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Every vehicle should be regularly serviced to keep it in working order. If you depend on your car to go to work every day, run errands, and maybe to drop off and pick up the kids from school, then you need to make sure that you look after its maintenance needs. On average maintenance costs can be anywhere from $500 to $1000 per year, depending on the make, model, year, and condition of your car. This does not include the cost of changing or replacing your tires. A good way to mitigate these costs is by setting aside some money every month, even if you do not need it for anything immediate, in case a maintenance or repair issue arises. Vehicle maintenance is probably one of the most important things to pay attention to for the longevity of your car. The rising costs of gas and monthly insurance are already difficult enough to work into your existing budget, the last thing you need are additional costs to worry about because you did not factor in regular maintenance costs. In this article we will be discussing what regular car maintenance entails, maintenance you can do yourself without professional help, and what kinds of preventive measures you can take to keep your car in good shape.

When Should Maintenance Work Be Done on Your Car?

There is no specific time when you should get your car service checked, rather, it is more a question of how often you use it and the distance you are travelling. If you do not use your car regularly then you will likely not have to maintain it as often as someone who uses their car every day. When it comes to distances travelled you need to be thinking about how many kilometers you have driven as many of the parts in your car are designed to optimally perform within a certain distance threshold. Usually, these thresholds are between 5,000 and 10,000 kilometers before you need to replace some parts and refill or drain some fluids. If you ignore these basic maintenance tasks, then it can have an impact on your car’s handling and performance and lead to more costly repairs if something breaks down or springs a leak.

Check Your Owner’s Manual

Although there are general maintenance tasks that every car needs to have done, there are likely ones associated with your car’s model, make or year. Check the owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer can tell you about any specific maintenance needs for your car. Do not disregard the owner’s manual, it is the main source of information on your car’s features and components. It provides a suggested schedule for maintaining and replacing all the parts, when to refill all the fluids, when to change the oil, and what kind of motor oil is needed for the engine.

Maintenance that You Can Do

  • Washing your car
  • Regular visual inspections
  • Changing the air filter
  • Changing the wipers
  • Checking your tire pressure and tread quality

Washing your Car

A clean car is a happy car, or so the saying goes. Washing your car and cleaning the interior every couple of weeks removes any accumulated dirt and debris, keeps the paint in good condition, and helps to fight rust build up or damage. You are not just maintaining the appearance of your car by regularly washing it but also its value. Cleaning the interior helps to remove dirt, stains, allergens, and bacteria from commonly touched areas like the steering wheel, dashboard, seats, and any upholstery. Cleaning the interior also preserves and extends the life of the interior components and prevents them from building up grime and dust.

Washing your car yourself can save you money that you would otherwise spend at a car wash. Getting your car washed usually costs between $15 and $30 for an exterior wash only and between $20 and $40 for an exterior and interior cleaning. Washing your car by yourself will cost you about half as much in materials but will take anywhere up to several hours to complete.

Do not park in direct sunlight as this will prematurely dry the car leaving splotches in the paint. Close all the windows and prop the wipers away from the windshield. Expect to get wet and soapy so wear something appropriate. Fill a bucket with water and the appropriate amount of car wash soap according to the instructions on the bottle. This is your wash bucket. Fill the other bucket only with water, this is your rinsing bucket. Lightly hose off the car to loosen up any dirt and grime build ups. Wash the wheels first with a stiff brush to clean out any openings on the wheels and a wash mitt or sponge to clean the tires and rims.

Soak your wash mitt or large sponge in the soapy bucket and then lightly wash the surface of the car. Start at the top of the car and work your way around the car section by section. Rinse and dip the sponge or mitt into the soapy water often to keep them clean. If your car is quite dirty then be sure to be generous with your soap and water and make a few passes to be sure that you give it a deep cleaning. You may need to refill your wash bucket several times if the car is that dirty so pay attention to the quality of the wash water as you continue washing the car. Rinse each section of the car right after you have washed it to ensure that the soap does not dry and stain the paint. As well keep the whole car wet as you wash it to prevent water droplets from drying and leaving water spots on the paint. Hose the bottom of the car last to remove salt and other dirt that may have built up underneath.

Use glass cleaner on both your interior and exterior windows and windshield. Use some fresh towels to dry all the surfaces of the car. Any towel will do but for the best results try to use a microfiber towel. Do not leave any standing water on the car to prevent paint tarnish or rusting. If you decide to wax the car after cleaning, then make sure you do so after it has been fully dried.

Regular visual Inspections

Generally, it is good practice to give your car regular visual inspections to spot any possible maintenance or repair problems before they become bigger and more costly issues. Look for any dents and scrapes, windshield chips or cracks, and any signs of rust on the car’s main body, along the doors, undercarriage, and hood. Left untreated, rust can spread and eat away at your car so it is important that you identify any rust spots early on so you can get them repaired before they cause more serious damage. Your car’s head, tail, and turning signal lights are also necessary components that are needed for you to safely and legally drive your car so make sure that they are working properly as well.

