Cars break down for a variety of reasons…that you can usually see coming.
Even if you can’t see it coming, there is a list of easy maintenance tasks that you can do on a regular basis to prevent the most common causes of a breakdown:
Low or Dead Battery
Engine Lubrication Problems
While many car owners put off simple maintenance because they are strapped for cash, or short on time, maintenance can prevent damage to your car, help you avoid a breakdown and having to call a tow truck!
At a minimum, you should do the following:
Oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles (according the recommendations of your owner’s manual).
Tune-up every 2 years or 30,000 miles (or as recommended in your owner’s manual). A tune-up should include an inspection (and replacement, if necessary) of fuel and air filters, spark plugs, hoses and belts, oil and coolant levels.
There is some controversy as to what other services are part of a tune-up. Current-model car engines often don’t need to be “tuned up” in the traditional sense. But it is a good idea to have a mechanic inspect the various components of your car’s engine occasionally.
However, if you want a list of easy maintenance that you can do yourself to prevent breakdowns, read on.
Check Your Battery.
You can visually check your battery terminals for corrosion. This may lead to poor electrical connections. If there is build-up on the terminals, you can clean them with a little baking soda and an old toothbrush. The baking soda neutralizes any battery acid, and regular cleaning will leave you with shiny terminals and fully-functional connections.
Check Your Tires.
Thin, worn tires are more susceptible to punctures and other damage, which can lead to a flat tire or blowout. To avoid flat tires, check your tire treads on a regular basis. Make sure the treads are at least 1/8 inch thick. If the treads are too worn down, replace your tires as soon as possible.
While you’re visually inspecting your tires, make sure to check for signs of damage (cuts, cracks) and uneven wear which may point to problems with wheel alignment or tire pressure.
Tire pressure also affects tire performance. If your tires are chronically under-inflated, this puts more stress on your tires, leading to increased wear and tear. Use a tire gauge to regularly check that your tire pressure meets the recommendations in your owner’s manual. If your tires are under-inflated, add air until you get them up to the recommended pressure.
Check Your Coolant Level.
An overheating engine can be caused by several things, but a coolant leak is a common cause that is easy to check. Regularly check your coolant levels; if your levels are low and you have fluid on the garage floor or driveway beneath your car, you may have a coolant leak.
You can also visually inspect the hoses that carry the coolant. When the car is cool, check the hoses for any signs of cracks, bulges or unusual wear.
Obviously, if your coolant level is too low, add some more coolant to the appropriate fill line.
Check Your Oil.
Low levels of motor oil can damage any engine over time. Check your oil levels regularly by pulling out your dipstick and visually inspecting the oil level. If it is low, it may simply be time for an oil change or it could be a sign of something more serious, like an oil leak.
If your motor oil is too low, add more oil until you can get to your regularly scheduled oil change. If you suspect you have a leak, get your car to a mechanic sooner rather than later.
Check Your Other Fluid Levels.
On a regular basis, check the levels of your transmission fluid, brake fluid, power-steering, anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid in order to catch any problems early. If levels are low, they could indicate leaks or other issues. Make sure to add more fluids if levels are low.
Regular Maintenance of Your Car Can Keep You Going
There are other things you can do for regular car maintenance, if you’re mechanically inclined. But even the most mechanically-challenged of us can check our tires and check under the hood once a month. If you stay on top of the easy car maintenance you can handle at home, you’ll be less likely to end up broken down by the side of the road.