Owning a car comes with a lot of upkeep and maintenance. Here’s some answers to the internet’s biggest car maintenance questions!
We use our cars for commuting to work, running errands, road tripping, or just cruising around town, so keeping them in great shape is a must. All cars need some upkeep to keep them on the road, whether it’s a Chrysler Pacifica, Ford F-150, or the new C8 Corvette, but not everyone knows how to maintain the car they use every day. You can find tons of car owners asking around the internet about some basic car maintenance questions, even ones assumed to be common knowledge. While you can typically take the auto shop’s word for it that everything is squared away, it’s best to know for yourself that everything is inspected and properly maintained on your vehicle. We grabbed a few we thought were important to know when owning a car and brought the people the answers they’ve been searching for!
Neglecting regular oil changes over long periods of time can lead to damaged engine components. The old recommended interval between oil changes was 3 months or 3,000 miles, but times have changed and so has oil. With the emergence of synthetic options and special additives, oil has increased its longevity allowing oil changes in the vicinity of 5,000 to 7,500, depending on brand specifications. Going even further is full-synthetic oil. Vehicles running full-synthetic are capable of going 15,000 miles before needing to be serviced.
One way to check if you need an oil change is to pull out your dipstick and check if your oil looks gritty and dark. Also, listen to your engine, if it’s running louder than normal, this means there are moving components rubbing together due to poor lubrication. If your car is newer, you may have a built-in oil sensor that will alert you when it is in need of an oil change. This sensor typically goes off earlier than the recommended miles but serves as a warranted reminder in the upkeep of your vehicle.
You also will want to look at changing your oil according to seasons if you’re not running synthetic. Conventional oil has different viscosities to handle different temperatures better. For example, 5W-30 is thinner for winter while 20W-30 is thicker and runs better for summer. This again is helped by multi-grade or multi-viscosity oils as they have special additives to help the oil flow thin at low temperatures and thicker at warmer temperatures. Be sure to read more about oil in our How to Change Your Oil Made Simple article!
Coolant shouldn’t really even be on your maintenance radar unless it’s you’ve got a high-mileage vehicle. Some auto specialists will recommend changing coolant every 30,000 miles, but it really depends on the vehicle. If your vehicle is relatively new, check the manual for the recommended time to change coolant. Hyundai, for example, recommends changing coolant on most of its models after 60,000 miles and then every 30,000 after that, but there are other manufacturers that go beyond 100k miles before needing to change coolant. If your vehicle hasn’t changed coolant for five years, it’s still worth doing a radiator flush as the life span of coolant products deteriorates in that time.
Automatic transmission fluid should be checked once a year and it’s recommended that it be changed around 30,000 to 50,000 miles. To check transmission fluid, you’ll want to either leave the engine running so it is at operating temperature or at least hot from having been driven (depending on your manual’s recommendation). Have the vehicle on a level surface and pull out the transmission dipstick. If your car doesn’t have a transmission dipstick, like a Kia Soul, then reference the car’s manual for instruction. Once you have a proper reading, check that the fluid meets the designated full area on the dipstick. If not, you’ll need to add more fluid, but be careful to not overfill. Transmission fluid also has a clear pink color to it. If it is darker, smells burnt, or has particles in it, you’ll need to do a transmission flush.
Manual transmission fluid should be changed around 30,000 to 60,000, but it is a lot harder to check in comparison to an automatic transmission’s fluid. In that case, it is best to have it checked by a mechanic with access to a lift when you’re in for an oil change. If you’re more adept with cars and enjoy working on them yourself, get some jacks ready and consult your car manual. You’ll be looking at the fluid level and for contamination in the fluid like tiny metal bits that are generated as the transmission wears down.
Recommended brake fluid changes depend on manual instructions with some models never requiring to flush the system unless there is a flaw in the system. Best practice is to check brake fluid if your brake pedal feels “spongy” when depressed or to just take a look every six months. Check that the fluid reaches the minimum line on its reservoir, if it is significantly low you may have a leak in the system. Also check the color; brake fluid is a clear, almost amber color. If your fluid looks murky or rusty, you’ll need to do a flush of the system as water had made its way into the lines and started to rust components.
