If you're unfamiliar with car maintenance, you might think that every issue needs to be handled by a mechanic. And while an experienced professional will ensure top-notch results, there are a few fixes and safety checks you can handle yourself.

Thankfully, carrying out basic car maintenance and checks can be both simple and cost-effective. To ensure both longevity and performance, we've put together this guide to basic car maintenance that touches on some of the most essential techniques that can keep your car in check.

Why is car maintenance important?

Not only does keeping your car in good nick improve safety, performance and reliability, it saves money and increases its value if you're looking to sell in the future.

By making car maintenance a more regular aspect of motoring, you'll be able to run your car more efficiently, ensuring that its components are in peak condition. All this helps to prevent accidents and incidents that may be caused by system malfunctions as a result of improper maintenance.

Man working on car

Get to know the owner's manual

It's always tempting to skip out on reading the owner's manual when all you want to do is get behind the wheel of your new car, but before you go stuffing it into the glove compartment, it really is worth familiarising yourself with the manual's contents. The owner's manual of every car contains information on how the car should be handled and how you can optimise its performance.

In the manual's maintenance section, be sure to note the intervals for maintenance items such as engine oil, oil filter, tyre rotation, belts, hoses, and so forth. Follow these manufacturer recommendations to keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

If you can't find your copy, an electronic version can usually be found online. Otherwise, get in touch with your dealer or the car's manufacturer for a copy.

Make sure your engine oil is changed on schedule

Engine oil acts like a lubricant, reducing the friction of moving parts within the engine. If it's not changed regularly, the friction could damage the engine, which means expensive repair bills and the possibility of a breakdown.

We’d recommend having a professional actually change your engine oil, but you can certainly check on your car’s oil. This is particularly helpful if you’re not the first owner of the car and are unsure of the complete service history.

Here is our guide with more tips on how to check your car's engine oil.

Checking tyre pressure

Check your tyres regularly

Since they're responsible for getting you from A to B, it's important to routinely check on your tyres to ensure they're properly inflated. Without the right amount of air, you run the risk of having a blowout, which is never ideal.

The correct tyre pressure is key to properly inflating them. Your owner's manual or the jamb will let you know what the correct pressure is if you're not sure; this information is also often found printed somewhere on the car, either on the door pillar or behind the fuel filler cap.

When it comes to the correct conditions, you should inflate your tyres when they're cold (i.e. having driven less than one mile) to get an accurate reading. If this isn't possible, then add 4 PSI (pounds per square inch) to the recommended amount. While you're inflating your tyres, be sure to check the spare tyre of your car too (if it has one).

Additionally, it's important to note your car's tyre alignment. Tyres don't wear evenly, because the front and back tyres carry different loads on different vehicles. That's why it's a good idea to rotate your tyres, since it'll help even out the wear and maintain the overall alignment of your car. It's recommended that you rotate your tyres every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.

Click here for more top tips on how to take care of your tyres with our handy guide.

Inspect your car's fluids

As well as its engine oil, your car has a few other fluids that will need to be checked, including its coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and windscreen washer fluid.

As with engine oil, you'll check transmission fluid with a dipstick. Brake fluid, coolant and washer fluid levels, meanwhile, can be determined by removing the respective covers and visually inspecting their levels; they should all reach a designated fill line.

Using a dipstick

An important reminder: you should never remove the radiator cap in order to check coolant levels, particularly when the engine is hot. You could risk getting scalded if the cap is removed. Instead, you should check the coolant level in the transparent refill container that's located nearby.

Don't forget the air filter

If your engine isn’t getting the proper amount of fuel, then it won't perform as efficiently as it should. Likewise, if the air being sucked into the engine is full of debris and other matter, then your engine will be similarly affected as a result.

Without the proper checks and maintenance, various contaminants may get into the engine, causing mediocre mileage, reduced horsepower and unusual sounds. It may even cause your engine to stop functioning completely in the worst cases. 

To prevent these issues, it's a good idea to have your air filter changed by a professional when they start to get clogged.

Air filter being changed

Watch out for brake issues

Another crucial component, it's important to stay aware of how your brakes feel and what they sound like whenever you get behind the wheel. If the brakes feel "spongy" or it takes more pressure to apply the brakes than normal, then you'll need to have them looked at by a professional.

Likewise, the sounds your brakes make can indicate whether maintenance or repair is needed. Take note of the following when driving:

Squealing: If you hear squealing it may be because your current brake pads have worn out and are rubbing against the rotor. There's a chance you may need new brake pads, but this isn't always the case. Get a professional to take a look if you’re not sure.

Grinding: While it's not an ideal sound, grinding may not necessarily be a major issue if brake grinding occurs when driving the vehicle for the first time that day. Grinding is caused when small patches of rust form on the brake disc, and then get knocked off when the brakes are applied while driving.

Rattling: A rattling or vibrating sound usually means one of the rotors has become warped or worn out and may need to be replaced.

Intermittent sounds: If brake sounds are inconsistent but noticeable, then it could be caused by brake fade from overheating. When the brake pads, rotors or brake fluid overheat, you may hear unusual sounds, along with a lack of responsiveness from the brakes themselves. If this occurs, then you should have a professional fix the issue.

In any event, brake pads tend to need changing every 20,000 or 45,000 miles. However, in some cases, brake pads may wear out before 20,000 miles are hit, depending on the owner’s driving style.

Car maintenance

Check belts and hoses

A little trickier than the previous checks we've mentioned, inspecting your car's hoses and belts, located in the engine bay, is another important check. By directing coolant flow to it, your vehicle's hoses ensure the engine doesn't overheat; if the hose is separated or has any cracks or bulges, then you should have it replaced.

Likewise, you should check the belts too. The timing belt found in most cars and small SUVs is critical to the operation of your engine; if this belt shows any signs of wear, including cracking, glazing and material loss (i.e., chunks missing from the belt itself), then it will need replacing as soon as possible. If you're driving and the timing belt breaks, then it can cause serious engine damage.

Replace your wiper blades as needed

If you're noticing any streaks on your window or the wiper blades screech when in motion, then you'll know your existing set will need replacing. And while this may seem like a comparatively small issue, it's an important maintenance measure.

If you're driving in rainy weather, then it's the wipers that can help with your visibility. Blades in poor condition won't give you the clarity you need to navigate such bad weather.

Take care of the exterior

Since they're on the outside of your car, unsightly scratches are one of the more noticeable motoring maintenance issues. For those who pride themselves on having the best-looking car on the estate, these dings and dents can be a problem, but aesthetics aside, there are other reasons for sorting out your scratches.

If you're planning on selling your car, then even this minor damage can end up affecting its value. Luckily, the smaller problems can easily be taken care of at home. For more information, check out our how-to guide here.

Scratched cars

Miscellaneous maintenance

If you're looking for more information on car maintenance, then be sure to consult the following articles below:

Troubleshooting A Car That Won't Start

How to Prepare for an MOT

How to Clean Different Interior Materials in Your Car

The Ultimate Checklist for Spring Cleaning Your Car

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