You’ve done it, you’ve bought a car, now comes the hard part, taking care of it. It’s not as straightforward as putting fuel in and going all the time. There are a lot of things that you need to to make sure that a car is and will always be in working condition, not to mention making repairs if need be, but that’s beside the fact.
Here is everything you need to know when it comes to maintaining your car. A disclaimer, however, is that the maintenance process will depend per car so note that your maintenance requirements can depend on the car or even the engine of your car as well as the transmission and even down to the upholstery in it.
Your engine will need quite a few fluids and consumables to keep running. Here are some of the essential fluids and other items to that fill up your tanks and baffles.
Change your motor oil every 4,000 to 10,000 kilometers, or every 3 months to a year depending on your manufacturer’s recommendations. Check your oil level using the dipstick. If it’s below the level after you’ve run the car for a bit, then it’s most likely time to get your oil topped up or changed. It is important to remember that motor oil also breaks down over time even when not in use and oxidizes. It is also important to go with the right spec of oil and also take note of the formulation of the oil you will use, be it mineral, semi-synthetic, or fully-synthetic.
Mineral oil is the most cost-effective but is least resistant to heat, thus you need a thicker oil to make sure it doesn’t thin out when your engine reaches higher temperatures.
Semi-synthetic blends the best of both synthetics with cost-effective mineral oil. It’s more resistant to heat but isn’t as expensive as fully-synthetic. You can also run a slightly thinner oil if you go with this type.
Fully-synthetic is the most expensive of all the types, but it will be the most resistant to heat, and won’t thin out at higher temperatures so the consistency remains the same. Even as the temperature shifts. You also can run a lighter weight oil allowing your engine to move easier.
When conducting your oil change, some engine flush may be used prior to ensure that the residue from the old oil is completely gone.
Some cars have a higher oil grade requirement like in the case of turbocharged cars like the Honda Civic RS Turbo. However, naturally-aspirated motors may also require higher grade oils especially ones that have high compression ratios to maximize power per combustion cycle which also produces more heat. Such cars like this include the Mazda3 with its SkyActiv-G engine. The main enemy is heat produced by the combustion cycle, and your manufacturer will know best when servicing your car.
A coolant flush is recommended every 10 years or 160,000 km. Depending on the model, the interval may be shorter than that. Manufacturers do indicate the interval in the owners’ manual. When flushing your cooling system or radiator, you need to run through some coolant flush in order to get the gunk out of the system, then drain the old liquid out.
When replacing your coolant, it is important that you use distilled water only when you refill or top-up your reservoir. If you’re simply topping up, don’t fill your reservoir with premix or concentrate, instead, use distilled water to keep the level from going below minimum. If you are going to change your coolant, it’s important to drain the rest of the system fully of the old fluids before you put in a new mix. Not all coolant is created equal, so it is important to go with what your owners’ manual recommends.
Whether it be gasoline or diesel, the fuel that you fill your tank with is very important since loading gasoline or diesel that has lower octane or cetane ratings may cause problems for your engine or reduced performance. Go with your manufacturer’s recommended specifications for this. When you open your gas cap, you may find the minimum Research Octane Number (RON) on most gasoline cars. Common cars will require you to run at least 91 octane fuels, while there are more high-performance cars that require at least 95 RON gasoline. Meanwhile, for diesel-powered vehicles, you have your standard and your high-performance diesel fuels. Most diesel engines now have turbos, and it’s recommended to go for a higher grade diesel if so to prolong your engine’s life.
Also, make sure to fill up with the right amount of fuel so you don't damage your fuel pump or your other engine components. A good rule of thumb is to keep your fuel level above 1/4 of the fuel gauge level in order to keep your fuel pump lubricated, cooled, and free of sediments.
Climate control systems in cars will use a refrigerant called Freon. This ensures that your ride is cooled, and your car is ready to challenge the heat of the outside world. Over time, you will notice that your air conditioning system will have reduced performance. Once this happens, it is time to get your system recharged with Freon in order to keep it running optimally. Over time the liquid can seep out of the system in gaseous form. It is also important to charge your system with the right refrigerant. If your car was produced prior to 1995, then you need to use R12a. Post-1995, you need to use R134a. Most cars now use R134a. Also, more modern systems allow the user to charge their own airconditioning systems with R134a, while older R12a systems need to be worked on by a mechanic with specialized tools.
For gasoline motors, you need to change your spark plugs in order to ensure that your engine doesn’t misfire. There are 3 main types of plugs, all with varying levels of longevity and performance.
