Whether you’re a road warrior braving the rugged mountains of the PNW, an I5 corridor commuter who drives to the office every day, or the driver on a windows-down, music-cranked, spontaneous road trip with friends...one thing is certain: We all need to care for our cars by performing regular maintenance.
A well-maintained vehicle lasts longer, retains its value longer, and is less likely to break down when you least expect it.
Put simply: If you take care of your car, it’ll take care of you (most of the time).
No matter where your next adventure takes you—somewhere in the Pacific Northwest or across the country—we’ve got your back with these five DIY car maintenance tips to keep your wheels rolling smoothly and your journeys worry-free.
Oil changes: The MVP of car care
Just like we need water to live, our cars need oil to keep its engine (and everything else!) running smoothly. While we realize tackling a DIY oil change can be intimidating, fear not! Everyone can learn how to change their own oil. You can find our detailed, step-by-step guide for changing your own oil here. Here’s our seven-step “Cliff’s Notes” version:
Prepare your vehicle. Park on a flat surface (make sure the parking brake is on!)
Place vehicle on jack stands or a ramp to elevate it.
Locate the oil drain plug (be sure to consult your owner’s manual to identify exact location) and place the drain pan underneath the plug.
Drain the old oil into the pan. Use a wrench or socket set to loosen the plug, then allow the oil to drain and tighten the plug securely.
Remove the old oil filter. Use an oil filter wrench to loosen the old filter, and use a shop towel to wipe the filter mounting surface dry,
Install the new oil filter by applying a thin layer of new oil to the rubber gasket on the new filter, then screw on until it’s snug.
Refill with new oil. Locate the oil filler cap and remove it, pour the recommended amount of new oil into the engine (making sure to use a funnel), and allow the oil level to settle before you check it with a dipstick,
Check for leaks.
Wipe up any spilled oil with a towel. Then, start the engine and let it run for a few moments, checking for any signs of leaking around the oil filter and drain plug.
Check your tire pressure
Happy tires make for happy cars!
If you drive a newer vehicle, it might have a continually available a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) sensor reading on your dash that tells you the pressure of each of your tires individually. Make sure to check this reading frequently. If you don’t have a TPMS sensor, check your tire pressure at least once a month (and especially before any epic trips!). Your car manual will tell you the “magic number (or the correct PSI for your make and model). Each car varies.
And here’s a sweet bonus: keeping your tires inflated properly isn't just about having a smooth ride. It boosts fuel efficiency and helps those tires last longer – so you can keep exploring those scenic routes.
It's also recommended to have your tires rotated around every 7500 miles. This ensures even wear on the treads, which will extend the life of your tires.
Maintain your brakes
Let's talk brakes. If you hear any unusual squeals or grinds while braking, it's time for a checkup. But how can you prevent those squeaks and grinds from happening in the first place? Preventative maintenance. Here’s how:
Make sure you’re not running low on brake fluid. Whenever this level is low, you’re putting on the master brake cylinder and other components.
Pads and rotors wear down over time. Consider performing routine “DIY inspections,” and check for uneven brake pad wear or scratches on the rotor. If you don’t feel comfortable checking yourself, consider getting your brakes looked at every 10,000 miles, or every third oil change.
Be aware of the lights and warnings on your dash. Most newer cars have a “system status” light that will alert you to potential issues with your brakes.
Fluids—such as coolant, transmission fluid, and brake fluid—are the unsung heroes of your car’s performance. Check and top them up when needed. Consider checking your coolant every time you do an oil change. Transmission fluid usually doesn’t need to be changed until around 75,000 miles.
P.S. Don’t forget about the windshield wiper fluid!
Air Filter TLC
You can think of your car’s air filter the same way you’d think about a pair of human lungs. The air filter allows your car to “breathe,” so to speak. It removes particulate matter (like dirt) from the air before it flows through your engine. Consider swapping it out every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Your car will reward you with improved gas mileage (it’s a win, win!).
With these five tips every car owner should know, you officially have the “keys” to a smoother, safer, and hopefully longer-lasting duration of your vehicle’s life. Remember, car maintenance is not just about upkeep—or reacting to things when they happen—but about preventing potential issues before they happen. This is the most cost-effective way to care for your car, too.
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