The single most important thing you can do to get the best value and longest life out of your car is to READ the owner's manual. Inside you will find all the information you need to complete maintenance at the best times, find sizes for your wiper blades, the type of oil your car needs, fluid levels, part numbers and tires sizes. This manual will also show you where to locate everything so you can properly check them.
Each car has its own maintenance schedule. Following these schedules will directly impact the life of your car, its performance and its safety. Many of these you can complete yourself without having to call a mechanic. Checking fluids is one of the simplest and most effective ways to maintain your cars health. Ensuring that you have the correct levels of oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, wiper fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary repair bills. If you wait until the dreaded light on the dash comes on, it is usually too late and will require a tow, an expensive repair and, in some cases, could jeopardize the safety of you and your family.
Air and a Spare
Your tires meet the road and lots of other things along the way, like nails, boards, tree branches, rocks and other debris that can damage or destroy them. Tires can also be a fairly moderate expense, particularly for pickup trucks, and suvs. There are a few simple things you can do to prolong tire life and save money on fuel. First, check your tire inflation. All tires lose air and leak naturally, ASE reports most tires loose one to two pounds of air per month, so their inflation needs to be frequently checked. They also suggest you check air pressure when the tires are cool for a more reliable reading. Next, do a monthly visual inspection of your tires checking for wear, cracks, slipped belts, bulges or other abnormalities. This can be done while you are pumping gas, and could save you from a blow-out on the interstate. Underinflated tires can reduce your fuel mileage by as much as 15%, and significantly reduce the life of your tires. Under inflation can lead to handling and maneuverability problems that could cause an accident.
Over-inflation creates a "balloon" effect and will show significant wear in the center treads of your tire, again limiting its life. Overinflating your tires can also cause damage when the tire encounters a pothole or other road debris. Never exceed the recommended inflation rate that is printed on the tire. Rotating your tire is a cheap option for increasing tire life. Many tire retailers offer free rotation with a tire purchase, make sure you use this service. It will not only give you greater tread life, but mechanics can also spot any tire problems or alignment problems during the rotation.
Don't forget to check that spare in the trunk. Having a properly inflated spare can save you a tow bill, or a road service call. In case you have a flat in an area without cell phone service, you can change it yourself. Also, make sure you have a jack and lug wrench stored along with the tire.
Oil is the lifeblood of all engines. Through the last several decades, as engines have changed so has the required timing of oil changes. What used to be a standard 3,000 mile oil change is today 5,000 miles or more, depending on the make, model and engine in your vehicle. (Again, consult your owner's manual for details). Also, there are different grades, viscosity or weight of oil and in some diesel engines they require more oil than gas engines. There is research that shows using synthetic oil can reduce fuel consumption, extend engine life and reduce carbon emissions. Consider using it at your next oil change or ask your dealer if it could be used in your particular vehicle.
This is a filter anyone - regardless of mechanical knowledge - can replace. It requires no tools on most vehicles, and is an inexpensive filter. If this filter becomes filled with dirt and debris your fuel mileage can drop by 10% and it could cost you 15 cents a gallon in fuel consumption. A general rule for changing this filter is roughly every three months, in areas where you encounter more dirt, pollution or road construction, you might have to change it more often. Your owner's manual will provide guidelines for changing and give you the necessary parts numbers. (Most automotive stores and retailers that sell automotive supplies also have parts books that give part numbers).
Wiper Blades and Wiper Fluid
There is little more disconcerting then having sludge splashed across your windshield, hitting the wipers and fluid, only to find the fluid empty or the wipers worn out. This can also lead to an accident caused by poor visibility. Wiper blades are essential to safety, change them at least yearly. Even if you live in a very dry area, the sun and weather will do damage to them. A good quality set of wiper blades will cost less than $20 and is much cheaper and healthier than having an accident.
Wiper fluid can be purchased at almost any discount retailer for less than $3 a gallon, keep some in your garage. Resist the temptation to use water in your wiper fluid reservoir. Water can freeze, it can do damage to your sprayer system, and bacteria lives in there.
The Bottom Line
There are many things you can do to help make your vehicle last longer, run cheaper and give you many years of worry free service. If you take the time to read your owner's manual, it will detail many things you can do to without the need of a mechanic.