Cars can run reliably for thousands of miles without trouble, but you may be surprised one day if your car won’t start or its engine overheats. With regular maintenance and a few car care hacks, you can help prevent major vehicle issues — and know what to do if you encounter trouble on the road. You don’t have to be a mechanic or car aficionado to master these 11 essentials for vehicle care and preparedness.
Preventative car maintenance is the best thing you can do to keep your vehicle running smoothly for longer, prevent unexpected breakdowns, and save money on future repairs. Think of these maintenance basics like checkups at the doctor — helping your car stay healthy by tackling small problems before they get worse.
1. Change the Oil
Your car owner’s manual will specify how often you should change the oil. Experts recommend at least every 10,000 miles, but this varies depending on weather conditions, the type of oil you use, and your driving habits.
2. Check the Fluids
Regularly check your car’s fluids — including coolant, brake, power steering, transmission, and windshield wiper. The easiest way to remember is to check each time you change your oil. Consult your owner’s manual for specific directions on how to check these fluids.
3. Measure the Air Pressure
Examine your tires’ air pressure once a month using a tire gauge. Review your owner’s manual to find the recommended air pressure for your tires, and add or release air if needed. Always check the pressure when your tires are cold, as heat causes air to expand and can create an inaccurate reading.
4. Test the Battery
Test your car battery every three to five years. The easiest option is an open circuit voltage test. After your engine has been turned off for at least 12 hours, you or a mechanic can connect a multimeter, voltmeter, or other battery tester to the car battery and read the voltage.
5. Listen to the Brakes
Squeaks, grinds, vibrations, or a slow response are signs your brakes need replacing. Keep your brake fluid levels full and talk to a mechanic to see if it’s time to replace the brake pads, which is usually needed every 50,000–70,000 miles.
6. Inspect the Suspension System
If you notice your car rides roughly, drifts or pulls during turns, or dips when braking, it may be time for a suspension fix. The simplest way to check is to conduct a bounce test. When your car is in park, push down on the hood a few times with all of your weight, and then release. Do the same on the rear. If your car rocks more than three times after you release, the suspension is wearing out.
7. Make an Emergency Kit
Just as you keep a first aid kit at home, keep some essentials in your car for roadside emergencies. Create an emergency kit with tools to detect and fix problems. Some of the basics include jumper cables, a flashlight, a spare tire, tow straps, a jack, a wrench, pliers, and a screwdriver.
8. Keep Contact Information Handy
You never know when your phone may die or lose reception. Store a spare phone car charger, a state map, and a physical list of emergency contacts — including family, friends, your insurance company, and roadside assistance.
9. Use Hazard Lights
You may experience a breakdown on the road even if you properly maintain your car. Learning about common car problems can make it less stressful if you experience a breakdown, and following a few simple steps can help you stay safe if you face car trouble on the road. Turn on your hazard lights and pull over to the side of the road to get out of traffic. If your car stops in the middle of the road, don’t enter traffic and push it to the shoulder.
10. Call Roadside Assistance
Call roadside assistance if it is included in your insurance policy — make sure you know what your coverage includes. Have your insurance card on hand and, if you aren’t familiar with your location, make note of any landmarks that can help a tow truck locate your car.
11. Remain in Your Vehicle
Stay in your vehicle until help arrives. Don’t try to fix the problem, as you could cause more damage. If you must leave your car to locate a call box, leave a note on the dashboard to avoid your car being towed without you.
Simple car maintenance can go a long way in preventing serious problems. But even if you experience trouble, knowing what steps to take can help you be better prepared. Whether your next drive is commuting to work or a cross-country road trip, enjoy the ride with fewer worries!
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