Avoid High-Cost Car Repairs With This 12-Step Maintenance Checklist

Unlock the secret to stress-free car ownership with our 12-step maintenance guide.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Cars can be expensive. From monthly payments on a loan to the gas you purchase, it can be challenging to keep more cash in your wallet.

One way to cut car costs is to maintain your vehicle properly. While maintenance costs you money in the short run, it can prevent even more expensive repairs down the line.

Here are some types of maintenance that can actually save you money over time.

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Have the brakes inspected

pongmoji/Adobe mechanic inspecting disc brakes at workshop

Have your brakes and brake pads checked regularly to ensure they operate safely. Replacing worn-out brake pads will prevent more expensive issues like damaged rotors.

Brakes and brake pads are important to keeping your car running safely and securely. Putting off brake maintenance can put your life at risk if they don’t function properly.

Change oil regularly

Dusko/Adobe mechanic pouring oil into car engine

It will cost some money to change the oil, but regular oil changes can prevent costly engine repairs later on.

The schedule for changing oil can vary from vehicle to vehicle, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Keep maintenance records so you know when your last oil change occurred and when you’re due for another one.

Have tires rotated

Tomasz Zajda/Adobe mechanic replacing tires at workshop

Tire rotation means the tires are moved from one position on your car to another. For instance, they might be moved front to back or side to side.

This type of rotation helps even wear and tear on tires, giving each tire a longer life.

With any luck, you'll have plenty of time to save up the cash to replace all four tires at once when the time comes.

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Check and replace fluids

NorGal/Adobe mechanic inspecting car brake fluid

There are plenty of other fluids in your vehicle besides oil that keep your car running properly.

These include brake fluid, engine coolant, power-steering fluids, and more. These should be checked as part of your maintenance and topped off to keep your car running properly and prevent damage.

Clean battery terminals

Koonsiri/Adobe man checking car battery by himself

Battery terminals are where the battery connects to your car and helps the vehicle run. It’s a good idea to clean these terminals as part of your routine maintenance because it can help your car run better.

Failing to clean the terminals properly could make it difficult to start the car, which might leave you paying for costly service along the side of the road.

Check windshield wipers

malkovkosta/Adobe male technician windscreen wipers on car

Windshield wipers are important to keep the windshield clear so you can see while driving. Wiper fluid helps lubricate your wipers and breaks up additional dirt on your windshield.

Replace your wipers if they become cracked or dull so they can run smoothly and safely when you need to clear water or debris from your windshield. Aging wipers can obscure your vision in rain or snow, possibly leaving you more vulnerable to a crash.

Also, make sure to top off your wiper fluid regularly.

Pay attention to the ‘check engine’ light

yaroslav1986/Adobe lit engine light on car dashboard

It can be frustrating to drive down the road and see your “check engine” light pop on, but it’s something you shouldn't ignore.

The light can indicate a variety of issues, both small and big, so it’s essential to have someone look at your engine soon. Problems can become bigger — and costlier — the longer you delay getting them checked out.

Check tire pressure

powerbeephoto/Adobe hand checking tyre pressure using equipment

Proper tire pressure allows you to reduce tire wear. Not only does that increase your gas mileage (saving you money on fuel), but it also can make the tires last longer and help prevent issues such as a tire blowout that could cause costly damage.

Fortunately, checking tire pressure is an easy maintenance item you can do yourself by spending a little money on a tire pressure gauge.

Check your owner’s manual to find out the proper tire pressure for your vehicle, or find a sticker that should be somewhere on your car. It may be along the vehicle’s door frame, glove box, or fuel door.

Have belts inspected

Kanemme6/Adobe man repairing car timing belt

There are several types of belts under the hood of your car that keep it running properly. These should be inspected regularly as part of your vehicle maintenance.

A broken belt can cause major issues. For example, a timing belt that breaks can cause permanent damage to valves, pistons, and cylinder heads.

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Check the fuses

phantom1311/Adobe mechanic repairing car fuse box

A blown fuse might seem like a small problem. In reality, fuses help keep circuits from being overloaded.

So, if the fuse blows and is not replaced, heat can build up, damaging or destroying wires and other electrical components.

Wash your car regularly

methaphum/Adobe car with foam at car wash

A good car wash keeps your vehicle clean of dirt and debris that could get under the hood and cause issues that will lead to repairs later on.

A wash also removes corrosive elements on the vehicle, such as the salt used on roads in the winter months to melt ice and snow. Cleaning that extra road salt off your car can prevent it from eating away at the metals on your car.

Test lights

Евгений Вершинин/Adobe headlights of automobile in garage

Headlights help you scan the road in front of you and let other drivers see you. Taillights can show drivers you’re slowing down or where you plan to turn.

It’s essential to check these lights regularly to ensure bulbs aren’t burned out and light coverings are dirt-free.

Checking and maintaining these parts on your car could save your life — and save money on car insurance — by preventing a dangerous and expensive accident.

Bottom line

mrcats/Adobe man counting money after selling car

Having to pay for ongoing maintenance costs is no fun. But in the long run, it can actually lower your financial stress by eliminating big repair bills from not keeping your car in good shape.

Follow the maintenance items on this list, and your wallet will thank you years from now.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.

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