Why a Car Maintenance Schedule is Important

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Knowing what and when to check on your car can save you money

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Why Should You Schedule Regular Car Maintenance?

So, you've just bought a new car, but unfortunately, it didn't come with a maintenance plan. This means you need to take care of your car's health personally. But why is this important, and what is scheduled maintenance? After all, this is a brand new car, and surely the engineers who built it built it to last, right? Well, not only are some components subject to wear and tear, but fluids lose their efficacy after numerous temperature changes and after absorbing contaminants. Things like air filters and oil filters get clogged with gunk, and oil loses its viscosity and ability to absorb heat as it ages and gets used. But fear not - not all maintenance of vehicles is daunting and difficult, and many things can be checked by the layman without any tools. A car maintenance schedule is smart and can also help make these things easier to plan and budget for, while a checklist or schedule for car maintenance can help you make sure that you don't miss anything. In the below guide, we discuss some of the common things and tips for beginners to be aware of when it comes to basic maintenance for your car.

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What is Basic Car Maintenance?

Maintenance takes many forms, but by definition refers to the inspection and/or testing of your car's systems, the servicing or replacing of parts and fluids, and preventative car care to avoid major damage and increase safety. There are two types usually performed: short-term and long-term. However, regularly checking on various aspects of the car randomly can be helpful too. Short-term checks usually refer to things that are quick and easy to fix or replace, while long-term maintenance refers to the items that have a greater tolerance for wear and only need to be reconditioned, replaced, or fixed after extensive use. Both short- and long-term aspects of maintaining your car can have time or mileage limits, after which they must be attended to for optimal engine and vehicle performance. Keeping track of what has been done and when in a service book is also helpful, especially if you sell the car and want to show that it has been well cared for.

Basic Car Maintenance Pexels.com
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Car Maintenance Schedule Checklist

Short-term Checks

Labor-intensive checks that will need to be performed as time goes by may require that you plan ahead and give yourself a weekend to complete the work, especially for those who are beginners. These are generally the things that only need to be considered after a long period of time or lots of use. However, some items need to be looked at regularly as they can degrade quickly. These short-term checks are considered preventative maintenance.

  • Tires: This is something that ought to be checked every time you drive the car, but at least once a week should suffice. Check your owner's manual or look for a sticker on the car to determine to what pressure your tires need to be inflated. Check that your tread is of the legal depth too, and if tires on one side are wearing more than the other, you should check your alignment. If front wheels, for example, are wearing quicker than rears, you can rotate your tires. However, this only applies if your front and rear tires are the same size. Many rear-wheel-drive vehicles will have bigger tires at the rear than at the front.
  • Lighting: Although most modern cars will have a computer that can alert you when a globe or other electric component blows, some don't. In these cases, it's best to check every fortnight or so to ensure that you don't get a ticket for a busted taillight or a faulty turn signal. This is a cheap and easy fix that can be performed at home with ease, and only requires basic tools.
  • Oil and filters: Draining and replacing your oil should be done once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes first. You'll need a new oil filter along with new motor oil as you don't want thousands of miles of gunk and build-up to continue circulating through your engine. You may need to jack your car up for this one, but other than that, it's a relatively easy job. This is also a good time to wash and clean your air filter or replace it if you have a disposable paper filter.
  • Paint: Although many think of maintenance as pertaining exclusively to aspects of the car that keep it running, it's important to wash and protect your paint too. Salt, grime, and bird droppings, if left unattended, can damage your paint to the point that it cannot be fixed without a respray. Thus, regular washing is advised, and the addition of a protective coating in the form of wax or a ceramic application can extend the life of your paint and minimize the amount of effort required to clean your car.

Long-term Checks

These are things that you won't have to worry about on a day-to-day basis but that will usually require more effort to complete when they do need attention. Here, you will need tools and space to work. You may also need to budget and save for certain items and perhaps make alternative transportation arrangements if you can't get through them in a day.

  • Transmission/transfer case fluid: Although the new car maintenance schedule is generally free of any mention of transmission fluid, this is something that you may wish to drain and replace every 60,000 miles or so. This can help ensure smooth shifts and keep your gearbox in tip-top shape. AWD vehicles should also have their transfer cases drained and refilled with fluid after the same period.
  • Belts: Things like your serpentine belt, cambelt (if your car does not have a chain and tensioner), and the various pulleys and bearings that these belts are attached to can wear out after extended periods of time. Again, these sorts of items will only need checking once a year or after considerable mileage of around 35,000 miles.
  • Spark plugs: This is more mid-term, as these should be replaced every other service interval. However, bad fuel or other faulty components like leaking injectors can cause over-fuelling which leads to burnt spark plugs. When a car's plugs don't give sufficient spark, excess fuel will be dumped instead of burnt, which leads to a drop in performance and an increase in fuel consumption. If left unchecked, excess unburnt fuel can also cause bore wash, damaging your motor.
  • Suspension: Shock absorbers and springs can become 'tired' after time or after soaking up overly large or repetitive bumps. Sometimes, a shock absorber can be re-gassed, but in general, it's best to replace rather than repair. Bad suspension can cause a crash, so ensure that your car is not wallowing about or 'floating' over bumps.

