15 Essential Car Maintenance Tips

Keep your car's resale value as high as possible with these simple, actionable tips on how to maintenance your car properly.

Cars are expensive, there’s no doubt about it, and if you’d like to ensure your investment lasts as long as possible, you should do your best to take care of it.

Thankfully, in this guide, we have compiled 15 car maintenance tips you can follow to keep your car running strong for years to come.

Some of the tips include:

  • Replacing filters on time
  • Keeping an eye on your tire tread
  • Changing your oil regularly
  • Keeping the interior clean
  • Fixing scratches quickly
  • Maintaining your brakes
  • Not smoking in the cabin

Maintaining your car not only ensures it lasts longer and that each component operates as it should, but it also protects its resale value.

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15 Essential Car Maintenance Tips

Maintenance Tip #1 – Replace Your Filters On Time Every Time

Fuel filter
A fuel filter

Regularly replacing the filters in your car is one of the best ways to ensure it lasts a long time.

Each of these is in charge of removing contaminants before they continue on to cause harm. Over time, these particles will build up in filters, and you’ll need to replace them, or they’ll become clogged.

A few examples are listed below:

  • Fuel filter (replace every 2 years or 30,000 miles)
  • Engine air filter (replace every 15,000-30,000 miles)
  • Cabin air filter (replace every 15,000-20,000 miles)
  • Engine oil filter (replace every 3 months or 3,000 miles)
  • Emission filter (replace every 100,000 miles)

Ignoring any of these can lead to catastrophic consequences. Take your oil filter, for example, which keeps things like dirt, dust, and metallic particles from reaching your engine. These impurities can accumulate in your oil and turn it into sludge, which your engine doesn’t handle well.

When this happens, your engine has to work harder, which can cause it to overheat. When an engine overheats, it is more likely to develop a blown head gasket or a cracked block, which are costly repairs that are best avoided.

Maintenance Tip #2 – Lighten The Load On Your Keychain

man offering a car key to the observer

Here’s one you might not have thought about. Would you believe that having too much weight hanging from your keychain can harm your car?

That’s right, the constant motion of it swinging back and forth can eventually wear out your ignition switch, meaning you’ll have to replace it.

How much does it cost to replace an ignition switch? Expect to spend between $150-$250, including parts and labor. If you try to turn the key and it seems to stick, or if you have trouble pulling it out, this is an early sign that it is beginning to fail.

Thankfully, by lightening the number of keys, trinkets, and fobs you are packing, you can add years to the life of your ignition switch.

Maintenance Tip #3 – Ensure Your Tires Have Enough Tread And Are Properly Inflated

woman measures tire tread of a car tire

The only point of contact our cars have with the road is the tires. For this reason, keeping them in good shape should be a priority. The first thing to watch for is the amount of tread they have, and the second is that they have enough air in them.

Tire tread serves several purposes, the first being to grip the road to ensure you have enough traction to stay on it. When your tread is low, wet or icy conditions will likely send you into the ditch.

There’s also the chance that you run out of tread, increasing the chances of a blowout. Thankfully, most tires feature built-in wear bars, which are small indicators that sit between the tread patterns. If you notice they’re nearly gone, then it’s time to get a new set of tires.

The second thing tread does is serves as a channel for water to flow through. Bald tires with limited tread left are more likely to pass over water rather than through it. When this happens, you’re more susceptible to hydroplaning, which results in a loss of traction that can be extremely hazardous.

Then there’s the amount of air you have in each tire. Too much, and your tires will be too stiff to conform to the terrain. Too little, and you’ll notice a drop in mileage. Be sure to consult your manual for the proper amount, and check the pressure weekly if possible.

Maintenance Tip #4 – Change Your Oil Regularly

motor oil

A simple way to understand the purpose of oil is to rub your hands together quickly. You’ll notice they start to get hot due to friction. Now, wet your hands and do the same thing. Thanks to being lubricated, the heat that’s produced is significantly less.

Now take your engine, which has endless moving parts, all of which create friction. Without oil, it would overheat, which not only causes it to wear faster but can lead to significant issues as well.

As oil cycles through your engine, it picks up small particles of metal, as well as any debris that may have made it past the oil filter. This causes it to thicken and darken, which makes it less effective as a lubricant. 

