correct tire pressure can boost your car’s fuel efficiency.

3. Windshield Wipers

Windshield wiper fluid is simple enough to refill without needing to get a professional mechanic. Ensuring your windshield washer fluid is checked and filled regularly can help prevent visibility issues or obstructions on your front and back windshield.

4. Oil and Coolant

It’s important to check both the engine oil and coolant levels when the engine is cool and not running. It’s good to check these levels at least once a month, and you should top off the coolant and oil levels before making a long road trip.

Three-Month Maintenance

Depending on your level of car expertise, some of these projects may or may not be doable on your own. However, bringing your vehicle into an auto shop for these smaller tasks is much less expensive than holding off and having to spend more on a bigger fix.

1. Wiper Blades

You should always be on the lookout for when you may need new wiper blades. It can become a safety issue if you drive with worn-out windshield wipers because your visibility can be affected. Switching out blades regularly and replacing them if they get damaged can help you drive safer and with better visibility.

2. Battery and Oil

Your battery should be checked frequently to ensure there is no corrosion or leaking fluid that can affect your engine performance. Engines using motor oil should receive an oil change in 3,000.0-mile intervals, so if you drive often, it may be worth checking every three months if it’s time for a change. Synthetic oils vary, but some last up to 10,000.0 miles before needing an oil change.

3. Belts and Hoses

Serpentine belts can be found within the engine compartment. These should not look cracked or frayed, as they provide power to important parts in your car that keep it running smoothly. Those parts include the alternator and power steering pump, which keeps the power steering fluid working reliably. Hoses shouldn’t leak or have cracks, as this can damage your engine.

Six-Month Maintenance

Maintenance that occurs every six months includes tire rotation and a checking on your vehicle’s exhaust system, which should be done by a professional technician at a dealership or auto shop. 

1. Tire Rotation

Getting your tires rotated helps to extend the life of your tires by shifting the tread wear and preventing noise or vibration problems while driving. If you are in a new car that has original equipment manufacturer (OEM) tires, you should check the owner’s manual before getting your tires rotated. Some tires should not be rotated or should be rotated only in a specific way.

2. Exhaust System and Battery Performance

Your mechanic should look for and repair any damage, along with checking that your battery is performing at its highest-functioning level. Six-month maintenance projects can be taken care of during an oil change or general tune-up at an auto parts shop, so it is worth mentioning you want your exhaust system and battery checked to save you an extra trip back to the dealership.

One-Year Maintenance

For slightly larger and more in-depth projects, we recommend taking your vehicle to a dealership to ensure they are checking all the parts that are due for maintenance.

1. Air Filters

Air filters work to clean the air that circulates inside your car, requiring annual replacement. It’s important not to confuse air filters with engine air filters, which keep debris and outdoor elements out of your engine. Engine air filters should be inspected during an oil change.

2. Brakes

The brake fluid, rotors, brake linings, and brake pads should all be looked over to ensure that every aspect of the brake system is working properly. How long your brake pads last depends somewhat on your driving and braking style.

3. Coolants and Struts

Coolant or antifreeze should be flushed and replaced yearly or after about 60,000.0 miles, depending on which comes first. Shocks and struts keep your steering system working smoothly and should be inspected yearly, especially if you notice a decrease in smoothness while driving.

Two-Year Maintenance

Service intervals can vary depending on the vehicle, but it’s important to stay on top of your vehicle’s ignition system to ensure your engine can continue to run smoothly as mileage increases over time.

1. Ignition System 

Spark plugs, wires, and all other electrical components within the engine generally last up to 100,000.0 miles. If your vehicle is showing some hesitation when attempting to start up, this can indicate that your spark plugs are beginning to wear down and they need maintenance.

2. Transmission Fluid 

The transmission fluid levels should be checked regularly so fluid can be added when needed. In manual vehicles, transmission fluid should be checked starting around 30,000.0 to 60,000.0 miles. Automatic transmission fluid can last up to 100,000.0 miles but should be checked starting around 30,000.0 miles as well. 

Long-Term Maintenance

Long-term maintenance tune-ups should be checked by a maintenance technician professional because they include more in-depth processes that are vital to ensuring your car will continue running as you rack up more miles on your car.

1. Battery and Tires

Car batteries generally need replacing around every five years, but should start being checked after about three years. New tires can last anywhere from six to ten years, but it’s important to check for proper tread depth to ensure you are driving safely and there are no braking or traction issues as your tires age.

2. Front and Rear Differentials

Differentials work to send power from the engine to your tires to move your vehicle smoothly. These devices need lubrication to continue working properly, but their maintenance schedules vary by vehicle and should be checked in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

3. Timing Belt

Your vehicle’s owner’s manual provides information on when you should change the timing belt in your engine. This is typically between 60,000.0 and 90,000.0 miles. It’s important to note that not all vehicles have timing belts, but have a timing chain instead, often requiring no maintenance or replacement unless there’s an issue.

Car Maintenance: Bottom Line

Ensuring that your car is up to date with maintenance requirements can save you time and money, and keep your car running efficiently and safely. Your car’s value will stay high when you bring it to an auto parts store for a quick tune-up or you decide to tackle a small project yourself from the comfort of your garage. 

Car maintenance and inspections are necessary for your own safety and the safety of passengers and those you share the road with. Using our informational guide can educate you and help you stay up to date on maintenance.

Car Maintenance: FAQ

*Data accurate at time of publication.