Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florid...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Jun 24, 2020

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Car maintenance may seem like a chore to be avoided for most people.

It takes up time and money that some people feel could be better off spent on other things.

But maintaining your car is actually the best way to minimize the costs of owning a vehicle.

You may be asking yourself how often you should be bringing your car in for maintenance.

The quick answer to that question is as often as necessary.

Below is a summary list I put together to help you.

Otherwise, there are more details as you read on.  

IndicatorWhat to doEven Better
Dashboard LightsAny indicator light on your dashboard is a reason to give your vehicle a little care. Get an OBD-II Scanner to isolate issues. Costs from $35.00 and up. Will save you money in the long run.
Unwanted VibrationsFeeling a strange vibration? Pay attention while driving. Most likely the suspension, particularly on older automobiles.
Weird Engine NoisesCould be lack of proper care. Try to isolate, if not possible, replace basics as necessary, air filter, oil change & filter, etc. See if noise persists.
How the Drive FeelsCould be transmission with poor automatic shifting. Check transmission fluid. It should be the approximate color of red wine.
BrakesGrease brakes with proper lubricate. Check pads and replace if necessary.
Tire ConditionCheck tread for even wear and proper inflation. May need to balance tires and/or alignment.
Fuel MileageCheck fuel mileage by setting miles indicator to zero at fill up. Decrease in miles per gallon may indicate a fuel system issue, i.e. fuel injectors.
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The long answer is how often you perform basic maintenance checks on your car.

A routine of regular basic car maintenance tasks can help every car owner to spot potential problems in their vehicles before they happen.

Checking your vehicle’s condition before, during, and after you drive helps you plan out your maintenance expenses and fix problems before they get even more expensive.

Below are a few signs you should watch out for to know when to bring your vehicle in for a check-up.

Keep an Eye on Your Dashboard Lights

Your dashboard lights are there for a reason.

When your check engine light starts blinking yellow, don’t waste any more time thinking that you could put-off maintenance for a few more days.

Get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible to have it checked out.

Below I have outlined warning lights of more serious nature.

You really want to pay attention to these:

Indicator*Possible Cause
Brake warning lightUsually in red text, indicates a serious problem with the your brakes (main or emergency brakes).
Temperature light or indicatorIf the symbol is red, it indicates your engine has overheated. A blue light means the coolant temperature is too low. Red and blue blinking means there is an electrical wiring malfunction.
Oil indicatorLight can indicate low pressure.
Battery system warning lightEither a bad battery or a failing alternator.
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*Any indicator light on your dash is a reason to get it checked as soon as possible. Use your owners manual to find out what it means if you want to fix the issue yourself.

If something is wrong with your engine and the system knows it, you’ll be a hazard to yourself and any driver who gets close to your car on the road.

The problem itself may not be immediately apparent while you’re driving but paying a mechanic to check on your car is cheaper than having to deal with an automobile accident.

Don’t Ignore Unwanted Vibrations

If it’s a noise you’ve never heard before while driving, chances are you should check what’s been making the noise.

If you consistently keep hearing the same weird sounds, you should probably be bringing your car in for maintenance.

performing tasks on automobile engine. Note: Finding vibrations can be difficult to isolate. This is something you want to pay attention to while you drive. Many times I have found the exhaust heat cover is loose. If that is the case in your situation, raise the vehicle and tighten or replace the exhaust heat cover.

Noticeable vibrations while driving could point to certain parts of your car becoming loose.

A loosening suspension could be accompanied by squeaks and rattles that could also be mistaken for loose door hinges.

A particularly bumpy route on your daily commute will make such vibrations noticeable after a while.

Listen for Weird Engine Noises

Weird engine noises are an important sign to keep an eye out for during a drive.

As the primary mechanism that allows your car to bring you from one place to another, engine troubles are the last thing you want to happen while driving down the highway.

Clanking sounds coming from your engine could mean that something could have become loose and is hitting other parts of your engine.

Below I have put together a list of noises and what they could possibly mean.

This is only a guide.

Many noises can be difficult to isolate. 

