Tips on How to Keep Your Car Maintenance Up
Help avoid accidents and costly repairs for yourself and others
By: Meagan Baron
September 10, 2019
Many mechanics agree: Cars talk. Listen to them because they might be trying to tell you something.
Whether you are a car newbie or a pro, it is important to not only know overall car maintenance, but to have reminders in front of you to take the action steps needed to get to know your own car better.
Here at Mosaic Insurance Alliance, we want you to be as safe as possible. When common issues and maintenance habits are brought to attention throughout the year, everyone can put yourselves in safer situations. This guide is a great addition to put in your car glovebox and hand out to friends and family to spread awareness. Perhaps you even know a student driver who could benefit.
Common car maintenance areas include:
- Spark Plugs
Life is busy. We get it. Sometimes the last thing our brains want to focus on is our car when we are being busy bees trying to run around from point A to point B. We sometimes don’t even have time for a nap as we try to get all our to-do lists done while saving as much money as we possible. Use this blog and the infographic below as a little reminder that cars don’t have to be as scary complicated as they appear. If you take each maintenance category one section at a time, you can save time and stress, have less complicated and costly repairs, and play it safe on the road and within your bank account.
Accidents happen. The best thing to do is be informed and take the proper precautions to avoid common vehicle accidents that are seen daily all around the world. Not keeping up maintenance on your car could cause you to get into a car accident and/or get a ticket—which is likely way more common thank you think. One of many studies done on this topic was by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) who found that on average there are 45,000 car accidents a year from vehicle malfunction alone, and of those, many are due to poor owner vehicle maintenance.
On top of all that, if you do not keep up proper auto maintenance, and something were to happen, your car insurance might not cover damages even if you have the best coverage possible because it was something that could have been avoided on your part. They could very well find you liable for damage costs and perhaps even for causing the accident.
When you get behind the wheel, make sure that you have yourself covered by being knowledgeable and paying attention. While fixing things can be costly, in the long run it is usually less costly than cleaning up the possible aftermath. Cars get totaled beyond repair every day. Getting a new car can be time-consuming and expensive. Licenses can be taken away. People can get hurt. Take the time to prepare and be willing to spend the money needed to keep your car in tip top shape.
Below are a handful of common things to keep up maintenance on for your vehicle, followed by other common questions that are good to ask yourself. Vehicles are dynamic beasts but are not as temperamental as you might think. Learning to keep them happy is possible.
Print out this picture cheat sheet to keep in your car. You can also save it on your phone! You can download the PDF of the image here.
Ask Yourself These Questions...
1. How do I keep up tire maintenance?
If you do not replace your tires in time, you can get stranded with a flat and have to pay a tow truck, your tire could explode and cause an accident, your tire could fly off your car, and so much more.
How often should you check you tires? At least monthly.
How often should you replace your tires? The *average life of a tire is about 25,000 miles to 50,000 miles. It is also recommended that tires are changed at least every 5 years. These general rules should not be taken as absolute factors. The lifetime of tires depends on all kinds of things from tire brand and car type, to weather conditions and driving habits. Even if you have not driven on a tire much, it might still need replaced because of things like:
- Age. Sure, maybe you have a vehicle that has only been driven 2,000 miles in the last 5 years…But, those tires are still aging and have been subjected to different things that could have damaged them…They could have dried out, sprung a leak, etc.
- Poor parking conditions that caused damages like dry rot.
- Badly textured roads that eat at the tread. Gravel and bumpy roads are common roads that cause faster tire wear and tear.
- The weight of the vehicle. Bigger cars tend to need tires more often.
- The tolerance of the tires has been compromised. Tires that are not being used regularly might not be able to take on the future habit of being used more often.
- Driving habits. Constant fast acceleration and braking can wear down tire tread. Hitting curbs or rubbing up against something can cause tire damage like wear spots and leaks.
Doing the below steps can help your tires be road safe:
Step 1: Make sure that your tire has good tread.
- Tire tread should always be above 2/32 inches in all areas of each tire. Once tire tread gets to 2/32 inches, The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends replacing them.
- Some tires are equipped with indicator bars (wear bars) inside the tread pattern. Replace the tire if the tread or a tire is level with the indicator bars.
- You can also test your tire tread with the old penny trick:
- Insert a penny into your tire tread with Lincoln’s head down. The general rule is the less of his head you can see, the better your tire is.
- If you see all of his head, it is definitely time to replace the tire.
- If your tire covers up at least Lincoln’s forehead in all areas of tread, the tread is typically deemed as road safe.