How often should you change your oil? The golden rule used to be to change it every 3,000 miles, though, with newer cars, this is closer to 10,000 miles. Be sure to consult your manual to determine what kind of oil your model uses.

Maintenance Tip #5 – Protect Your Paintwork With A Coat Of Wax

car waxing

Car wax basically serves as a buffer between the outside world and the surface of your car. It protects the paint from things like scratches and UV rays and acidic residues like road grime, tree sap, and bird droppings.

Wax goes on top of the clearcoat; it’s made of a mixture of different waxes, oils, and polymers. It comes in either paste or liquid form, and once it dries, it solidifies. Keeping your car waxed will help ensure the paint stays looking new, which protects its resale value down the line.

Over time, car wax will fade, meaning the layer of protection it offers will thin. How often should you wax your car? Experts suggest applying a new coat every 3 months or so or at least twice yearly. 

Maintenance Tip #6 – Don’t Let Mold Take Hold

Abandoned car

If you’ve ever left a jug of milk sitting in your fridge for too long, or have seen a green/blue residue on a loaf of bread, then you’ve already dealt with mold. As you might expect, it’s a good idea to keep this from happening to the interior of your car.

What causes mold to form? Damp conditions. For this reason, you want to do everything possible to prevent excess moisture from entering the cabin. A few ways to do this include adding floor mats (rubber or plastic is best), placing wet items in a cargo tray, and kicking off wet shoes before getting in.

Mold not only creates an odd odor that devastates resale value, but it can also be harmful to breathe. Thankfully, cleaning your interior with an automotive specialty shampoo should take care of the issue.

Maintenance Tip #7 – Rotate And Balance Your Tires

car tire rotation

While driving, your tires experience friction on the road, which leads to their gradual wearing out. Typically, the front tires tend to wear down faster compared to the rear tires. This is because they bear the weight of the engine and endure constant turning. Additionally, there is a possibility of uneven wear, either starting from the outer side or from the inner side of the tire.

Thankfully, by rotating and balancing them, you can distribute the wear more evenly. The former simply means to swap them from one wheel to the next. The latter means repositioning them to ensure that no single area receives more weight than another.

Regardless of how much tread you have left, be sure to swap your tires out with a new set every few years. The last thing you want is to risk a blowout due to them drying out and rotting.

Maintenance Tip #8 – Swap Out Aged Wipers And Clean Your Windshield

Car windshield wiper
Close-up of a car windshield wiper

Here’s an easy one – replace your wipers every 3-6 months. Why? Because worn wiper blades are less capable of clearing your windshield. One of the best ways to maintain your car is to ensure you’re never in an accident, and visibility is a crucial factor in this.

Wiper replacement takes 10 minutes max and shouldn’t cost more than $25-$40 for a pair. Thankfully, your manual will mention which wipers are best for your model.

You should also regularly clean your windshield. Again, visibility is the focus here. But there are also scratches to worry about when your wipers pass over dust and dirt. 

Maintenance Tip #9 – Be Mindful Of Your Belts

car belts

As your crankshaft rotates, it creates power, which is delivered to the various components of your engine via different belts. Some of these include the timing belt, the power steering belt, the serpentine belt, and the AC compressor belt. Should any of them break, that component will effectively become crippled (and possibly your car).

Thankfully, worn belts are easily diagnosed thanks to the audible squeaking sound they make (most of the time). You can also visually inspect them for wear, which is usually in the form of a crack.

Most belts have a lifespan of between 50,000 to 100,000 miles thanks to their rubber composition. They’re also rather affordable to swap out, like a serpentine belt, which typically falls between $90 to $200 to replace.

Maintenance Tip #10 – Don’t Ignore Your Brakes

car brakes

There are three main components of a modern disc braking system. These include the pads, calipers, and rotors. When you press the pedal, it causes the calipers to squeeze the pads against the rotors, which creates friction and brings your vehicle to a stop.

As you might have noticed from previous car maintenance tips, when friction is made, it causes the various components in your car to wear out. Brake pads typically last for between 25,000 to 65,000 miles, rotors for 30,000 to 70,000 miles, and calipers for about 10 years or 75,000 to 100,000 miles.