For plugs, conductivity will determine the strength of the spark, and copper offers the best spark among the three types at the cost of longevity. If your run copper plugs, expect to change this out every 20,000 kilometers, or every 1 to 2 years depending on your use. If you rev your car more liberally, then your change should be earlier.
Platinum spark plugs are more expensive than copper, but they do last longer at the cost of a reduced spark. This type offers the best middle ground for people that are looking for a great spark but with a bit more longevity. This will last anywhere between 30,000 kilometers to 50,000 kilometers depending on your use.
The most recommended and often-used plugs in most modern cars are iridium spark plugs. Most manufacturers run these kinds of plugs in order to cut down on changes while still retaining a good amount of spark for the engine to ignite the air-fuel mixture. Expect to change these plugs anywhere between 50,000 kilometers to 100,000 kilometers or every 5 years depending on how you drive. Of course, consult your manual to get your manufacturer’s recommendation.
Drive belts and accessory belts
Drive and accessory belts are constantly exposed to engine heat, and as a rubber element inside the engine bay, it needs to be checked up on regularly. Every year, or 20,000 kilometers, check the belts to ensure that they are connected properly and have good tension on them.
Every 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers, or every year, you should replace your engine’s air filter. There are two types of filters that you can run inside your car, there’s the stock paper filter and the reusable oiled cotton or foam filter. Using a filtration element for your engine will protect it from unwanted particulate that may wreak havoc inside your engine. You do not want to run without a filter, nor do you want to use a filter that doesn’t work properly. Our recommendations are to use the stock filter or to use an aftermarket filter that comes from a reputable manufacturer.
Since engine oil also carries dirt and other contaminants away from your engine, an engine oil filter is needed in order to keep your oil as clean as possible. Larger particles can cause damage to the internals of your motor, so changing your oil filter as often as you change your oil is a must. This part needs to be replaced every 4,000 to 10,000 kilometers or 3 months to a year, just like your oil change intervals.
Since injectors use small nozzles that can get clogged easily, a fuel filter is in place to keep particles from backing up the system. Your replacement interval for this part will depend on the fuel that your car runs on, be it gasoline or diesel. For gasoline motors, expect to change this part out every 60,000 to 80,000 kilometers or every 3-5 years depending on your manufacturer's recommendations. For diesel engines, the interval will come a lot earlier at 30,000 kilometers or about 2 to 3 years, which also depends on your manufacturer’s recommendations.
Depending on the engine and the manufacturer, your valves must be inspected for clearance after 5 years or about 120,000 kilometers thereafter. This is to ensure that you pass emissions and your engine is performing at its best. This type of service may come earlier depending on if they are noisy, so listen to your engine intently or ask the mechanic to check it for you.
For the gearbox, whether automatic or manual, you will need the correct fluid and the correct weight. Consult your owner’s manual for this specification as to what you need. This needs to be replaced every 2 years, or 40,000 kilometers, whichever comes first and depending on your manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Gear oil
- Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)
- CVT Fluid
Remember to get the appropriate fluid for your transmission because since different transmissions operate differently, different formulas are used between regular gear oil, ATF, and CVT fluids to ensure the best-possible performance.
If your car is a manual transmission, one key wear item that prevents you from stalling your vehicle is the clutch assembly. Clutches can either be cable-actuated or hydraulic. Typically, a clutch needs to be serviced whenever your biting point or working level gets too low or too high or if you are experiencing a lot of slippage. A high biting point after a long period of time will be indicated that your clutch's friction plate is on its way out, while an inconsistent feel or a very odd release could be due to your pressure plate or your release bearing being worn out. Inconsistent feel or a loss in pressure could be the result of your hydraulic lines or cable is in need of some service.
Cable - Clutches with this kind of actuation uses a braided cable that is much like an e-brake cable. Over time, this also loosens so the tension should be inspected and adjusted every maintenance interval. A cable will be out of spec if the biting point of your clutch is already too low. Then a cable is due for replacement if it is at the end of its tensioner adjustment already, or if upon inspection, it is fraying or hard to actuate due to rusting.
Hydraulic - Like your brakes, hydraulic fluid is needed to go on the hoses of your clutch. There are a master and a slave cylinder that does the necessary push and pull. While you do get more consistent performance over time, you need to inspect the lines and the seals for leaks every maintenance interval to ensure consistent operation. Fill your system with the appropriate fluid, and bleed if you start to feel your clutch getting spongy or if your fluid is about 5 years old.