- Make sure to check between different areas of tread on each tire—especially in the areas that look the most warn. Some areas might pass, but if there are some that don’t, you should get a new tire(s).
Note: Bad wearing on certain areas might indicate that your car is misaligned and needs to be realigned.
Step 2: Have correct tire pressure in each tire and make sure that you have no leaks.
Check your tire pressure regularly, especially when the weather outside drastically changes from hot to cold or vice versa since oxygen pressure increases/decreases based on temperature.
When should I add air to my tire? According to Bridgestone Tire and I Drive Safely, LLC., it is best to inflate tires when they are cold—so, driven less than a mile. This ensures that you are going to get a more accurate PSI reading.
How much air does my tire need? The inside of your door and/or your owner’s manual will tell you how much tire pressure is recommended for your vehicle. The number listed on the tire itself is the maximum pressure that the tire is able to hold, not what is recommended for your vehicle, so do not fill it up to that capacity.
You can check tire pressure and add air at most gas stations for a small fee (usually a couple of quarters). You can also get a standalone tire pressure meter to check your tires whenever and wherever. Tire foot pumps with a pressure gauges are also available and not a bad idea to keep in your car with your spare tire and tire jack. Speaking of the spare tire, inspecting it with all the others is a good idea. Spare tires can lose air overtime…The last thing that you want to see after a tire blowout is a spare that is not going to work.
Step 3: Make sure that there are no loose bolts. If there are, the tire will need to be re-torqued.
Tighten bolts in a star pattern to help ensure that they are properly mounted on the vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual for how often and when you should tighten bolts. Also consult a mechanic if you want additional advice that your manual does not provide.
You may have different lug nut patterns on your tires than someone you know. Common ones are below:
When you drive, bolts slowly loosen so you should make sure to check that they are tight. Not tightening bolts can lead to your tire flying off when you are driving. Consult your car’s manual and/or a tire shop for general tips on tightening when you get new tires and as you use them over time.
Step 4: Check for dry rot.
Dry rotted tires look very dry in areas and faded in color like they have been sprinkled with or covered in baby powder. With dry rot, your tires will have cracks. Check your tread and the sidewall at least once a year. Dry rotted tires can lead to a tire blowout and cause serious accidents, as well as car damages even if you do not hit anything.
2. Are my brakes good?
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have stated multiple times over the years that bad brakes are a top contributor to rear-end collisions. In 2017 alone, brakes that were not working properly contributed to 22% of car failure crashes.
Additionally, warn brake pads can damage your brake rotors (the part that the brake pads clasp to, to make the car stop), which are more time-consuming, more expensive to fix (both in part cost and labor cost), and harder to change yourself than brake pads (location-wise and based on the tools and experience needed).
When should you replace your brakes? On average, it is good to replace your brakes every 30,000-35,000 miles.
Check your brake pads and brake fluid on a regular basis, and especially when you see common red flags, like:
- Squeaking when hitting the brake pedal.
- Bad tension in the brake pedal. (Needing to push it too far down in comparison to how fast you are going and how fast you are trying to stop.)
- Not being able to effectively stop. This can sometimes be noticed if you have antilock brakes and they come on in situations that they really didn’t need to.
3. Is my car battery bad?
The *average life of a battery is 4-6 years, but some batteries will quit on you way sooner than that. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road with a car that won’t start. So, make sure to regularly check your battery.
Keep an eye out for:
- Corrosion around the terminals (could permanently damage the battery)
- Loose terminal clamps
- Stripped/lose bolts holding the terminal clamps
- Battery leakage/dryness
- Lose/damaged battery wires
One or more of the above could make your car have starting problems and/or problems holding a charge. What is even scarier is that improper battery maintenance could lead to car fires.
It is also important to make sure that you have the correct size battery for your car and for any additional accessories. Your car manual, or an auto parts store, can tell you what size battery is standard to your vehicle type. Consult a mechanic for advice on needing a bigger battery because of additional accessories like a radio system that are taking up more juice.
How do I know if my car battery is bad? You can take your battery to a car parts store to be tested. O-Reily’s, AutoZone, and other similar places are easy to find, and they usually test batteries for free. They also tend to recharge them for free if they are not fully charged. We recommend replacing your battery as soon as possible if it tests bad or continues having issues after being jumpstarted/recharged. Consult a mechanic for further advice on making your decision.
4. Are all my car fluids where they should be?
Not keeping fluids at good levels and in good condition could lead to many catastrophes, including your car breaking down, a car accident, and expensive and important parts of your car getting damaged and/or destroyed entirely.
