What Preventive Maintenance Can I Do On My Own Car?

Daily driver preventive maintenance includes inspection of tires, under-hood fluids, coolant hoses and drive belts, oil and filter changes, and wiper blades.

check under hood fluids

The best place to find mileage intervals for recommended maintenance is in your vehicle's owner's manual.

Tire Inflation

Car tires naturally lose one or two pounds of air every month or so, they need to be checked and adjusted 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.

checking tire air pressure is part of daily driver maintenance

Check tire pressure 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.

Tire inflation affects ride, handling, braking and fuel economy.


Under-Hood Checks

It's a good idea to check under-hood fluids every other month. Visually inspect your battery and make sure the terminals are clean and tight.

daily driver maintenance

Several summers ago, my air conditioning stopped blowing cold. Fearing the worst (Freon leak) I started with the basics and checked the coolant level (caution: always check when the motor is cool). Turns out the radiator was low by about a gallon of coolant! After I filled it to the top, my A/C was once again blowing cold.

A Word About Engine Coolant

Once upon a time, all engine coolant was green and we poured it into the radiator of every make and model car. Today, different vehicles require different types, which are colored (red, orange, blue, etc). Most are not compatible with other types.

Check Power Steering Fluid

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.

Some manufacturers may still recommend ATF for steering systems, but check your owner's manual. ATF is similar to, but not identical to power steering fluid. It would work in your power steering system, but it may not be the best fluid to use.

Air Filter Replacement

General rule of thumb is, when you can no longer see light shining through an air filter, it's time to replace it. Hold it up to the sunlight, or hold a light underneath it.

replace air filter Ford Explorer Sport Trac

Old air filter on left, new air filter on right.


Wiper Blades

Thirty years ago, the longest wiper blade was 18 inches, and we could buy just the rubber wiper inserts for about $5 a pair. Today, wiper blades can be as long as 28" and can cost anywhere from $25 to $125 for a pair.

replace wiper blades

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.

Oil Changes Are Still #1 Priority

Oil changes are the most important part of vehicle maintenance. If you drive around with dirty oil, you put your engine at risk of expensive internal damage.

car maintenance you can do yourself

Read: High-Mileage vs Full-Synthetic Oil


Daily Driver Maintenance Checklist

  • Keep tires properly aired and rotated
  • Check 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
  • Change oil and filter at regular intervals


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