by Ross Everett

Since I was a small child, I have had the importance of automotive maintenance drilled into my head. Now that I’ve reached adulthood, I appreciate the sound foundation I had in this discipline of critical importance. I cant imagine the time and money Ive saved and headaches Ive avoided. If you didnt have this background, and dont have a clue about how to maintain your car, dont despair. There are a number of simple car maintenance tasks that anyone can do even if you know nothing about how a car works.

–Wash your car often: While the exterior of your car isn’t as important as what’s under the hood it’s still necessary to take care of it. A clean car looks better, of course, but it also helps in a few practical areas. Keeping your windshield clean inside and out, obviously, is crucial for safety. Washing you car often keeps your headlights clean. And, of course, frequent washing helps prevent rust and corrosion extending the life of your vehicle.

–Wash the undercarriage of the car: This is particularly important if you live anywhere it snows. The salt, sand and chemicals that are used for ice and snow removal accumulate underneath your car and will rust out the body faster than anything else. Even in the coldest weather, its a good idea to wash your car at least once a week giving special attention to the wheel wells and undercarriage of your car.

–Clean your engine: Wash your engine, complete with soap and water, every time you wash your car. Not only will a clean engine run cooler, but washing it also cleans off crusty oil deposits, battery acid, and grime collected from the road. Let your engine run at idle to dry off before you start driving again. This is less of a problem with modern fuel injected cars, but still a good idea.

–Change and/or clean your air filter: Change your filter every time you change your oil filter. While it won’t kill you to change your filter less frequently, they’re so cheap and easy to replace there’s really no reason to put it off. In between changes, give the filter a good spray with a compressed air hose and blow out the filter chamber as well.

–Check and change your oil: Check the dipstick level every time you stop for gas, and don’t run your car without the appropriate amount of oil. An older vehicle may burn oil, but if you have a new car that is burning oil it needs to be checked out. Change your oil frequently”at least every 5,000 miles and better still, every 3,000 miles. Change your filter when you change the oil or youre going to be pumping clean oil through a dirty filter which defeats the purpose. Oil changes are a pretty easy job even for those without much of a mechanical background, and drive thru oil change businesses are ubiquitous in any decent sized market. Most of these places do a decent job and charge a reasonable fee. Many also take care of several other of the maintenance tasks on this list.

–Check and top off other fluids: Change your anti-freeze/coolant annually, and check the coolant reservoir anytime youre under the hood to make sure that its full. It’s also a good time to look for cracks or other damage. Check the transmission, brake and power-steering fluids frequently, and top off when necessary. If your car is going through a lot of these hydraulic fluids it indicates a leak or other mechanical issue and needs to be looked at as soon as possible.

–Check your air pressure and rotate your tires: Check your air pressure levels with a tire gauge at least once a week, keeping them filled to manufacturer specified levels. Also, don’t forget about the spare. Rotate your tires every few months to insure even wear. Some automotive chains will do this free of charge if you’re a regular customer, but even if you’re not it’s a lot easier for them to do with the car up on the rack than for you to do with a jack and jack stand. Simply checking the air pressure in your tires and rotating them periodically prevents countless problems and saves you a ton of money.

Emergency tools and equipment: Despite your best efforts to the contrary, things will eventually go wrong. When in does, youll be glad that you planned ahead. These items should be in your trunk at all times: tire gauge, pliers (slip-joint and needle nose), adjustable wrench, flat head and Phillips screwdriver. Dont buy cheap tools”theyll break and the least opportune times. Invest in Craftsman tools or another premium brand, and youll be set for life. Youll also need a flashlight, and if you live somewhere it snows its also a good idea to have salt, sand, a small shovel, and a blanket just in case you get snowbound and have to sleep in your car. A cellphone charger is also a good thing to have, since a cellphone doesn’t do much good if your batteries are dead. There are also ’emergency’ cellphone chargers that don’t require a power source.

–Get an auto club membership: An auto club at a minimum should give you free towing, trip continuation insurance, lockout service, free maps, and some other bells and whistles. AAA is the best known, but there are countless others provided by credit card companies, cellphone providers, banks, etc. Shop around and find the best deal for the services you need. A growing number of car manufacturers also include lifetime roadside assistance, and not just luxury brands–Mini Cooper and Volkswagen offer new car buyers 24 hour roadside assistance free of charge. Also, ask about the size of their provider network. In a decent sized city you’ll be fine but if you live or frequently travel in less populated areas you might want to stick to AAA or another major company. There’s nothing more infuriating that learning that your auto club doesn’t have providers in Mesquite, Nevada or Vernal, Utah.

These tips are all things that anyone can do, even without more than a basic knowledge of how a car works. Regular car maintenance will prolong the life of your vehicle and help maintain its value, provide a safer and more enjoyable driving experience and save you money in the process.

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