HissingCould mean a problem with the cooling system, exhaust, catalytic converter or vacuum line.
KnockingCould be an issue with the distributor cap, timing chain or spark plugs.
WhirringCould mean a bad water pump, power steering pump or alternator, or low power steering fluid level.
PingingCould indicate a problem with the crankshaft, timing gears or transmission mount.
GrindingHearing these engine sounds when you turn the ignition could mean a starter issue. If these sounds occur when you apply the brakes, it likely indicates worn brake pads or rotors.
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If untended, such noises could lead to additional damages to your car’s engine which could end up becoming even more expensive to repair if a vehicular accident does not get you first.

Pay Attention to How Your Drive Feels

Regular use will take its toll on your car’s many components as your it becomes older.

But some signs of wear and tear are not accompanied by the more noticeable symptoms of noise and vibration.

Some signs of potential vehicular failure can be noticed based on your car’s current handling in normal conditions.

Good and bad transmission fluid color. Note: A sign of poor shifting is the transmission. Illustrated above is the color of good and bad fluid. The color on the left is good. I like to say the color should be similar to red wine. The black is not good. If you haven’t changed your fluid in a while you should only change about 3 quarts or so. Don’t do a flush.

Slower acceleration, trouble shifting gears, and unwanted over-revving of the engine could point to a potential transmission problem.

Don’t wait for your transmission to get all ground up before getting your car serviced.

Don’t Neglect your Brakes

If your brakes feel different, there could be issues with either your brake pads or brake fluid.

A slippery brake pad might squeal to let you know it needs a change, but there’s also a likely chance that a brake overhaul can only be felt by noticing the added force you need to make your brakes work.

Areas to lubricate your brakes for good performance.

Image courtesy of https://www.freeautomechanic.com/

Note: If your brakes are grinding and the pads are good you may need to lubricate them. If not lubricated, the pads cannot slide freely. This is important so your brakes do not make a grinding noise and last longer.

If your brake pads are fine, your problem could be because of a bad brake fluid mix.

You should check if your brake fluid is already breaking down or has been mixed by water—both of which could damage your brake hydraulics if left unchanged.

Always Check your Tire Condition before Driving

Worn tires may not seem like an issue on short and nearby trips, but harsh environmental conditions could be bad news for your car at any time on the road.

Worn tires could easily break during a long drive or not have enough traction when you encounter a slippery road.

Checking your tires is as simple as visually checking if the threads look alright.Checking tire tread on your vehicle. Note: An easy way to check the tread on your automobile’s tires is with a penny. If you slide the penny in the tread and see all of Lincoln’s head, it may be time to replace your tires. Properly inflating your tires will help with gas mileage and performance.

You only need to look for significant cracks in the rubber, worn out areas of the tire, or random objects that have gotten stuck in its threads.

It’s also good practice to check your car’s tire pressure when you find yourself at a gas station.

If your tire condition looks bad, take your vehicle for servicing.

If your tires are at the end of their lifetime, paying for new tires at a service center is better than having to deal with its effects on the road.

You don’t want to miss out on life just because you busted a tire while on the way to something important.

Track your Fuel Mileage

An ever worsening value for your car’s fuel mileage could be a sign that something is wrong with your vehicle.

Parts that have been worn out in your vehicle’s fuel system or engine could be affecting how efficiently it consumes fuel.

Most will look to the fuel system for a lack of performance.

Below is list of other items to consider if you have a drastic reduction in miles per gallon.

Cause of Poor Fuel EconomyReason
Incorrect tire pressureIncorrect tire pressure can influence your vehicle's miles per gallon negatively.
Bad oxygen sensors and air filters Poor fuel to air ratio from O2 sensor. Clogged air filters cause similar issues.
Spark plugsPoor working spark plugs will affect your fuel economy.
Bad fuel injectorsResponsible for putting fuel into the engine. Could have a leak or poor working injectors.
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While a lowering fuel mileage means higher fuel costs in the present, it also points towards more expensive repairs down the road.

Get your car checked to see which components you need to pay attention to soon so you can avoid a serious accident and serious repair fees.

Final Thoughts

There are other money-saving maintenance tips that regular drivers can practice and keep to a schedule to ensure a safe drive.

But remember, the best mindset about car maintenance is not just about making sure to keep your costs low.

Car owners should always strive to make sure that their vehicle is safe for their passengers as well as their fellow drivers on the road.

If you take care of your car just as well as you take care of your body, you will find yourself enjoying the fruits of proper car maintenance habits.

As they say, prevention is better than a cure—and a lot cheaper too.






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