Car maintenance gets a lot easier when you’ve got a clear idea of what you’re actually doing, and when.
I thought I’d help you with your planning by creating this yearly DIY car maintenance schedule.
Weekly Car Maintenance Checklist
Check Dashboard Lights
Your dashboard lights are super important safety features that immediately alert you to a number of issues, including engine faults, airbag problems, low oil levels, incorrect tyre pressures and more.
However, it’s difficult to know when one of the lights is faulty. After all, they only flash on when something is actually wrong.
To test your dashboard lights, put you key in the ignition and turn it to the first click. This turns the ignition on but doesn’t actually start the engine yet. With the power on, all the dashboard lights should all turn on. Don’t worry, you’ve not got dozens of car faults, it’s supposed to do this!
If you spot an unilluminated symbol, take a note of it and have the garage investigate it further. While the bulb is probably broken, it might be something more serious like an issue in the warning system.
When you’re behind the wheel of a car, it’s difficult to tell if your lights are off or on. After all, you only see the illuminated road and not the lights themselves.
With the car in neutral, start the engine and turn your lights on. Now, either with a reflective surface ahead of you (for example, a shop front) or by getting out of the car, check whether your headlights are working.
I know that no one has enough time for a deep clean every week but two or three minutes tidying your interior makes all the difference. I’m talking simple stuff like throwing out rubbish, wiping down surfaces and dusting off the seats.
Check Tyre Pressures
As the four bits of your car actually in contact with the road, your tyres are incredibly important. However, to work they need to be at the correct pressure. If they’re under-inflated, they produce extra drag and waste fuel. If they are over-inflated, they reduce contact between the tyre and the road, which reduces grip.
Testing your tyre pressures is a two-minute task that you can do at home or at the petrol station. When your tyres are cool, just take off the value cap and attach a pressure gauge or air pump nozzle. The gauge or pump will display the current pressure. If it's on the recommended pressure, you don't need to do anything. If it's under the recommended pressure, you need to add more air in.
Check Engine Oil Level
Engine oil keeps all the moving parts in your engine well lubricated, which reduces friction, heat and wear. However, there has to be oil in the system if it’s going to work.
To check your oil, wait until your engine is cool then pull out the engine oil dipstick. (It will be near the engine oil cap, which is marked by an oil can symbol.) Then clean the dipstick, insert it back into the pipe and pull it back out again.
Now look at how high the oil goes up the dipstick.
There should be two notches or lines on the dipstick to indicate the minimum and maximum oil levels. If the oil level falls between the two notches, you have enough oil. If the level is below the minimum notch, you don’t have enough. And if the level is above the maximum notch, you have too much.
Check Windscreen Washer Fluid
Not having enough windshield washer fluid isn’t going to cause your car to burst into flames. But it’s still incredibly dangerous to drive about with an empty windscreen washer fluid reservoir. Say you’re following a car and it kicks up a bunch of dirt onto your windscreen and you can’t clear it. You’re basically driving a car blindfolded.
Depending on your car, checking the fluid level is either super simple or impossible.
Open your bonnet and find the windscreen washer fluid cap. (It’s marked by a windscreen symbol with water spurting up.)
If you can see the reservoir, you can see how much liquid is left in it. If it looks low, you can top it up to anywhere below the maximum mark.
However, many cars hide the reservoir away as it doesn’t need to be readily accessible. If this is the case, just pour in fluid until you hear it gurgling near the top.
Check Brake Fluid Level
Checking the brake fluid level is also a pretty simple job. Just locate the reservoir in the engine bay. (It’ll be marked by a circular symbol with a ripple of water at the bottom. The circle will have a bracket on either side like the handbrake symbol.)
Check the sides for a transparent section and find the minimum and maximum marks. If the fluid level is between the two marks, you’re golden. If it’s below the minimum, you need more brake fluid and if it’s above the maximum, you need to take some out.
Check Coolant Fluid Level
Engines rely on a radiator to keep them cool and the radiator, in turn, relies on coolant, which flows round and round, taking the heat from the engine and dissipating it through the radiator.
