Car maintenance checklist

It doesn't take too long to check the basic maintenance items in your car like engine oil, transmission fluid or tires. This generic car maintenance checklist is designed to give you a general idea; as different cars have different requirements. For the correct information on how to maintain your car, as well as safety precautions, refer to your vehicle's owner's manual or take your car to a dealer or auto repair shop.

• Car maintenance basics
• How to check engine oil
• Engine coolant
• Air Filter
• How to check automatic transmission fluid
• Battery
• Wipers
• Tires
• Tire Rotation
• Taking care of small problems
• Regular inspection

Car maintenance basics

It's really not that difficult to keep your car in good shape. Here are the basics:
- Read your car owner's manual, it has all the information on car maintenance as well as safety precautions.
- Keep all the fluids (e.g. engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant, etc.) clean and topped up.
- Follow your maintenance schedule, there is a number of things that need to be regularly serviced or replaced at certain intervals (e.g. brakes, air filter, timing belt, spark plugs, etc.)
- Check tire pressure regularly.
- Change you windshield wipers if they don't clean properly.
- Wash and wax your vehicle once in a while to keep the car finish shiny and protected from corrosion.
- Deal with any problems as soon as they arise, before they become more serious and require expensive repairs.
- Use only original parts.
- At least once a year have your car check out in a garage.

How to check engine oil

Check engine oil regularly, especially if you notice that the oil level drops between the oil changes. Engine oil cools down and lubricates the engine. Driving with very low oil level can cause engine problems.

Checking engine oil

Park your vehicle on a level ground. Set the parking brake. Make sure the transmission is in "Park." Stop the engine. Wait for a minute or two to let engine oil drain into the oil pan. Pull the engine oil dipstick. If you don't know where is it located, check your owner's manual, usually it has a bright handle saying "Engine Oil".

Checking engine oil

Wipe the dipstick off. Insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the oil level.

Checking  engine oil

The oil level should be between the "Low" and "Full" marks. In this photo the level is OK and oil looks clean.

Oil condition

Check the oil condition: If it's way too black, as in the left photo, it's definitely time to change it. If it's brown, but still clean and transparent, as in the right photo, it's OK. If engine oil is of the "coffee with milk" color it means that engine coolant mixes with oil. This is a sign of some internal engine problem, such as, for example, a leaking head gasket - have your car checked out.
If oil looks clean, but the level is low, you can just top it up.

Oil type

To top up engine oil use a recommended type of oil; for example, if your owner's manual or the oil filler cap indicates SAE 5W-20, use SAE 5W-20 oil. If your engine needs synthetic oil, use only synthetic oil. You can find the recommended oil type for your car in your owner's manual.

Top up engine oil

How to top up engine oil:
Add a little amount of oil into the oil filler neck. Wait for a minute to let oil to flow into the oil pan. Check the oil level again with the dipstick. If it's still low, add some more. But don't overfill it. Don't forget to install the dipstick back and close the oil filler cap when you finished.

Engine coolant (antifreeze)

Coolant level

Visually check the engine coolant level in the overflow tank. Your owner's manual has the directions. The level should be between "Low" and "Full" marks. (Don't open the radiator cap or the pressurized overflow tank cap when the engine is hot! The cooling system is under pressure when hot!) If the coolant level is low, you can top it up using recommended type of coolant mixed with water. Again, your owner's manual has the proper way to do it.

Adding engine coolant

Add coolant only when the engine is cool. Use only recommended engine coolant. Sometimes engine coolant is sold already premixed with water and sometimes you will have to mix it. Check you owner's manual or read the directions on the coolant bottle. Carefully add the coolant into the overflow tank to make it between "LOW" and "FULL" marks.

Coolant level

If the coolant level drops within a short time after topping up, there may be a leak. Have the coolant system checked - lack of coolant may cause the engine to overheat which may result in serious damage.

Engine air filter

Coolant level

The engine air filter keeps the air entering the engine clean, but over time the filter gets dirty and restricts the air flow. The engine air filter is usually recommended to be replaced every 12,000-15,000 miles or 20,000-24,000 km. Typically the air filter gets checked when you bring your car for an oil change. If you want to check it or replaced yourself, on most cars and trucks it's a fairly easy task. Your owner's manual has the directions. If you find that the air filter is dirty, replaced it; it's not a very expensive part. It's best to use an original air filter that you can buy at your local dealership parts department; usually it costs around $20. When you are installing the air filter, make sure it's installed correctly; again, check your owner's manual. If the filter is not installed properly, unfiltered air entering the engine could damage the airflow sensor and increase engine wear.