Ignoring any of these essential items will result in you having reduced stopping power. As you might have guessed, this is a tremendous hazard in an emergency situation.

If your car vibrates when braking, if it pulls in one direction or another, or if you hear squealing sounds, it’s likely time to have your brakes inspected.

Maintenance Tip #11 – Drive Less Aggressively

young driver

Here’s one of the best car care tips you can follow – drive less forcefully. This applies to almost all parts of your car, such as the motor, brakes, gearbox, suspension, and gas efficiency.

Take how fast you accelerate, for instance. If your goal is to reach 60-mph, there’s no reason you have to try and break a speed record. The further down you press the gas pedal, the higher the RPMs climb, meaning the harder your engine has to work.

As for your brakes, the harder you press the brake pedal, the more force that’s applied to the rotor, which means more friction. The more there is, the faster your braking system will wear out. 

How well a vehicle runs once it hits 100,000 miles is mainly influenced by how hard those miles have been. If your goal is to keep your car running strong for years to come, then slow it down and enjoy the view.

Maintenance Tip #12 – Condition Leather Seats

car leather conditioning

There’s not much worse than having a nice car, opening the door, and finding leather seats that are all torn up. Not only does this look bad, but it also means a substantial hit for the resale value of your car.

Most leather seats are split-grain, meaning the surface is leather, and it’s backed by cloth. Using the same principle as face crème, lip balm, or hand crème, it’s more susceptible to the elements if you don’t condition it. Meaning it will eventually dry out, crack, or split. 

Thankfully, you can prolong the life of leather seats by conditioning them every 3-months or so. You should start by vacuuming them, wiping them down with a leather cleaner, and then applying the conditioner. A bottle should last an entire year and shouldn’t set you back more than $30-$45.

Maintenance Tip #13 – Practice Weekly Washes

Summer Car Washing
Summer Car Washing. Cleaning Car Using High-Pressure Water.

Washing your car once per week is one of the most crucial car maintenance tips you can practice. Why? Because when you let things like dirt, dust, bird droppings, or tree sap sit, they will eat away at your clear coat. 

Take bird droppings, for instance. You might not have known, but they’re highly acidic. If they sit for too long, they’ll eat away at the clearcoat and damage your paint. The same goes for dust and dirt. If you don’t regularly wash them away, they’ll create surface scratches that are likely to reach beyond the clear coat.

Suppose you take two 10-year-old cars and put them side by side. One that’s been washed regularly and one that’s been neglected. You’d be amazed at the difference. When it comes time to sell your car, buyers will notice this too and will be more likely to pay top dollar for one in decent shape.

Maintenance Tip #14 – Repair Scratches Or Chips Right Away

car with scratches

The surface of your car looks like this: first, there’s bare metal, plastic, or fiberglass. This base layer is coated in a primer to seal off any imperfections. Then comes the paint, followed by a clearcoat meant to protect it. 

If you end up with a scratch or a chip, depending on how deep it is, it’s likely to go beyond your clear coat and damage the paint or metal underneath. When the metal is exposed, it’s more susceptible to oxidation, which leads to rust.

Thankfully, finding a scratch or chip doesn’t mean an expensive fix, in fact, you can repair most scratches, even deep scratches yourself.

Maintenance Tip #15 – Don’t Smoke In The Cabin

smoking in car
In car

Smoking inside your car is one of the quickest ways to lower its value. Why? Because the scent of smoke is extremely difficult to get rid of, and most buyers won’t even look at a car if it’s been smoked in. Additionally, no matter how careful you are, you almost always end up with a burn hole.

The solution? If you’re going to smoke, avoid doing so in the cabin. Thankfully, if your car does smell of cigarette smoke, there are ways to “mostly” get rid of it.

Final Thoughts

Maintaining your car throughout its lifespan is the best way to preserve its reliability, resale value, and appearance.

By doing so, you’re also more likely to catch small issues before they become costly repairs.

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Joshua Barrett

Josh Barrett is a writer hailing from the great state of Alaska. While describing himself in the third person is not his forte, writing about any and all things automotive – is. After 13+ years hustling in the exciting world of car sales, he took off to travel the world with his dog Teemo.