Keeping your car running at its best isn't as simple as booking it in for a service once a year. If you want to catch small issues early and fix them before they develop into big problems, you've got to do some DIY car maintenance yourself.
In this article, I've rounded up five outstanding industry experts and asked them for their favourite piece of car maintenance advice. So take a read and get ready to supercharge your maintenance schedule!
(As a quick caveat, I always recommend referring to your car's handbook and manufacturer advice. While our contributors can give general advice, they simply can't offer specialised guidance.
Richard Reina of CARiD.com
Richard Reina has been an auto enthusiast since the age of two when his dad taught him the difference between a Chevy and a Ford. He is an Automobile Service Excellence-certified Automobile Technician and has held a number of positions at manufacturers and retailers throughout his career. He is currently the Product Training Director for CARiD.com, a leading aftermarket automotive retailer.
Tip #1 — Battery changes
Dealers and mechanics will charge a lot just to swap out your battery for a new one. And this doesn’t include tow truck fees if a dead battery causes you break down somewhere!
If the circumstances allow it (and you are comfortable changing your car's battery yourself), you can save money this way. Just be sure to use check the type of battery your car requires. To prevent a breakdown before it happens, replace your battery every two to three years.
Tip #2 — Brake pad changes
This is another tasks mechanics and brake specialists will charge a premium for. The industry wants consumers to believe that this is harder to do than it actually is and will charge a lot for parts and labour. New brake pads themselves are relatively cheap and with the right tools (wheel lug wrench, some basic wrenches, pliers, a jack and a set of jack stands) and level of comfort, it is possible to perform this change yourself. You can see our post "how to check brake pads" for the method.
Tip #3 — Oil change
This is one of the easiest maintenance tasks to do yourself. Modern cars do not need an oil change every 3,000 miles like cars of the past did. These days, it is safe to go 10,000 miles between changes. If you know the quality and quantity of oil to use, it’s easy to save!
Learn how much it costs to change oil here.
Tip #4 — Tune up
Just like with oil changes, modern cars do not require a lot of hands-on engine adjustments as many engines have electronic sensors and controls. Don’t be fooled by dealers who charge to give your car a “full tune up” as they are likely just performing preventative maintenance, like the things I mentioned above. Unless you feel there is something more serious wrong with your vehicle, you can save a lot of money by keeping up with basic maintenance yourself.
Cory Sarrett of Superior Honda
Cory Sarrett is a writer and researcher for Superior Honda, a new and used car dealership outside of New Orleans. She researches the automotive industry's latest news and spends time looking into everything from the latest car releases, newest technological features and upgrades, and the best tips and tricks on vehicle maintenance, servicing and more.
Tip #5 — Check your fluids
You should know how to check the antifreeze, coolant and wiper fluid in your car. Always check the owner’s manual but it’s pretty common for cars to allow you to easily take a look. If you’re running low, be sure to add more to avoid any problems. Furthermore, be sure to regularly check you don’t have any leaks!
Tip #6 — Replace your cabin air filter
This simple tip will help you feel fresh and cool whenever there’s some warmer weather. It’s so easy to do that you shouldn’t have to pay anybody else to do it for you, and you can get these filters at pretty much any auto parts store. It might not make a difference in how your car runs but it sure benefits you!
Alex Lauderdale of EducatedDriver.org
Over his 20-year career, Alex has served in multiple transportation administration, analytic and management positions spanning multiple companies, including two in the Fortune 500.
At EducatedDriver.org, he uses his experience and continued research to educate and broadcast information related to the current status and future of driving, driving technologies, technology TCD (total cost to driver), driver safety and gaps in between.
Tip #7 — Regular tyre rotation
Think of this like the soles of your shoe. If you look at them, you'll notice they don't wear evenly. If there was a way you could spread the wear, you could make your shoes last longer.
The same thing goes with your tyres, except you actually can help them wear evenly by rotating them on a regular basis (typically every 6,000 to 8,000 miles). This will help them last longer, saving you money in the long run. Not to mention it will help keep you safe.
Tip #8 — Follow the recommended maintenance schedule
Follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. I'll caveat this by saying that repair shops and dealers will often try to up-sell you on more stringent maintenance schedules. Don't listen to them. However, do study your manual's maintenance schedule and follow it to the letter. This will give you the best chance at prolonging the life of your car.
Tip #9 — High octane fuel
As your car ages, you may consider higher grade fuel. Carbon deposits in the engine can actually raise the engine's octane rating over time. These deposits happen over time so typically newer cars won't really benefit from the higher octane fuel (unless your manufacturer specifically recommends it). The higher octane gas also often has other additives that help clean out your carburettor.
