During the holiday months, many Texans take to the highways to visit family and friends. However, a pleasant drive to grandma’s house can quickly turn sideways if your vehicle isn’t in tip-top shape! Before hitting the road, take a look at our list of essential car maintenance checks that you can do yourself.
Keep a Maintenance Record
Whether you take care of your auto maintenance yourself or rely on a shop, it’s important to keep written records. In your glovebox, keep a small notebook and pen so that you can log the time, date, and mileage for every repair or check performed. This allows you to keep better track of what you’ve done and, more importantly, when you need to do it again. You can even record part numbers and brands so you don’t have to look them up each time.
Check and Change Engine Oil
A fresh oil change ensures all of your engine parts are moving smoothly! To check your oil, make sure your car is in a flat spot before inspecting the dipstick. Your owner’s manual will tell you where to find it and exactly how to read the measurement. Different types and brands of oil need to be changed at different intervals, so make sure to keep track of what you put in your engine and how many miles you’ve driven since. If your oil is pitch black, it’s time for a change regardless of what brand you use!
When performing an oil change, it’s always a good idea to change the filter as well. Filters collect dirt and other particulates that can be harmful to your engine, and you don’t want your fresh oil to pass through a dirty filter. If you’re uncertain what filter to get, your local auto parts store should have a giant book that lists your car’s make, model, and the corresponding part number.
Top Off Other Fluids
If you check your oil regularly, good job! However, cars have a number of other fluids and it’s important to check them all as well. When you check your oil, make sure you also inspect the levels of transmission fluid, engine coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and even windshield wiper fluid! If your vehicle is low on any of these, check your owner’s manual for the correct type and top them off before traveling anywhere.
Replace Windshield Wipers
Being able to see out of your windshield is important! When the weather gets nasty, it’s critical to have fresh wiper blades to keep your line of sight unobstructed. Because most wiper blades are made of rubber or plastic, they eventually become brittle and crack after hours in the sun. That’s why it is generally recommended that you replace them every six months. Check and see if they are in decent, working order and replace them if they are hard or damaged. In addition, you might consider adding a water repellent solution to your windshield. These products cause water to bead and streak off the windshield as you drive and can reduce the amount of work your blades have to do.
Replace Air Filters
A dirty air filter decreases the efficiency of your engine and can affect gas mileage and general performance. As a rule of thumb, you should replace it every 12,000 miles or once a year. Your handy owner’s manual can tell you more, but if it looks really dirty, chances are it needs replacing. Like oil filters, the exact brand and part number can usually be found in catalogs at auto parts stores.
Check the Battery
Obviously, if your battery is dead, you’re not going anywhere! However, just because your car starts doesn’t mean your battery is in good health. If your headlights, taillights, or dashboard lights seem dimmer than usual, this could be an indication that your battery is failing. Auto parts stores and shops will typically check the power level of your battery free of charge (no pun intended). If it is low, or if there are any cracks or corrosion on your battery, it’s time to replace it.
Check Tire Pressure and Tread
In addition to making for a less comfortable ride, poorly inflated tires can affect fuel economy, compromise handling, and wear the tread out more quickly. Use a tire pressure gauge to check the PSI of all your tires, including the spare, and add air if needed. The proper PSI typically depends on the car but can vary based on the tires as well. The number should be printed on the outside of the tire, but you can also typically find it in your owner’s manual, or on the inside of the driver-side door jamb.
Check for signs of wear on your tires as well. Most tires have built-in bands or bars that indicate when your tread has been worn down too low. If the tire’s tread has been worn down to the same height as these bars, new tires are definitely needed.
Don’t Ignore the Check Engine Light
We’ve all seen the dreaded orange glow of the “check engine light”. It’s frustrating to know that there is probably something wrong, but not exactly what! Fortunately, it’s not difficult to find out. Just like checking your battery’s power, many auto parts stores will run a quick diagnostic check for free. They have a special device that connects to the car’s computer and gives an error code. This code corresponds to a specific problem the car is having and can help you figure out why that pesky light won’t go away.
Get 24-hour Roadside Assistance
Even if you keep up with regular vehicle maintenance, the unexpected can sometimes happen. That’s why it’s always good to have some kind of 24-hour roadside assistance service available. Many insurance companies, like Germania, offer such services to their policyholders. Check with your provider to see if they offer roadside assistance before you travel!