New Year, Fresh Car: The Ultimate Car Maintenance Checklist

Car checklist

This year, make a resolution you’ll want to keep: sticking to your car’s preventative maintenance schedule. Staying on top of regular car maintenance can save you a bundle over time — between $340 and $1,000 per year in gas efficiency alone. Our ultimate checklist makes it easy for you to keep your car working at peak performance.

The Benefits of Preventative Maintenance

Your car is a lot like your body. You need food, water and rest so that your systems work properly and efficiently. Cars may need gas and fluid instead, but the principle is the same: In order to work properly, cars need to be taken care of. If you neglect to get your oil changed or top off your coolant, your engine will have to work harder to do its job, until eventually it stops working at all.

Preventative car maintenance is a fraction of the cost of repairs. According to AAA, the average cost for maintenance per year is $766.50. That’s a lot less money than a new car payment would be if your vehicle needs replacing (these can average about $500 per month on the lower end.)

Preventative maintenance keeps your car working at its peak performance, extends its lifespan and helps you get top dollar if you ever want to sell. The following list is everything you need to consider when maintaining your vehicle.

Every month:

  • Oil and coolant levels. No matter how much you drive, it’s a good idea to check the oil and coolant levels to make sure you don’t run out of necessary fluids. An abrupt drop in fluid level can alert you to a potential leak or hole. Set a recurring reminder on your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Tire pressure and tread depth. Using a tire gauge, check your tire pressure both monthly and before long trips. You can also use a tread depth gauge to measure for unsafe wear and tear. Visually inspect the tires for balding, bubbling or punctures.
  • Headlights, turn signals, brake lights and parking lights. Turn all of your car’s lights on and walk around the vehicle to visually inspect that they are all functioning properly. Light replacement tends to be one of the easier DIY projects, or you can take your vehicle in if one of them has gone out.

Every three to six months:

  • Change the oil and oil filter. Your car’s oil is responsible for reducing heat and friction as the engine components move. Without it, the pieces will overheat and damage each other, eventually leading to full engine failure. Oil becomes thick and full of debris as it ages, so it’s important to have it replaced every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Your car’s owner’s manual will give you the most accurate timing for your car.
  • Rotate tires. Even with good alignment, no car is perfectly balanced, which leads to uneven wear on different spots of your tires. Rotating the tires helps them to wear evenly, reduce the risk of a blowout and extend their lifespans. It’s usually easiest to have your car’s tires rotated when you go in for oil change service (and often it’s included for free.)
  • Wax vehicle. The seals on your car’s doors and windows are rubber, meaning they can dry and crack from the heat of summer or a winter freeze. Regularly washing and waxing your car protects these seals and preserves your car’s paint job from fading.
  • Test car battery. Cleveland’s cold winters can shorten the lifespan of your car’s battery from three years to one. By having the battery tested, you can prevent the unpleasant surprise of a dead car on a chilly or busy morning.

Every six months to a year:

  • Inspect shocks and struts. These components are responsible for keeping your car driving smoothly over potholes and rough roads. They should be replaced every 50,000 miles or as soon as you start to experience a decrease in your driving experience from bouncing or shaking.
  • Transmission fluid. Like your car’s oil, the transmission fluid is key for a functioning engine. Having it inspected and the fluid flushed will make sure your car continues to run the way it should. Your car’s owner’s manual will have accurate information on when to have the transmission fluid flushed.
  • Transfer case fluid. If you drive an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll need to have the transfer case fluid inspected and flushed. This component is what’s responsible for shifting power from the transmission to the axles.
  • Flush coolant. The radiator keeps your engine from overheating by removing heat from the system by running coolant through a closed series of hoses. Over time the coolant breaks down, gathers debris and stops absorbing heat. Have the fluid flushed according to your car’s manufacturer to keep it running well.
  • Inspect belts and hoses. The serpentine belt, timing belt and a system of hoses are all important parts of the engine. Without them, different parts couldn’t move effectively and would damage each other. These pieces are usually replaced only once in a car’s lifetime, but they should be visually inspected once a year for signs of cracking or breaking.
  • Inspect and replace spark plugs. The spark plugs ignite the gas and air that make the engine run. If they aren’t working properly, your engine won’t, either. Have them inspected and replaced if needed so your engine continues to run at peak performance.
  • Inspect brakes. The brakes are your first line of defense against car accidents, spin outs and other dangerous driving situations. An annual inspection gives an expert technician the chance to see if the pads are worn or if any pieces need replacing. However, you should bring your car in as soon as you hear any grinding or squeaking.


  • Replace windshield wipers. Don’t risk visibility with streaky windshield wipers. The blades should be replaced every year.
  • Swap tires for a winter set. Cleveland winters are notoriously cold and icy. Swapping your tires out for a winter set not only keeps you safer, but they also will save you money by keeping your engine from working too hard.

By staying on top of regularly scheduled maintenance, you’ll extend the life of your vehicle and save yourself the money you would have spent on repairs — over even replacing your car altogether. Schedule an appointment with a trusted auto shop to get yourself back on track.

Up Next: How to Keep Your Car Battery from Dying in Cold Weather

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