The top thing you can do for your vehicle is abide by the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance plan.
Typical car maintenance schedules include tasks like checking the oil and coolant levels monthly, rotating the tires every 5,000 miles, replacing the fuel filter every two years, and more.
While you’ll spend about $600 to $700 annually on scheduled car maintenance, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
What are the benefits of maintaining a vehicle?
Routine service helps prevent engine wear, increasing longevity and reducing the chances of needing a major repair. Following a vehicle maintenance schedule also lowers the odds of roadside emergencies, like tire blowouts or unexpected engine problems.
Moreover, well-serviced cars usually have better resale values.
How do you properly maintain a vehicle? Consider this guide I’ve made as your complete maintenance chart for cars, trucks, and SUVs. I’ll review recommended service tasks for every 1,000, 3,000, 5,000, 12,000, 24,000, and 36,000 miles.
Note: The car service intervals mentioned in this guide are averages. To find the recommended maintenance schedule for your model, consult the owner’s manual.
Table of ContentsShow
Recommended Maintenance Every 1 Month/1,000 Miles (Or Before A Long Trip)
Check Oil And Coolant Levels
Motor oil keeps your car’s engine components lubricated, while coolant ensures they don’t overheat. By checking levels monthly, you’re more likely to catch any leaks before they cause lasting damage.
If you need to add more oil, know that there’s usually one quart between the dipstick’s “low” and “full” markings. When adding engine coolant, let the system cool before opening the radiator cap, or hot, pressurized antifreeze can spray out.
Check Wiper Fluid Level
Besides helping clear your field of view, wiper fluid also lubricates the mechanical components that run the wipers. Moreover, using your wipers without fluid wears the blades faster and can scratch the windshield.
Before putting in wiper fluid, examine the bottle to make sure it does not require mixing. Nevertheless, never top up the container solely with liquid, as it may freeze and cause damage to the mechanism.
Inspect Tire Pressure And Condition
Most cars have tire-pressure monitoring systems watching for underinflated tires. Still, you should inspect your tires monthly for low air pressure, uneven wear, nails/screws, and sidewall damage.
As for tread depth, the tires may need replacing if there’s less than 2/32″ left. One way to measure depth is with a penny. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible, the tread is low, making the tires more susceptible to blowouts and punctures.
Check Headlights, Turn Signals, Brake, And Parking Lights
Your car’s headlights not only help you see better, but they also make you more visible to others. Moreover, turn signals, brake lights, and parking lights help communicate your intent when driving.
If any lights go out, the chances of an accident occurring increase. Before replacing any bulbs, though, check if a fuse has blown. You’ll find the fuse box either in the engine compartment, glove box, or under the steering wheel.
Recommended Maintenance Every 3 Months/3,000 Miles
Wax The Exterior
Applying wax to your car safeguards it against scratches and damages that may cause rusting, as well as UV rays that fade paint and reduce its value. To ensure maximum protection, it’s generally recommended to wax your car every three months.
Carnauba wax is preferred by most for being easy to apply and offering solid protection. For the best results, follow the directions on the packaging closely, including washing your car beforehand.
Check Transmission And Power Steering Fluid Levels
Transmission fluid lubricates your car’s gearbox and keeps it from overheating. Power steering fluid does the same for the steering system while also creating hydraulic pressure to assist in turning the steering wheel.
Checking transmission and power steering fluid levels every three months ensures parts don’t overheat and fail. Considering a new steering pump costs up to $800 and transmission repairs can reach $8,000, the occasional fluid check is a solid compromise.
Inspect Belts And Hoses
Many of your car’s engine components are powered by belts. Unfortunately, with age, belts become worn and need to be replaced.
The same goes for hoses, which carry coolant, lubrication, and more throughout the system.
To reduce the odds of a belt breaking and to check that no hoses are leaking, you should inspect them every 90 days.
Look for cracks, which indicate the part needs replacing. A cracked hose can leak vital fluid and cause lasting damage.
Check Engine Air Filter
Before entering the engine, outside air passes through a filter that removes harmful debris like dirt, dust, and sand.
Generally, you should replace the engine air filter every 24,000 to 36,000 miles. Still, it’s good to inspect it quarterly to ensure air is flowing and no clogs are present.
If you often park in dusty conditions or drive down dirt roads, you may need a new engine air filter closer to every 15,000 miles.
Inspect Battery And Cables
Checking the battery and connecting cables is another recommended car maintenance task to perform every 3,000 miles. These should be firmly secured and free of corrosion. If you can move the connections by hand, then they need to be tightened.
If the dashboard battery light comes on, the system may not be getting enough power. Check out our previous article for more about the battery alert icon, including how to fix it.
Inspect Exhaust System
Typical car maintenance schedules usually include checking the exhaust system for leaks every 3,000 miles. An exhaust leak will not only reduce fuel economy, but the gases are also toxic to inhale.