For example, if your oil is too low or not in good shape, you could damage your timing chain if your car has one. Timing chains can destroy engines if they break in certain cars (like ones with interference engines). Timing chains (or timing belts in some cars) help move the vehicle, and if yours breaks, you could come to an abrupt stop and not be able to move the car without getting out and pushing or using a tow truck. So, not only could you be broken down on the side of the road, but your car may not ever run again.
Some important fluids to make sure you are paying attention to are:
- Transmission fluid
- Power steering fluid
- Brake fluid
- Windshield wiper fluid
The last one seems a little strange and unimportant at first, but if you think about it, being able to see is a top priority when you are driving. Windshield wiper fluid helps melt ice, repel water, and defog the windshield.
In addition to checking all your fluids on a regular basis, there are some red flags to watch out for:
- Fluids on the ground.
- The smell of burning oil.
- Smoke coming from under the hood.
- Stiff steering.
- Brakes do not have the pressure and/or effectiveness as usual.
- The car won’t start (for example, if your oil is too low, it can cause your car not to start).
Some action steps that you can take to avoid problems:
- Get regular oil changes and replace the oil filter when you do so. Replace oil *approximately every 5,000-7,500 miles for an older car, and 7,500-10,000 for a newer car. Some newer cars can even go up to every 15,000 miles. Consult a mechanic for recommendations based on your specific car and type of oil you use.
- Make sure that you check your hoses, seals, and fluid tanks for cracks and/or leakage.
- Have correct fluids that are also good quality. Your car manual will tell you what fluids your car needs, such as the oil grade and antifreeze grade.
5. Do all my car lights work?
Having lights that are not working properly could get your pulled over and ticketed. Others not seeing your headlights, turn signals, reverse lights, brake lights, etc. could cause an accident that you could be deemed at fault for and/or ticketed for.
Below are some important vehicle lights that you should always have working:
- Brake Lights
- Turn Signals
- Dashboard Lights
- Taillights (Parking & Reverse Lights)
Dashboard lights might seem interesting to mention. Well, they are not just there to see the speed you are going or to indicate that your headlights and blinker are on. They also help you know if something is wrong. Make sure that your check engine light is working properly, as well as others like your battery light and oil light.
Since turn signals and brake lights can go out without warning, it is important to know your hand signals for left turn, right turn, and stop so that you can safely get to where you need to go. When you do the hand movements, make sure that it is clear that you are hand signaling and not just having your hand out the window.
Some hints that your lights might need some TLC:
- Rapid blinking of the turn signal light.
- Faster turn signal sounds.
- Headlights are dimming.
- Some settings of the headlights are not working well or at all (i.e., normal setting, high beams, daytime lights, fog lights)
- Yellowing of headlights caused by cover discoloration. Sometimes your headlight covers just need cleaning because they are dirty or yellowing. You can find car headlight cover cleaner at most stores.
6. Are my windshield wipers working and doing their job?
It should go without saying that needing to see is very important…Yet, many windshield wipers out there are cracked, rusty, have chunks missing from the blades, and/or are not the proper size for the vehicle that they are on. You should be checking your windshield wipers at least once month to make sure that they are in working condition.
Research over the years from many different studies, like those from The US Department of Transportation, has noted that inadequate windshield wipers are a significant cause for car failure accidents. Bad weather conditions alone contribute to about 21% of car crashes yearly—which equals out to about 1,235,000. On top of that, 46% of those happen during rainfall.
Taking certain precautions while driving in certain weather (like accelerating and braking with caution in the rain, snow, etc.) will definitely help keep you safe. But, making sure that you will be able to see in different weather conditions is the first step you should take before you even start driving.
Your windshield wipers should:
- Be changed at least every 6 months (typically winter and summer).
- Be checked after really hot/cold weather because heat and freezes can damage them.
- Move water effectively so that you can see.
- Have no cracks or missing pieces on the rubber blades.
- Not squeak.
- Not smudge the windshield.
- Be the proper size for your car and weather conditions you typically face in your area.
7. Are my spark plugs bad?
We all wish that gas was cheaper and that we got better gas mileage. Every one of us has wished that our cars always started when we turned the key. Sometimes, your car just needs a tune up.
Many manufacturers say in their manuals that many cars should have their sparkplugs replaced *approximately every 30,000 miles. Depending on the brand of spark plugs you have, that could be a way different number. A good place to start is logging when you do tune ups, and, between them, keeping an eye out for red flags like:
- The car doesn’t want to start or has problems starting.
- The check engine light is not sending a misfire code.
