We’ve taken ten of the most sought out car maintenance questions and answered all of them in one place

Why Car Maintenance Matters So Much

Car owner checking oil levels
Car owner checking oil levels

Every car on the road today requires regular maintenance to keep it working at its best. Yes, that includes electric cars too. Of course, every car has a multitude of different systems that each require its own unique maintenance schedule and service. Today, we’re going to tackle everything from simple tasks like topping off windshield wiper fluid to more important ones like ensuring that you have properly working tires.

Follow this guide and you’ll be sure to keep annoying things like breakdowns and check engine lights to a minimum. You’ll also likely save money in the long run since maintaining your car is a lot cheaper than fixing parts that go without service.

When Do I Need New Tires?

Checking tire tread
Checking tire tread

Perhaps no other part of a car is as vital as a set of safe tires. To that end, it’s imperative that owners keep a close eye on tire wear and change them before they’re worn to unsafe levels. There are a couple of ways to check tire wear so let’s start with the old faithful, a penny. That’s right, if you take a penny and position in between your tire tread with Abe Lincoln’s face in view, the top of his head should be hidden by the tread. Make sure the penny is upside down of course to use this method.

A far more reliable method is to look for the tire wear bars that are found on all D.O.T. regulated tires on sale today. As soon as you see wear on any of these bars it’s time for a new set. It’s important to check the entire tread patch from one side to the other on all four tires.

Repeat the process every couple of months to be sure that you’re safe. Finally, take a look at the D.O.T. stamp on the side of your tires. The first two numbers are the month and the last two are the year that they were made. If your tires are more than six years old it’s time to swap them out, regardless of tire tread depth.

When Should I Change My Oil?

Adding new engine oil
Adding new engine oil

The old-school notion that oil should be changed every three months or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first, is no longer a reliable gauge. In truth, that’ll still work for the vast majority of cars, but in many cases, it’s actually overkill. Most cars built over the last decade and even beyond can go at least 5,000 miles between oil changes if not longer.

On the other end of the scale, you might need to change it more often if you use your car for any sort of motorsports competition whether that’s autocross, rallycross, drag racing, or something else. Older cars will also require more frequent changes and potentially, changes based on the season.

The best advice is to consult your owner’s manual and follow the directions found there unless you know that your vehicle is a special case. We have a handy guide on changing your oil by yourself here.

How Often Will I Need Brake Pads?

New and worn brake pads
New and worn brake pads

Brake pads wear down just like tires or oil. To that end, they’ll need to be changed somewhat regularly but they can last multiple years based on a number of factors. Those factors include how much you use them, what material they’re made from, and the condition of your brake rotors.

The best practice is to check them a few times each year to determine how thick they are. Some cars come with brake pad sensors that will alert you when it’s time to change them out.

Once a brake pad is less than 4mm thick it’s recommended for replacement at most automotive repair shops. Keep an ear out for the sound of squealing or squeaking too. That can be an early indicator that there’s very little life left in your brake pad.

The sound of metal on metal comes after that and indicates that the rotor might be toast too. Don’t let it get that far because pads and rotors are an expensive fix. If you hear a squeal, get your brakes checked.

Just like in the case of oil changes, if you happen to track your car at all you might need to check brake pads more often. You can even upgrade them to aftermarket brake kits should you so desire.

Should I Change My Brake Fluid At The Same Time?

Person adding brake fluid
Person adding brake fluid

No. Much like engine oil, the best practice with brake fluid is to replace it as suggested in the owner’s manual. In typical cases, it doesn’t need to be changed any more than that. Typically, brake fluid will last for many years without the need for replacement.

Does Coolant Need Regular Maintenance?

Coolant being added
Coolant being added

Yes. Coolant does exactly what it sounds like. It keeps your engine at a safe operating temperature so it’s vital that it’s in good condition. Much like brake fluid, coolant will typically last for years between flushes and replacement. To that end, follow your owner’s manual with respect to how often it should be changed.

When Should I Check My Transmission Fluid?

Replacing transmission fluid
Replacing transmission fluid

Transmission fluid is something that should be inspected every time you change your oil. Different cars require different procedures for checking transmission fluid levels correctly so be sure to refer to the owner’s manual.

When Do I Replace My Windshield Wiper Blades?

Person inspecting their windshield wipers
Person inspecting their windshield wipers

If there’s anything that’s fairly obvious on this list, when to change windshield wiper blades has to be it. Anytime you notice streaking, missed coverage, a lack of clean wiping, or deterioration of the physical blade be sure to change them out. Checking them for signs of near failure is a good idea once a month.

Should I Change My Windshield Wiper Fluid?

Windshield wiper fluid container
Windshield wiper fluid container

No. Windshield wiper fluid doesn’t need to be changed out unless temperatures are going to dip below freezing temperatures and the fluid isn’t freeze-proof. In those cases, it’s best to spray it all out and replace it with windshield wiper fluid that can’t freeze. If it does freeze there’s a risk that it might break the reservoir.

Can I Check My Battery’s Health?

Battery multimeter
Battery multimeter

Yes, you can with a multimeter. Simply touch the negative and positive points of the multimeter to the corresponding parts of the battery. If the car is on you’re looking for at least 10 volts. If it’s off readings should be at or above 12.6 volts. Anything below those numbers and the battery is likely in need of replacement.

Do I Really Need To Change My Air Filter?

Dirty air filter
Dirty air filter

Yes but probably not as often as a repair shop will tell you. Modern air filters are very robust and can often be cleaned out rather than replaced.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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