Windshield washer fluid is not a very worrisome fluid in contrast to the others, but best practice is to check it before and after the winter months. Going into the warmer weather months, windshield washer fluids that work better for cleaning off bugs is preferred. Going into the colder weather months, windshield washer fluids with de-icer additives can be beneficial. Just be sure your fluid going into the cold months isn’t mostly water as it will freeze in the sprayer system.
Brake pads generally should be changed around 30,000 miles but driving factors like being a daily inner-city commuter or a highway rider can affect when brakes need to be changed. There’s a couple of ways to tell if your brakes need to be changed. First, listen when you’re coming to a stop. If you hear squealing or screeching while stopping, it is likely a built-in metallic shim that helps identify that the brakes are in need of changing. You may witness a similar occurrence when the vehicle is left out in the elements for a while, creating built up rust.
Next, visually inspect your brake pads from time to time. You should be able to see your brakes through the spokes of your rims and see your brake pad compressed against the rotor. If the pad measures less than a quarter inch, that’s a good sign to take your car in to get them inspected. If your vehicle is newer, like a Mercedes-Benz C300, you may have an electronic sensor that will detect when your pads are in need of a change.
The worst thing you want to hear is a low “grumbling” or what sounds like a metal-on-metal grinding. Hearing this while driving means that the brakes have gone past the point of the pads and the brake calipers and rotors are now making contact to stop the vehicle. If this is happening to your vehicle, bring the vehicle into the shop as soon as possible as the brake assembly will more than likely have to be replaced.
Windshield wipers should be changed anywhere from 6 to 12 months. If you notice streaking, chattering, skipping, or smearing while using the windshield wipers, then they’re losing contact with the surface. The cause of this is the plastic of the wiper squeegee degrading over time and use. Just keep in mind when replacing wipers, the cheap ones work ok, but the expensive ones make a huge difference when driving in inclement weather.
A car’s battery is important to starting and using electronic components within the car. It’s recommended that you check your battery twice a year and change it out after about 4 years of service. Your battery might be going bad if you experience the engine cranking slowly when starting, requires frequent jump starts, clicking when turning the ignition, vehicle lights are dim, or you may even see a warning light pop up on the dash.
The easiest way to check your battery is to use a multimeter. A multimeter measures the voltage found in a car battery telling you how much power is stored within it. With the car off, connect the positive and negative ends of the multimeter to the corresponding battery points with it set to 15-20 volts. If you don’t get a reading of around 12.6 volts, then the battery may be bad. Now, with the car started, check that your reading changes to just over 10 volts. If your reading drops below 5 volts, then the battery is bad and needs to be replaced.
Tires are our connection to the road, so taking note of your tires’ wear and age is important. The first simple test uses an everyday penny. Take the penny and place it in your tire tread. If the tire tread isn’t going past or meeting Lincoln’s head on the coin, then it’s time to look at some new tires. Also, inspect the tire side walls and tread area for any defects, punctures, or uneven wear that may be occurring. Another area to note is the age of the tire. If your tire is six years old, then it’s time for a replacement. If all that is squared away, then just check that your tire psi is at the correct amount (typically 32-35psi for passenger cars) and you’re good to go!
In cars there are two main air filters, one for the engine and one for the cabin. Both are relatively easy to locate and replace on your own, even if you aren’t much of a car person. The cabin air filter keeps debris, dust, and other unwanted outside contaminants from entering the passenger area of the vehicle when the air is on. Replacement is on a by-manufacturer basis, but the general rule of thumb is to replace it between 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Checking your cabin air filter should coincide with changing your oil. Take it out and clean out any bugs or leaves that may have found their way in your system and reinstall or replace the filter if it’s time.
The engine filter is more important to performance of the vehicle as well as keeping unwanted debris out of the system. Again, the replacement of engine air filters depends on the manufacturers specifications and should generally be replaced somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Check your engine air filter when checking your oil, just to keep your maintenance/inspection schedule concise. Make sure there aren’t leaves or garbage in there or that an animal hasn’t made a nest in the air filter area. Also, look into performance brand air filters as they both work better and are sometimes able to be cleaned rather than just discarded. I upgraded my Dodge Charger engine air filter to a K&N one, and it’s been well worth the money.
Hopefully this answered some of your common car maintenance questions. There’s still a lot more to cover. So, let us know what questions you have regarding maintaining, cleaning, and upgrading your car. You may just see your very own question a future article here on the Daily Driver!