- Your car has loss of power (completely or when trying to accelerate).
- Your car has poor fuel economy.
8. Why does my car make bad sounds, smells, movements?
Put yourself in a good situation by learning the different noises, smells, and movements that your car makes. If you tune your ear to know what things are good or bad, normal or alarming, you can catch things sooner and save yourself from headaches, costly fixings, and/or injuries.
Am I hearing sounds that are bad?
- Perhaps you need new brakes if you are hearing squeaking noises when you are stopping.
- Maybe your car is having issues making it up a hill and it is making strenuous sounds like it is out of shape and needs to lay off the doughnuts. This could be a fuel system issue and maybe your fuel pump needs replaced.
Is my car letting off smells that are alarming or not normal?
- If you smell something burning under the hood, it could be a belt, like a serpentine belt, wearing down and about to break. If that breaks, your car won’t be able to turn, and you will need a tow truck.
- A burning smell could be an oil leak that you should fix pronto before your car overheats.
When I am driving, does my car feel normal?
Is your car doing anything funky or out of the ordinary when it turns, accelerates, drives on a hill, switches gears, etc.?
- Perhaps your car is not switching gears when it should, which could be a transmission problem.
- Maybe you have issues accelerating, which could be a spark plug problem.
- Perhaps turning is stiff, which means you might have a power steering leak.
- Your brake pedals have loose tension and need to be pushed down to the floorboard to really come to a sop. You might need brake fluid or new hoses.
9. Why is my check engine light on?
Sometimes check engine lights are faulty, but usually when they come on it means something is wrong and needs your attention. If yours ever comes on:
- Plug in a code reader under your steering wheel. Readers are available to purchase in stores and online, or to use for free at many auto parts shops like O'Reilly’s.
- Write down the code(s) that are making the light come on and investigate what they mean so you can find solutions.
- Sometimes the light will not turn off if the problem is fixed and needs to be reset by unplugging and reattaching the car battery. To disconnect the battery, remove the negative (black) cable first. To reconnect a battery, attach the positive (red) cable first.
Keep in mind that some issues do not make your check engine light come on at all, or in time before disaster hits. Also, problems that are occurring could have a long list of possible causes or could be due to multiple things combined. Know what to look out for so you can go through trial and error to make sure that you pinpoint the problem(s).
10. What are common recalls or issues with my car?
Search for common issues of your car’s make, model, and year. Knowing this information can help you know what repairs are likely to happen and how others have fixed them when they had similar problems.
Find out if your car has a recall so you can contact the car manufacturer for possible solutions. In 2018, Consumer Federation of America (CFA) stated that in the last 10 years, there were more than 280 million vehicles that had a recall(s). They also noted that there has only been recall completion rates of 70-75%, so many cars are still on the road with open recalls. You never know, your car might be one of them.
Keep note that some cars are notorious for…
- Needing brakes more often (like heavier cars such as trucks and SUVs)
- Burning oil (like bigger cars like vans, trucks, and SUVs)
- Spark plug issues (such as spark plugs popping out)
- Going through tread on tires fast (typically heavy vehicles)
- Fuel system issues
- And the list goes on
As you keep an eye out for common problems, also observe how your car runs over time and in what conditions (speed, altitude, weather, etc.). Consulting your car manual is always a great step to take since it will have some overall maintenance tips and replacement timelines for different things your car needs.
Many of us rely on our car for daily activities…Work, grocery shopping, school, and the list goes on. Happy car, happy customer. Mosaic wishes you all happy and safe travels! If you would ever like to learn more about insurance and different life hacks, feel free to reach out to us! Our Marketing Manager, Meagan, would be more than happy to see about doing a feature on your idea. You can email her at Meagan@Mosaicia.com or call her at 425-247-0208.
*Average life: Average life is a general rule of thumb brought on by many years of research from different sources. Numbers are not guaranteed and vary depending on car type, driving conditions, driving habits, brand of parts, quality/type of parts, etc. Treat these numbers as general guidelines, not as absolute figures. Your car manual is a great resource on where to start. Consult a mechanic for emergencies and expertise.
Information for this item provided by: Progressive Insurance, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Esurance Insurance, AAA Washington, California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), Les Schwab, BlueDevil Products, Kelley Blue Book, Evans Tire & Service Centers, MTA Assured, Cars.com, Fox13, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Lowman Law Firm, Tire Guides Inc., I Drive Safely, SAE International, Aceable, Inc., US Department of Transportation, Burwell Nebout Trial Lawyers, John Bales Attorneys, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Toyota.