In many ways, cars are similar to houseplants. They need ample love, care, and attention to thrive. Forget to water them—or, in this case, oil them—and they’ll die. Neglect to store them in the right environment and they’ll wilt—or, in this case, rust.
But there’s a lot more nuance to a proper car maintenance plan than there is to one for a houseplant. With thousands of teeny-tiny parts that come together to create an enormously complex piece of machinery, your car is no simple fern. As such, you need to spend a bit of time developing a car care schedule that suits your needs.
Monthly Car Maintenance Tasks
Luckily, there isn’t a ton of monthly vehicle maintenance to worry about, but it is still crucial to give your ride some attention in-between the big maintenance jobs. Mostly, your monthly tasks should involve simple things like deep cleaning and ensuring that your car is stored in a safe environment.
- Thoroughly clean the interior and exterior. Cleaning your car isn’t just about keeping it looking spiffy. It’s also about preventing long-term damage that could compromise performance. Make sure to give it a deep, monthly clean to get rid of any surface debris that could leave behind permanent scratches or imperfections.
- Inspect your tires. Your entire car, quite literally, rests upon your tires. They are not something you want to mess with. Each month, inspect your tire pressure with a tire pressure gauge, and your tread depth using the penny method. If your air pressure is low, be sure to add air.
Tip: Don’t have a garage? Use a high-quality car cover. The best car covers are ones that keep your vehicle safe from common damage caused by environmental factors—sunrays, moisture, bird droppings, etc.
Every Three Month Car Maintenance Tasks
Every three months or 3,000 miles, you need to give your car a good check of many of the most vulnerable interior components. Depending on your unique vehicle, it may also be time to change the oil. Check your car’s manual for a recommendation and look out for signs that it’s time for an oil change—an indicator light on the dash or a low mark on a dipstick.
- Get an oil change. There is some debate as to how often you need to get an oil change, with conventional wisdom recommending you do so at every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. However, many modern lubricants allow for longer intervals of about 5,000 to 7,500 miles.
- Visually inspect the battery and other parts, including lights, mirrors, belts, engine oil, fuel filter, hoses, lights, air filter, and tires. Make sure to give the exterior a good once-over, too. If you see any visual wear and tear, it may be time to schedule a tune-up.
- Check and top off all of your vehicle’s liquids at least on a quarterly basis. Be sure to top off the coolant, windshield washer fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid. Often, the technicians will do this as part of your routine oil change.
Yearly Car Maintenance Tasks
At the one-year mark, you want to do all of the above tasks and add a couple more to the mix. Remember to pay attention to how much you drive. If you exceed the average—which is around 16,500 miles per year for men and 10,100 miles per year for women—you may want to do these tasks more frequently.
- Get an annual tune-up. Don’t wait until it’s too late to schedule your car for service. You want to get a tune-up every 10,000 to 20,000 miles, which usually ends up being about every year, depending on how much you drive.
- Replace lights, wiper blades, and filters. Many lights, wiper blades, and filters will endure longer than a year, but if you’ve noticed excessive wear and tear and simply want to keep these things on a schedule, the year-mark is a good time to do it.
Tip: Don’t wait for your tune-up to address warning lights or alerts. That check engine light or air pressure light could be nothing, but it could also be something serious.
As-Needed Car Maintenance Tasks
While keeping your ride on a perfect schedule is a nice idea, vehicles usually have their own agenda, which is why it’s so important to inspect early and often. Keep your eyes out for common things like an out-of-whack wheel alignment or rusty brake pads, and replace as needed.
- Get a wheel alignment. It’s generally recommended that you get your wheels aligned every two to three years to increase the lifespan of your tires and improve the way your vehicle handles on the road. However, if you notice that your tires have worn in an uneven pattern or your wheel is crooked while you’re driving in a straight line, you may need an alignment.
- Replace the brake pads. Brake pads should be replaced roughly every 50,000 miles, but that is just an average. Some vehicles only last 30,000, while others can push 75,000 miles. You’ll know if they need to be replaced if you hear squealing or if the pads themselves have significantly thinned to less than a quarter-inch thick.
- Replace the tires. Since you’ll be inspecting your tires monthly, you’ll know exactly when it’s time to replace them for a new set. Luckily, for most people, tires only need to be replaced about every six years, especially if they’re properly inflated and maintained.
- Make necessary repairs. With tens of thousands of parts, there are many things that could go wrong with your car. Paying close attention to the way your car looks, sounds, and feels will help you identify when something needs attention. Don’t wait to make necessary repairs, as it could further the damage.
Tip: Keep a log of notes in your phone detailing the status of your car, noting any changes, repairs, and upgrades you make each month.
Inspect, Inspect, Inspect
Owning a car is a massive responsibility, and one that takes a lot of attention to detail. Luckily, though, if you know what you need to do to keep it in roadworthy shape, your car should stay running like a champ well into the future. The most important thing is to inspect, inspect, inspect. When you know what “normal” looks, sounds, and smells like on your ride, you’ll know when something needs attention.