To check the coolant level, find the coolant reservoir in the engine bay (it’s marked by a thermometer in water symbol) and check the sides for a minimum and maximum line. If the fluid level is between the two marks, you’re fine.
Check Wiper Blade Condition
Keeping your windscreen clean and clear is obviously pretty important to safe driving. However, for some reason, many motorists are willing to put up with poor condition windscreen wipers, peering through a blurry windscreen at the world beyond.
To check the condition of your wiper blades, just fold them up at the base and rotate the blade to look at you. Check for any damage to the rubber and and detritus stuck into the blade.
Before returning the blade to its normal position, run a wet towel down the rubber blade to clean off any dirt that’s built up. Also, clean the resting point on the window as gunk tends to build up here too.
Every month, you should give your car a good clean inside. (Or you can take it to a car wash and have someone else valet it!)
While regular cleaning might seem unimportant, keeping everything clean of dust and grime helps keep everything working as it’s supposed to.
If the inside is getting cleaned, you might as well get the outside done too. Keeping the paintwork, hinges, seals and rubber clean isn’t just an image thing either. It’s good for the longevity of the car too.
Quarterly Car Maintenance Checklist
Check Power Steering Fluid Level
Pop your bonnet open and find your power steering reservoir. (It’ll be marked by a steering wheel symbol.) The reservoir should have a minimum and maximum level marked on it somewhere. Just ensure the fluid level is between those two lines and you’re fine.
Check Hoses for Crack and Wear
While serious engine maintenance is best left to professionals, another set of eyes is always a good thing. Any time you’ve got the bonnet opened, check over the hoses in the engine bay.
You don’t need to know what each one does but keep an eye out for cracks, splits and abrasions.
Check Brake Pad Condition
With the wheels still on, you’re never going to get a proper look at your brake pads. But it never hurts to look and you might pick up anything serious.
To check your brake pad conditions, start by taking your car for a quick drive. Open the windows and listen out for any squeaking sounds when you press the brake pedal. If you hear any squeaking, that’s a good sign your pads need changing.
Also pay attention to how your brakes feel. Your brake pedal should feel firm not spongy and the actual braking motion should feel consistent without your car pulling to the side.
Once you’re back, hop out and have a quick look at your brake discs. Don’t touch them, though, as they may be hot after use.
Check Radiator and Look for Leaks
Your radiator pumps water round the engine, helping keep it cool and operational. If your radiator stops working, your engine will overheat and possible damage itself.
Check your car’s manual to see where the radiator is (usually at the front) and give it a quick look over. Pay attention for any wet patches or puddles, which may indicate your radiator has a leak. Also check your coolant reservoir as some are prone to splitting or cracking. If you have to regularly add extra coolant, this is a sign you’ve got a leak somewhere in the system.
When inspecting your radiator, be careful not to touch anything if the engine has been running recently. The whole purpose of a radiator is to soak up the heat from the engine so it will be hot.
Check the Engine
Again, it’s difficult to check the condition of an engine without understanding what you’re looking at. But a regular once-over will help pick up big problems before your next service.
Keep an eye out for cracks, bulges, wet patches, drips, burn marks, loose cables, corrosion and so on.
Yearly Car Maintenance Checklist
Every year, you should book your car in for a comprehensive annual service. At a minimum, a service should replace or top up: engine oil, oil filter, air filter, cabin air filter, engine coolant, brake fluid, gearbox fluid, power steering fluid. The garage should also lubricate moving parts like the prop and axel. Alongside replacements and top ups, the garage will also check the condition and operation of a bunch of stuff like the radiator, fuel lines, brake servos, mirrors, door locks and more.
Even if you’re tidying your car every week and cleaning it every month, it’ll still pick up a bit of muck in those hard to reach areas like door cubbies, under the seats and so on.
Every year, I recommend you give your car a proper deep clean. That means shampooing the carpets, scrubbing all the hard to reach areas, conditioning the leather seats and so on.