Seasonal Checks

Depending on where you live, a drastic change in weather conditions will require additional work. Thus, a basic car maintenance checklist specifically for winter can be helpful. This list can include things like winter tires, thinner oil, and anti-freeze that should all be swapped in when the seasons require it, to ensure that you keep your car running safely. You may also need to replace your windshield wipers and check your battery as weather conditions change.

Factors that Affect Your Car Maintenance Schedule

Often, regular service intervals will be enough to keep your car mobile. However, some extenuating factors can necessitate additional work earlier than expected. Sometimes, these factors can also mean that you need to replace things that are not commonly swapped out.

  • Hard driving: If you race your road car at various events or you take your 4x4 off-road regularly, the components of your vehicle will be put under greater strain than normal. This will mean that oil breaks down sooner, tires wear out quicker, and suspension components fail sooner. A check of your regular maintenance avenues before and after an excursion can be helpful to ensure you don't cause any unusual damage.
  • Recalls: Sometimes, your relatively new car may be recalled by the manufacturer for a defect. If this is the case, the good news is that your repairs will generally be taken care of by the manufacturer at no cost to you, but it does also mean that you may be without your vehicle for an extended period.
  • Poor prior maintenance: If you didn't buy your car brand new from the dealer, you may have bought a vehicle that has not been cared for to a high standard. This can cause unexpected issues that are near impossible to predict. Sometimes these issues will be big and expensive while other times they can be small and cheap to resolve.
Long-Term Car Checks Pexels.com

Car Maintenance Schedule by Mileage or Time Period

It may be useful to have a car maintenance schedule by time period or mileage on hand, and, if your owner's manual doesn't come with one as standard, you may want to create your own. The below chart is a rough guideline of how often you should get your car maintained, or which common service items need attention. Although you can use this as a template, if you do a lot of hard driving, these intervals should be reduced to ensure reliability. Diesel vehicles can also require more regular maintenance.

Regular Car Maintenance Schedule Chart

What to check/replaceWhen to check or replace
Oil and filtersEvery 5,000-10,000 miles/annually
Spark plugsEvery 10,000-60,000 miles/annually
Rotate tiresEvery 10,000 miles
Check brake pads and discsEvery 10,000 miles
Check belts and pulleysEvery 30,000 miles

Important note: the above are estimates only and will vary greatly depending on your specific vehicle. Always consult your owner's manual or get in contact with your dealer if you're unsure of your car's correct maintenance intervals.

Seasonal Car Checks Pexels.com

The Cost of Routine Maintenance

Having to deal with maintenance can be therapeutic for some, but for others, it simply represents yet another expense. For this reason, it's a good idea to check what the cost of various common maintenance components are, so that you can budget. Creating a table like the one below, preferably with due dates, can help you be prepared for how much routine car maintenance costs.

Parts/Components

Estimated Cost

Oil and filters

$20-$100

Spark plugs

$25-$100

New tires

$100-$800 each

Brake pads and discs

$50-$600

Belts and pulleys

$20-$150

Important note: the above are estimates only and will vary greatly depending on your specific vehicle. Always consult your owner's manual or get in contact with your dealer if you're unsure.

FAQs

Do I need to be qualified to maintain my car?

No. Thanks to the advent of technology, plenty of forums and YouTube videos make it easy for you to learn step-by-step how to replace or fix just about anything. If you follow all steps correctly, you should have no problems. It is always advisable to make use of a professional where possible.

Can one maintain a car too much?

Technically yes, but it only really applies to motor oil. This has an ideal viscosity and is designed to perform optimally after heat breaks it down following a few hundred miles of use through the motor. Thus, replacing oil too often can mean that you miss out on your oil working at its best efficiency. In addition, loosening and tightening screws and housings too often can cause stripped bolts or holes, which can lead to more work in the long run, too.

Do I need special equipment?

Yes and no. For example, depending on the modernity of your car, it may have software with a service indicator that tells you when you need to perform certain tasks. This can sometimes be reset manually, but often, you will need a special tool to remove the error. Fortunately, these aren't too expensive and can also be rented. Often, you can find an app to download on your smartphone that can perform the same tasks via Bluetooth or a cable.

What is a typical maintenance schedule for a car?

This varies depending on the car, but in general, you don't want to go more than a year or 10,000 miles without replacing fluids and filters at the very least.

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