Either way, other things that you need to take note of with your clutch assembly that needs to be serviced is your flywheel, pressure plate, release bearing, and your friction plate.
Flywheel - The flywheel is the part that is in direct contact with your engine to your transmission and driveline. A flywheel, when it needs to be serviced during your clutch replacement, will need to be resurfaced to mesh better with your new friction plate.
Friction plate - This part is your connection from your engine to your transmission. This is the main wear component of the transmission. It behaves like a brake pad on your brake rotor, and over time and with continued heat cycling and use, it will get worn down. Replace this item once you've worn through it, or else your car will jitter and shudder every time you set off, and you may even hear a high-pitched noise whenever you launch or set off.
Release bearing - When you release the pedal, this part helps smoothen out that transition to give you good operation. It's a standard wear item as well much like wheel bearings, which can also get broken over time. Typically, however, this part lasts as long or longer than the friction plate itself, plus most replacement clutch kits come with one anyway, so best to replace it then unless there was a problem from the start.
Pressure plate - As its name suggests, the pressure plate puts pressure on the friction plate and flywheel to ensure that the engine is getting the proper transmission of power. A worn pressure plate will give you shudders and jitters, and you may also feel a small loss of power or a slip from time to time. Replace this piece when you do replace your friction plate as well, as it will come as a set.
When it comes to maintaining your battery there are a few things to look out for. The first would be the terminals. These are an integral part of the unit that needs to be as clean as possible in order to send and receive power from the car. If these are dirty then electricity won’t be able to flow as smoothly as possible. Second is its age, a typical car battery straight from the dealership will last about a year depending on your driving habits and road conditions. An aftermarket battery, the ones you buy from a battery store will last between 3 to 5 years. It is important to note that by the 3rd year of its life make sure to give your car battery a test to see if it still has some life to give. If the battery is deemed to be close to the end of its lifespan, plan to buy a replacement for it as soon as possible. You can opt for a premium battery with a longer warranty or a more affordable one for more savings down the line.
Starter, Lighting, and Ignition batteries (SLI)
These are some of the more common batteries available in the market. Most vehicles on the road vehicle these, and as the name suggests fulfills those said purposes. Be informed, however, that these kinds of batteries have a very short charge cycle, that is the time it takes for the battery to charge. Its discharge time, however, is fairly less than its recharge time. This battery also can deliver power in short bursts in order to start your vehicle. These typically come with 6 cells within the casing which provides the 12-volts that your vehicle runs on. When it comes to lifespan SLI batteries will last about 3 to 5 years depending on the usage.
Lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion)
A typical Lithium-ion battery typically stores a lot more charge compared to normal batteries. These are commonly found in hybrid vehicles and are found in their battery packs. While the functions are the same as a regular battery, the Lithium-ion versions weigh less than their conventional counterparts but output the same power. When it comes to lifespans, these kinds of batteries will last about 3-4 years.
These kinds of batteries present themselves as low maintenance options. The unit itself is sealed and therefore cannot be serviced at a battery shop. Similar to that of the SLI batteries, these can also output power in short bursts to help your starter motor start your car. In terms of lifespan, these will last anywhere between 3 to 5 years at maximum.
Maintaining your brakes is an absolute necessity. The brake system is composed of your master cylinder, brake lines, calipers, and rotors. Brake fluid is also a part of the system and needs to be replaced or topped up depending on the level in your master cylinder’s reservoir. Make sure that the fluid is above the minimum level, and below the maximum. The whole system should be checked every 10,000 kilometers or every year.
Fill the system with the manufacturer’s recommendation be it DOT3, DOT4, or DOT5. Most cars will run DOT3 fluid and you will rarely see DOT4 or DOT5 in street cars.
DOT3 is less resistant to heat but doesn’t absorb moisture as easily, and works well for most street applications.
Meanwhile, DOT4 is way more resistant to heat but is more susceptible to absorbing moisture.
DOT5 is even more resistant to heat but is much more expensive and harder to come by unless you head to specialty shops.
Every 40,000 kilometers or once (or even twice) every six months is also a good rule of thumb but always refer to your vehicle's manual and service intervals. If it's not clear or transparent and has a murky or muddy color, it's time for a brake fluid flush. Some manufacturers also state that brake fluid can last up to 3 years, however, an earlier interval and a bit of care can go a long way.
