Daily Driver Maintenance
Every vehicle, regardless of year, make, or model, needs preventative maintenance. And the more you drive, the sooner your car will need an oil change, brake pads, tires, etc.
Car Maintenance You Can Do Yourself
If you're a mechanically inclined person, the majority of car maintenance can be done in your driveway in your spare time. For the last 30 years, I've been doing daily driver maintenance to all my family member's cars and trucks. I do 90% of my own vehicle repairs, leaving late-model engine diagnosing to a trusted local shop.
High Mileage Car Maintenance
The U.S. Department of Transportation states that Americans drive an average of 13,476 miles per year. Of course, some vehicles are driven less than that, but many are driven more than that. The most common reason is having a long commuting distance.
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Before the Covid-19 pandemic kept us all home for months, I was commuting 80 miles a day, five days a week. That's 400 miles a week, not including any other driving I may do, such as running errands or excursions on my days off. It added up to 20,000+ miles a year.
To offset the miles I putting on my daily driver, I rode my motorcycle as much as I could. But factors such as weather and other circumstances limited my riding to less than 5,000 miles annually. Even so, I'm still putting 15,000+ miles a year on my daily driver.
Oil Changes Are Still #1 Priority
Oil changes are the most important part of vehicle maintenance. Air filters and fuel filters are also important, but not nearly as much. For example, if you drive around with a dirty air filter or dirty gas filter, the worst that could happen is you lose performance. If you drive around with dirty oil, you put your engine at risk of expensive internal damage.
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If your engine oil comes out dark and sludgy, change the oil and filter more frequently. Once your engine is sludged up, there is no easy way to clean it. You can try an engine flush, but they can do more harm than good.
Checking Oil Leaks
After reaching 180k miles, my old Ford truck started leaking oil. I couldn't see where it was coming from, but I could smell it because it was dripping onto the engine pipe. Fearing the worst, I checked the leak with some engine dye and a black light. I was lucky, turned out to be just a loose valve cover bolt.
Your owner's manual provides a routine maintenance schedule based on engine mileage. This will always include inspection of your coolant hoses and drive belts, and suggesting recommended intervals for replacement. Always check your battery and make sure the terminals are clean and tight.
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Check Under-Hood Fluids
At a minimum, check your under-hood fluids. Many summers ago, my air conditioning stopped blowing cold. Fearing the worst (Freon leak) I started with the basics and checked my coolant level (note: always check when the motor is cool). Turns out my truck's radiator was low by about a gallon of coolant. I filled it to the top, and once again my A/C was blowing cold.
A Word About Engine Coolant
Once upon a time, engine coolant was always green and we poured it into the radiator of every make and model car. Today, different vehicles have different colors and types of coolant, and it is not wise to mix them.
Power Steering Fluid
Some manufacturers may still recommend ATF for their steering systems, but check your owner's manual. ATF is similar to, but not identical to P/S fluid. It would work in your power steering system, but it may not be the best hydraulic fluid to use.
Back in the day, it was common to substitute automatic transmission fluid (ATF) for power steering fluid. Today's power steering fluid contains additives designed to help the pump perform optimally as well as to prevent seals from leaking.
You can rotate your own tires right in your driveway. Pick a sunny afternoon, grab your old floor jack and a pair of jack stands, and get to it. It's also the perfect time to check how your brakes are doing.
Tire inflation affects ride, handling, braking and fuel economy. Because they naturally lose one or two pounds of air every month or so, they need to be checked periodically.
The maximum pressure stamped on the side of the tire is NOT what you inflate the tire to. That's only telling you what the tire is capable of safely handling. Check the owners manual or driver's door-jamb sticker for the correct air pressure.
Tire air pressure should be checked when tires are cold. When tires are warm, readings are at least 2-3 pounds higher. After a long trip in hot weather, cold inflation readings may be taken after a minimum of three hours.
Replace Noisy Wheel Bearings
Not too many modern vehicles have replaceable wheel bearings (Chevy S10 and Ford Ranger come to mind). The majority of today's cars and trucks have a one-piece wheel hub assembly. Although they aren't adjustable like old-school inner and outer wheel bearings are, they have a much greater life expectancy.
I've replaced hub assemblies on lots of different vehicles. Although it may appear easy to just unbolt and bolt, they don't always come off easily. Once they're off though, installation of the new hub assembly is straight-forward.
Thirty years ago, we replaced the rubber wiper inserts for about $5 and the longest wiper blade was 18". Today, wiper blades can be as long as 28" and can cost anywhere from $25 to $125 for a pair.
Changing wiper blades used to be easier, simply because there were fewer styles. Replacing the rear wiper blade on our family SUV required a gear puller to get the old one off.
What Preventive Maintenance Can I Do On My Own Car?
Daily Driver Maintenance Checklist
- Keep your tires properly aired and rotated
- Change the oil at regular intervals
- Check your air filter, clean or replace as needed
- Check under-hood fluids and top off as needed
- Test all exterior lights
- Replace windshield wipers once a year