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Routine Maintenance for Your Car

Posted on 30 August 2008

If cared for properly, most cars will give you years of faithful service. However, there are a number of insidious forces that want nothing more than to reduce your investment to a useless, rusted heap propped up on cinderblocks in your back yard. These forces, though crafty and relentless, can be held at bay with a strict regimen of routine maintenance.

Oil changes

When an oil change is performed on your car, the old, often sludgy oil is drained from the engine, the oil filter is replaced, and fresh, clean oil is added. Some people will advise you to change your oil every 3,000 miles, which, unless you have an aversion to adding a quart of oil from time to time, is mostly unnecessary. Most cars are down a quart of oil at 3,000 miles. If you replace the quart yourself and keep an eye on the oil level, you’ll be able to safely go another 2,000 miles or so. If not, get it changed. Once an engine is down a quart, the oil begins to burn off at an increasingly rapid pace. Let it go too long and your engine will seize (the friction generated in an insufficiently oiled engine causes the pistons to expand, freezing the enging and rendering it totally useless), and will have to be replaced entirely.

Factors such as dirt, dust, excessive heat or cold, and city driving (short distances, short stops and inconsistent accelerations) will all expedite the burning of oil, and should be considered when setting your routine. Even under the harshest conditions, you won’t need to change your oil at intervals of less than 3,000 miles; under the kindest conditions, never go longer than 7,500.

Consult your owners’ manual to determine which viscosity grade (10W-30, 10W-40 etc.) of oil you should use.


A tune-up, also known as a major service, should be performed every 30,000 miles or so, and generally involves the following:

  • Replace the fuel filter
  • Replace the air filter.
  • Change the spark plugs.
  • Check the fan belts, replace if worn.
  • Check the fluids (transmission fluid, oil, wiper fluid, coolant etc), and replace/refill if necessary.
  • Replace the positive crankcase ventilation valve, which, if clogged, will cause your car to stall.
  • Check the battery, add water if necessary, clean cables and terminals.

At 50,000 miles, you should perform the above steps (or have them performed), plus check the brakes and tires, and begin checking for rust.

At 100,000 miles, perform all of the above, escalating the search for rust, check the alignment and have a mechanic check the engine’s compression and hoses.


When winter hits, you’ll want to “winterize” your car, which involves the following:

  • Replace the coolant.
  • Replace your wipers, and make sure you have enough wiper fluid.
  • Check the battery.
  • Check the lights, heater, and defrosters.
  • Check the brakes.
  • Keep a scraper and other emergency supplies such as flares, blankets and tools in the car.
  • Don’t let the gas tank fall below 1/4 full, to prevent moisture from freezing in the gas lines.
  • Keep an eye on your tires. If they’re bald, replace them, and if they’re under-inflated, give them some air. The ideal tire pressure should be specified on the tire itself.


Keep an eye out for uneven wear, leaks and tread depth. Under-inflated tires wear faster and more unevenly, wreaking havoc on things like alignment and gas mileage. The treads on a healthy tire should be more than 1/16th of an inch deep. A good test is to place a penny into the tread, and if at least part of Lincoln’s head is obscured, the tire is fine.


Salt, sand and other various chemicals used on the roads during the winter season will devour your car if given the chance. Wash the car regularly to preempt any corrosion, and take the car to a car wash to have the undercarriage washed. Though many cars come with finishes that resist rust and corrosion, their undercarriages are still especially vulnerable to the elements, and are too often overlooked by their owners. Remember you can repaint the body of the car, but you can’t replace the u

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