Brake Pads or Brake Shoes
Disc brakes in cars use brake pads in order to make contact with the rotor, while brake shoes are used in drum brakes. Either way, these items are consumable, and a good rule of thumb is that once you hear a sound whenever you brake, then it is time to change your pads or shoes. There’s usually a plate that has a small tab that creates a high-pitched sound when it rubs against the brake rotor. It’s a clever way to tell the owner that it’s time to change pads.
Apart from your pads, another wear item in your braking system is your brake rotors. Unlike pads, however, your rotors won’t need to be replaced all too often. Whenever you change your pads, you will need to resurface your rotors to make sure your pads interface seamlessly with your rotors.
Handbrake or footbrake cables
This applies to your car's handbrake or footbrake which are not hydraulic or electronic. You will need to replace your cable eventually or you will need to have it tightened. Have the tension of your cable checked every maintenance interval. You will know that the cable is loose if your rear brake is not biting anymore or if there is no actuation happening. If there is no resistance, then that means that you might need to change your cable, however, if there is, but your rear is slipping, the tension needs to be adjusted.
So another part of your brake system is the caliper. There are two main types of calipers in cars, a monobloc, which doesn’t move, or a sliding caliper, which moves. Sliding calipers are the more common type in cars and will require greasing especially on the pins that keep the sliding part of the part straight. A brake piston can seize given the right conditions and will result in uneven pad wear if not addressed, or it will even result in significantly reduced brake performance.
Suspension and chassis
Over time, there are several things that you will need to replace and adjust after a while. Over a certain period, even the metal components of your suspension system will wear out, resulting in ride and handling that is less than ideal. This aspect of your car is also important in order to keep your vehicle driving in a straight line and turning when it needs to turn.
Not necessarily a part, but a well-maintaned suspension is also a system that is properly aligned. It’s good to take your car in for an alignment if you find that your tires are wearing unevenly, or your steering wheel isn’t straight even if you are going straight.
Springs and shocks
With constant use and undulations, your suspension’s springs and shocks can wear out or even leak. Every service interval, these components must be visually inspected and checked otherwise, your ride and subsequently, your handling will become less stellar.
The little rubber bits that attach your suspension components to your chassis are called bushings. Changing these items every 5 to 10 years is a good idea, depending on how much you abuse your vehicle. You can go with OEM-spec rubber bushings, or polyurethane for added longevity, weather resistance, and suspension responsiveness, though the trade-off is that ride comfort will suffer a little.
This section is more dedicated to older cars with power steering pumps. In order to keep a power steering pump in good condition, you need to make sure that it is inspected regularly and free of any leaks, and topped up with good fluid. If your car has an electronic power steering motor, then it would be best to consult your manufacturer if there is a malfuction.
Wheels and Tires
Literally, the only items on your car that are always and should always be in contact with the road can often be the most overlooked. Make sure that the rubber that you have is good, and so are the wheels that they're attached to.
For wheels are a wear item on a car and can be due for a replacement much earlier if abused. OEM wheels are made to withstand the weight of the car and more, but over time may develop micro-fractures that may compromise the structural integrity of the alloy or steel. Steel wheels typically last a while, but they tend to deform easier than alloys. Meanwhile, alloy wheels are much stiffer but can be more brittle depending on how the wheel was made. Alloy wheels can be manufactured differently with different processes netting different levels of strength. Replace your wheels if there are bends or cracks. Most gutter marks and curb rashes aren’t cause for concern.
Low-pressure cast - The alloy metal, typically aluminum, is poured into a mold and left to cool. This method of production offers great cost-effectiveness but requires the wheel to have a lot more mass to compensate for the lack of strength low-pressure casting provides.
Flow forming - The aluminum starts out as a smaller billet and is drawn or flowed out into the shape of the wheel. The result is a wheel that is lighter and stronger than a cast but is not as strong as the last method on our list.
Forging - If you want the strongest construction method that is lightweight at the same time, forged wheels offer the best solution for your car. Found on high-performance cars, forging offers the best in terms of lightness and strength. These wheels will retain their shape better than cast wheels are not as brittle, so chipping will not be an issue. The con is that the wheels are going to be more expensive than the other types on this list.
Check your door sills for the proper tire pressure assuming that you are still on your stock wheels. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations and also pay attention to the load limits of the car and the tires. Go to a gasoline station, use a tire pressure gauge, or use your car’s tire pressure monitoring system if it has it.