John Burkhauser of Bolt On Technology
John Burkhauser has spent a lifetime in the automotive industry, working in countless roles, ranging from journeyman technician the service manager of a large dealership. As a technician, John specialised in electrical and drivability diagnosis and repair. In recent years, John has worked as an automotive instructor and has written articles for companies such as CRC Industries, MotorAge Magazine and Bolt On Technology. He is also an active member in the OAC of Eastern Center for Arts and Technology and still maintains his ASE Master Technician certifications.
Tip #10 — Rotate Tyres
The front tyres on a front wheel drive vehicle are put under more stress than those of the rear. The front wheels accelerate, brake and steer the vehicle. All these jobs cause addition wear to occur on the front tyres.
The rear tyres are basically just supporting the vehicle’s backend so wear much more slowly.
Moving the rear tyres to the front of the vehicle allows the extra wear and tear of the front end to be shared by all tyres thus boosting their longevity. This is why tyre rotation is recommended to be done at least every 5,000 miles by many sources.
Another reason why you should rotate tyres is that it allows for a visual inspection of the brakes since they now can be easily accessed. With today’s long oil change intervals, less rotations and brake inspections are getting done, resulting in premature tyre wear and possible brake issues. I suggest getting your wheels rotated in between oil changes, especially if you’re on a high mileage oil change intervals.
Tip #11 — Replace Wipers
Seeing where you are going is pretty important when driving. During rain or snow conditions and situations where the windshield becomes obscured by dirt or dead bugs, your wipers come into play, making them an item that is high on the safety list. Crazy thing is many people don’t change them until they are literally falling off the vehicle.
Losing a clear view during inclement weather is one of the consequences of having bad wipers but there are worse things that can happen such as the blade falling off and the wiper arm scratching the windshield. My recommendation for wiper replacement is twice a year. I prefer to do it in Spring and Autumn, which is also a good time to check those tyre pressures (see our post "how to check tyre pressure").
A very basic way to make your wipers last is to take a clean damp rag and wipe the squeegee on each from end to end. At the same time clean the spot that the wiper parks at. Many times, this area will have dirt built up which affects the wiper blades.
Tip #12 — Use proper fuel type
Fuel comes in different grades and fuel companies inevitably want you to use their “ultra-fuel” in your vehicle for maximum performance. Of course, this fuel costs more and makes a better profit for the company. However, you probably don’t need it for your ride.
Most vehicles on the road are designed to run on the cheap petrol. Better yet, the cheap petrol has all the important additives that your vehicle needs. Using higher octane fuel (the ultra-fuel) in a vehicle does nothing for the vehicle if it is not designed to run on the more expensive fuels. You are just wasting your hard-earned money. Don’t do it.
There are vehicles out there that are designed for the higher-octane fuels and using the proper fuel in these vehicles is important. Vehicles requiring these fuels will usually be labeled in a few different places like inside the fuel cap cover letting you know what the minimum fuel rating to be used is.
Tip #13 — Keep car clean inside and out
Keeping your car clean does more than make it look good. It will also help the vehicle deal with all the elements it is exposed to and slow down the ageing process.
Another reason for cleaning your car is that it makes you look it over. You get a good visual inspection of it and are more likely to see issues when they first start not when they become real problems.
You may realise that there is a nail in your tyre and it seems to be losing air, allowing you to catch it before you need to dig out an install the spare tyre. Under the hood you may see an oil or coolant leak before they leave you stuck.
We've done loads of guides on how to wash your car - see how often you should wash your car and learn the ins and outs of cleaning different areas of your car with some of these handy posts:
- How to clean cloth car seats
- How to clean leather car seats
- How to clean car headliner
- How to clean interior plastic trim
- How to clean car mats
- How to clean car windows
- How to clean car windscreen
- How to clean alloy wheels
Billy Miller of KnockoutEngine.com
Billy Miller is the lead editor of KnockoutEngine.com, a fast-growing blog on all things car maintenance and tools. With over 20 years of car mechanic experience under his belt, Billy recently traded his wrench for a keyboard to share all the tips and tricks that he has learned along the way with others so people can learn how to maintain their cars in tiptop shape themselves.
Tip #14 — Changing Headlight Bulbs
Another simple DIY car repair that can be done quickly and without needing any fancy equipment is changing your headlight bulbs. Although you will do this probably only when you notice a problem with your lights, it is still good to know how to do it, because you never know when the bulb in your headlights will go out.
Tip #15 — Changing Tyres
And last but not least, if there is one DIY car repair everyone HAS to know how to do it is to change the tyres. No matter if we are talking about changing a flat or just switching summer tyres for winter ones and vice versa, you need to know how to do it. Or else you can get stranded on the side of the road for hours. So make sure you know the basics of tyre replacement as well as have done it at least once under the supervision of someone who knows their tyre change stuff. And you will be ready for that time when you have to replace the tyre on your own.
We hope this expert car maintenance tips help you on your never-ending quest to keep your car in tip-tip condition.
We've also done loads of posts surrounding car servicing and MOTs.