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You know how important maintenance is to your car’s performance, lifespan, and resale value. That’s not the problem. The problem is keeping track of all those tedious maintenance steps before it’s too late, right?

Well, it won’t be a problem anymore. What you need is a simple-yet-complete car maintenance checklist. And we’re going to give it to you.

This checklist puts all the essential car maintenance steps in order from short-term to long-term. And, you can use this general list to make an actual checklist/schedule so you never miss a step again.

So, open up your preferred spreadsheet app and make a printable chart for these steps as you read them.

Step 1: Check Your Manual

The maintenance steps we’re about to give you are only a general list. They’re not a substitute for the maintenance instructions given by the car’s manufacturer.

The best way to keep your car running in top condition is to follow the maintenance advice in your user manual. Besides, you’ll need this manual for reference at certain points on this list. If you can’t find your manual, you can look it up online.

This is also the best way to preserve the car’s resale value. If you ever want to sell your car, buyers can find out everything that’s ever happened to it at CarHistory.online. Then, they’ll know exactly how well you followed the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.

Short-Term Car Maintenance Checklist

Now, here’s a list of short-term car maintenance steps you’ll need to perform several times per year. These are to be done monthly or according to mileage.

1. Check Air Filters

Your cabin air filter keeps your cabin air fresh but only for so long.  Once it becomes full of debris, it clogs the system and blocks the airflow. Eventually, this will even damage your car’s HVAC

The same is true of your engine air filter. A clogged engine air filter puts more strain on your engine and burns fuel more quickly.

The cabin air filter is made very easy to reach, usually around or behind the glove compartment. Your engine air filter is somewhere under the hood and may require tools to remove. 

Both are easy enough to change at home. Check your manual for exact instructions.

2. Oil Level/Quality

Every month, pop the hood and check the level and quality of your engine oil. Just unscrew the oil cap and wipe the dipstick clean with a rag or paper towel. Then, quickly and carefully dip it back in all the way and pull it back out.

This will tell you if the oil level falls within the appropriate range indicated on the stick. If the oil is frequently low when you check it, you could have a leak.

Check for dripping oil after you’ve parked for a while and for oil splattered in certain places under the hood. Have your engine checked for leaks if you notice these signs.

Also, you can see from the dipstick if the oil is clean (mostly translucent) or dirty (dark and thick). If it’s dirty, change it.

3. Other Fluid Levels

Check all other fluid levels while you’re at it, including coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. Top them off if necessary, especially the coolant. Insufficient coolant will cause your engine to overheat.

4. Changing the Oil Filter

Generally, oil changes are to be done every 3 months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first. This differs based on the type of oil/vehicle and the type of use (highway vs city driving). That’s why it’s important to check the oil quality regularly.

Check your manual for specific oil change instructions.

5. Check Tire Pressure

Every month, check the pressure of all four tires plus the spare. (The spare will have a different recommended pressure, usually listed on the side.)

This will alert you of any punctured tires so you can repair them before they blowout. Besides, the tire pressure naturally changes when the outside temperature rises or drops.

Unscrew the air cap on the tire and insert the tire gage quickly and firmly (the hissing should stop) to get a reading. Do this at a gas station that has an air hose for tire inflation. If the pressure’s low, add air and keep checking the pressure until it’s correct.

6. Check Tire Tread Depth

Your tires could also blowout or lose traction if the tread’s worn down. When checking the air pressure, check the tread depth of all tires using the penny method.

7. Rotate Tires

Tires should be rotated about every 5,000 miles. But, again, this is different for every vehicle, so check your manual to be sure. What’s certain is that, if you don’t rotate your tires regularly, they’ll wear down faster.

8. Check All Lights

Once a month, park the car and check all the lights. Check the headlights, parking lights, individual turn signals, and hazard lights. Have a friend tap on the brakes (with the car on) to check those. Clean the light housing and replace bulbs as necessary.

Long-Term Car Maintenance Checklist

Now, here are the long-term maintenance steps you need to remember. These are necessary once every 6 months to a year or by mileage.

9. Wax the Car

Wax the car every 6 months after a thorough washing. This protects both the paint coat and the metal underneath from corrosion.

10. Change Transmission Fluid, Transfer Case Fluid, and Coolant

Transmission fluid lubricates all the moving parts of your transmission so the car can properly shift gears. Change transmission fluid according to the intervals recommended by your user manual.

 

Changing the transfer case fluid is only necessary for 4WD and AWD vehicles. This fluid is used when the car shifts into four-wheel/all-wheel drive. Check your manual for the appropriate duration between transfer case fluid changes.

Coolant will also need to be flushed and exchanged according to the manual.

11. Check Shocks, Struts, Differentials

The shocks, struts, and front/rear differentials can wear out over time, impacting the steering of your car. Get them checked by a professional about every 50,000 miles. You can usually ask about this when getting your tires rotated.

12. Check Brakes

Brake pads usually last a long time—years, even. They’re so dependable that we often forget to think about them until there’s a problem. Whenever you get your tires rotated, also ask about the brake pads.

13. Check the Spark Plugs

Spark plugs ignite the gas in your engine with precise timing so that it performs at optimal capacity. When they aren’t working correctly, the engine loses power.

They should last around 30,000 miles. Have your spark plugs checked professionally as often as is recommended by your manual.

14. Check the Serpentine Belt

The serpentine belt is a rubber belt that spins like a treadmill around your engine. It powers important peripherals under your hood, such as the alternator.

Whenever you check the oil level, visually inspect the serpentine belt for cracks. It should last for many years. But if it looks very cracked and ragged, have it replaced.

15. Change the Battery

Lastly, don’t neglect your battery. You should be told how long the battery will last when it’s installed. Most car batteries live 3-5 years.

If it was installed years ago and you don’t remember how much time is left, have it checked. Also, get it checked if you see a lot of corrosion on the positive and negative terminals. And keep track of your battery’s lifespan from now on.

Keep This Car Maintenance Checklist

Now that you know all the steps, get organized with your car maintenance. Create a car maintenance checklist based on these steps to help you keep track.

Now, stay right here because we have the tips you need. Get pro tips about maintaining your car or learn how to know if your mechanic shop is trustworthy. Find all these tips and more on our Car Repair blog.