As you drive, your tires wear down. Depending on the type of drivetrain that your car has, the driven tires will always wear faster. It is important to rotate your tires every 10,000 kilometers or during your yearly maintenance interval so that you ensure your tires all wear evenly.
When it comes time to change your tires, do so immediately as a bald tire, expired tire, or a damaged tire can cause accidents if not addressed as soon as possible. Change the tires once one of these things happen
- Sidewall bubble
- Tread reaches the wear indicator
- The tire is past its expiration date or more than 5 years old
The most exposed part of your car needs to be maintained to keep appearances. From the paint to the headlights to the little plastic bits and trim, make sure your car is as presentable as it is maintained.
Taking care of your paint is a job that requires a lot of consistency and care. Use the right products and follow the right procedures when washing your car’s paint. Use the car shampoo when removing dirt and grime off your car’s bodywork, or use a detailing clay bar to remove the more stubborn contaminants. Do not wipe off dirt and other particles off your paint without using any shampoo or water.
To remove spots and keep your glass as clear as possible, use a good glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth in order to remove any dirt and stains. It’s good to wash your car first because fine particles like sand can scratch your glass. Do not dry wipe your glass as this may leave scratches.
For matte plastic trim, trim restorer will return the black-ness of faded trim.
The lens on your headlights has a UV-resistant coating that protects the lens for a good 5 years or so. After a certain period, the coating starts to deteriorate and starts clouding up the lens, often with a yellowish hue.
Fogging is also an issue that some headlamps will experience. This is due to weather conditions and faulty weather seals around the headlights. Water may also make its way in the headlight or even the taillight assembly.
Bulbs also wear out over time. For halogen lights and reflectors, go to your local auto supply and find the correct size for your vehicle which should be indicated in the manual. For halogen projectors, Xenon, and LEDs, however, you need to go to your dealership for a fix.
Other exterior maintenance items that you need include your windshield wipers. Replace these items every 6 months to a year, or when your wipers start to perform poorly.
For replacements, check with your car if it uses banana-type, or standard-type, or hybrid-type blades. Most common wipers used on cars today are standard, which are more straight than the banana type which curves and hugs the windshield.
For blade material, you have either rubber or silicone. Rubber is affordable and cost-effective and will last you a decent amount of time especially if it is graphite coated, though, with continued use or exposure to the elements, the coating will wear off and the wipers may start to squeak towards the end of its life. Silicone, on the other hand, may start off as a bit noisy, but the beauty of it is that it coats the windshield with a thin silicone film that is hydrophobic and will help you repel water.
Your interior gets dirty over time, and may even develop a lived-in smell or a few stains here and there.
Air Conditioning Filter/Cabin Filter
Your air conditioning system in your car passes air through a paper filter that needs replacing. Ideally, your filter should be changed every year or every six months depending on how pedantic you want to be. There are also other cabin filters that are CN95 rated for extra protection against microbes and other contaminants.
Air conditioning vents
Over time, your vents may get clogged or filled with odors. We recommend running your system through an anti-bacterial mist as smells and other foul odors can manifest themselves inside the vents of your A/C system. Do this every time you smell something funky or when it is for your general well-being and safety.
Upholstery, Carpet, and headliner
To clean and maintain your upholstery, make sure to use the correct cleaners, be it for leather or for fabric.
For leather, use warm water, mild soap, and a soft cloth for dirt to clean the surface, or you can use leather cleaner to make the job much easier. Don’t use alcohol-based cleaners and products as this can damage the leather. Also, don’t use hard brushes when cleaning, as you may scratch up the surface of the leather.
For cloth, use a bit of laundry detergent to clean the surface and to disinfect. Don’t use heavy brushes as they may poke holes in the fabric.
For carpets and headliner, which are likely cloth or a type of textile or fabric, either uses an automotive carpet cleaner or household carpet cleaner every so often. Also, dust the carpets and vacuum them regularly to remove any dust and debris that the driver or passengers may have tracked in.
Plastics and trim pieces
Depending on the finish of the plastic, it is important not to use any abrasive cleaning medium for these parts of the car. Use a microfiber cloth along with some mild soap to get the job done. Don’t use alcohol or alcohol-based cleaners as this could wear off the surface of the plastic trim.
For glossy surfaces, be sure to lubricate the surface first before wiping it with warm soapy water. Afterward, wipe it off with a microfiber towel.
For matte surfaces, best to err on the side of caution and use warm soapy water along with a microfiber cloth.