Additionally, your car is unlikely to pass an emissions test with an exhaust leak, possibly resulting in a hefty fine. Look (or listen) for leaks along welds, pipe connections, and rusted areas, and repair or replace any damaged parts.
Recommended Maintenance Every 5 Months/5,000 Miles
Rotating tires involves switching the back tires with the front ones and vice versa. Doing this every five months can avoid uneven tear that could make the steering wheel shake or pull in different directions.
You should only rotate your tires backward and forward, not from one side to the other. If tires face the wrong way, they won’t function the same, resulting in longer stopping distances, poor grip, and less water excavation.
Change Engine Oil And Filter
Some newer cars boast oil change intervals of up to 10,000 miles. Yet, mileage can vary significantly due to vehicle age, motor oil type, driving habits, and more.
Your best bet is to change the oil every 5,000 miles, which is often enough to prevent internal damage but not too frequent that you’re throwing away money. Moreover, you should also replace the oil filter every 5,000 miles to protect the engine from contaminants.
Recommended Maintenance Every 1 Year/12,000 Miles
If weight is not equally distributed around each tire and wheel assembly, you may experience a slew of symptoms. These include premature and uneven tread wear, steering wheel vibrations, reduced fuel economy, and more.
To keep symptoms at bay, you should balance tires yearly. Shops will measure each wheel and tire assembly for imbalances and add tire weights where needed. While you can balance tires at home, the average car owner will do best paying a shop.
Inspect Brake Calipers, Rotors, Replace Pads
All new car maintenance schedules include annual brake inspections, and for a good reason. As one of your car’s most vital safety systems, keeping the pads, rotors, and calipers in good shape, and checking brake fluid levels, ensures optimal performance.
Brake pads wear the fastest and need replacing every 12,000 to 24,000 miles. Symptoms to watch for include the brake pedal vibrating, pulling side-to-side, or making a squealing sound when pressed.
Inspect Suspension Components
Inspecting your car’s suspension components, including the shocks/struts, bushings, linkages, and more, helps reveal any minor issues before they worsen.
The shocks/struts are most likely to fail, often due to a leak.
Ignoring a worn shock or strut can negatively affect the rest of the suspension, leading to massive repair costs. If your car becomes excessively bumpy, has irregular tire wear, or makes a clunking sound on rough roads, the suspension may have a problem.
Recommended Maintenance Every 2 Years/24,000 Miles
Replace Automatic Transmission Fluid
Typical car maintenance schedules include replacing the transmission fluid and filter every two to three years. If you change it yourself, you’ll also need to drain the old fluid and dispose of it properly.
At a shop, a transmission fluid and filter change should cost between $250 to $500, depending on the vehicle.
Regardless, clean fluid is crucial for longevity, protecting the transmission from severe problems with high repair costs.
Replace Engine Air And Fuel Filter
Between 24,000 and 36,000 miles, you’ll need to replace your car’s engine air filter and fuel filter. Both filters screen out harmful debris before it enters the motor and causes problems like misfires, poor mileage, or a rough idle, among others.
The air filter is easy to replace at home, meaning the total bill shouldn’t exceed $20 to $25.
Fuel filter replacement is trickier but still doable if you’re a little mechanically inclined.
Recommended Maintenance Every 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Inspect Spark Plugs
Spark plugs ignite the air/fuel mixture powering your car’s engine, making them essential for it to function. Depending on the spark plug type (i.e., copper, iridium, platinum, etc.), longevity ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 miles.
Testing your vehicle’s spark plugs is easiest with a multimeter. Otherwise, you’ll need to head to a shop or learn to read them yourself. Check out this YouTube video from MotorWeek for details on how to spot bad spark plugs.
Replace Brake Fluid
Most vehicle maintenance schedules suggest replacing brake fluid every 24,000 to 36,000 miles, determined mainly by driving habits. Drivers using the brakes frequently will likely need to replace the system’s fluid more often than a daily commuter.
To replace brake fluid, you’ll need to flush the system first. While not hard to perform yourself, brake fluid replacement can be messy. As a result, most drivers prefer paying a shop, which should cost between $80 to $130.
The final task on our recommended car maintenance schedule is to flush the cooling system every 30,000 miles or so. Coolant flushes help remove built-up gunk and debris that can rust and cause other problems, like a blown head gasket, cracked engine block, and more.
Not sure how to flush your cooling system? Check out our step-by-step guide. Otherwise, shops usually charge $100 to $200 for this vital service.
Following A Car Maintenance Schedule Will Extend The Life Of Your Vehicle
Thanks for reading our vehicle maintenance schedule guide. Following these car service intervals will ensure you squeeze every last mile out of your vehicle and save money on repair costs.
Check out these 15 essential car maintenance tips for more ways to boost your vehicle’s longevity.