You can pop the hood of your car and give the engine a quick inspection as well as check the battery, oil and fluid levels. The car’s battery should be visible and accessible. Pay attention to any frayed cables, signs of corrosion, dirt build ups, cracks in the casing, or any other obvious signs of damage. If you see any of these problems, then you should get the battery and parts replaced. You could replace the battery yourself, but it may be a good idea to get a mechanic to do it as the batteries can be heavy and removing them could prove to be more difficult unless you have experience doing so already. Oil and window washing fluid are normally accessible and can be checked easily. Oil can be checked using the dipstick and window washing fluid is usually visible through the plastic container. Other fluids such as engine coolant, antifreeze, and steering fluid also come with dipsticks or gauges, but they may not be as accessible depending on the make and model of the car. Check your manual to see if there is any information and where they are located. If you can access them then try to inspect them regularly or as often as your manual indicates. If you notice a leak, then make sure that you get it checked out right away as it could lead to further engine damage.

Changing the Air Filter

Changing the air filter on your car is a relatively simple task that any car owner can do and only takes about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. First, check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s specifications for your car as there are a few different ways that the air filter may look. Next, locate the air filter housing which looks like a black plastic box. Typically, there are just a couple of clips or screws to remove. Remove the cover to expose the air filter. Be careful not to dislodge any hoses or wires when you are removing the air filter cover. Carefully remove the old filter and pay attention to the orientation of the filter, how it fits into the filter housing. Some newer filters have unique shapes and can be difficult to install if not oriented properly. If you see excessive dirt or dust in the air filter compartment, then be sure to vacuum it out so that the chamber is clean and prepped for the new filter to be installed. Put the new filter in place, paying attention to the orientation as well as making sure that the outer seal is seated properly before closing the cover. Close the cover and replace the clips or screws.  Air filters are not expensive, and you should be able to buy one from your local Canadian Tire or auto parts store for about $15 to $20 dollars. If you are not comfortable with changing your car’s air filter you can check with your local Canadian Tire or auto repair shop to see about having them replace it for you.

Changing Wipers 

Wipers are an important component to any vehicle that clear any obstructions from a driver’s view ensuring a clear line of sight. You can visually check your wiper blades for any deformations that happen over time from wear and tear, but you will know they need to be changed if they are not clearing rain and other obstructions from your view while driving. Before you replace your wiper blades you will need to remove them from the wiper arms and measure them so that you know what length of wiper you will need to replace them with. Driver and passenger side wipers might be different lengths so be sure to measure both so that you can replace them with the appropriate lengths. You can also consult your parts store to get the right lengths and makes for each side. There are two types of wiper blade arms, hooks and pins. Hook wiper blade arms have a locking tab that keeps the wiper arm connected to the blade. To remove the wiper blade, rotate it, press down on the tab, press firmly on the wiper blade tab until the lock disengages, and remove the wiper blade. To install the new wiper, slide the wiper arm hook around the wiper blade fitting and push it up until you hear it click in place. Pin type wiper arms have a tabbed lock that keeps them secured. You need to pop the tab up on the wiper blade and then pull it off the wiper arm pin. To install your new wiper blade simply pull the tab up on the wiper and gently insert the arm pin into the wiper blade and push firmly down up into the blade tab until you hear it click in place.

The cost of new wipers can vary greatly so you should take some time to get more familiar with the brands and types. It is really a matter of what quality of wiper you want to use as cheaper wipers will do a good job at clearing your windshield when they are new but may not last as long as the more expensive brands. If you feel more comfortable getting your wipers professionally installed, then it should not cost you more than $75 to $85.

Checking Your Tire Pressure and Tread Quality

Frequently inspecting the tread depth and the condition of your tires is a good way to know not just when to change them but if there is any other maintenance your vehicle may need. On average, tires should be changed every five to six years, though the maximum lifespan is ten years after which they must be changed regardless of the tread quality. Colder temperatures can reduce the pressure in your tires, so it is a good idea to check your tires’ pressure throughout the year. Regular use gradually wears down tire tread, but tire abrasion can happen more quickly if you are not properly inflating your tires or if they are not aligned correctly. Aggressive braking –the use of unnecessary force to stop a vehicle –can also affect the performance of your tires over time.

You can purchase a tire tread depth gauge from your local gas station or Canadian Tire for about $5 to $10. Tire gauges are a fast and easy way for you to check to see if your tires are in good shape or if they need to be replaced. To check your tires with a tire gauge it is best to follow the instructions which come with it. Generally, you need to locate the shallowest groove in your tire tread and insert the pin of the gauge until it is flush with the tire. The all you need to do is read the scale. If the tread depth is 4/32” or less, then you should consider replacing your tires as soon as possible. If you do not have a tire gauge, then you can also get a general idea of your tread depth by using a quarter. Insert the quarter into your tire tread groove with the nose of the caribou down. If the tread still covers the nose, then your tires are probably ok for the road, if the tip of the nose is above the tread, then get your tires changed.

A Healthy Car is a Safe Car

These maintenance tasks may seem basic, but they are incredibly important to ensuring the longevity of your car. Do not disregard washing your car, changing the air filter, checking your tire pressure and tread quality, changing the wipers, refilling the window washing fluid, and making regular visual inspections as these tasks will save you time and money while giving you the assurance that your car is safe to drive.