A Yearly Guide to Car Maintenance

A man holding a checklist looking at a car engine.

From salty winter roads to torrential spring downpours, each season offers its own challenges to car maintenance. While it’s tempting to deal with issues once they surface, maintaining your vehicle throughout the year will ensure you get the most out of your car. Using this yearly guide to maintenance will help prevent problems before they become a bigger headache down the road.


Remove Salt

A red car with a rusted body.

While salt is great on icy roads, it poses a serious problem to vehicles. The salt on the roads can build up on metal undercarriages and cause rust. An afternoon at the car wash after winter storms is a great way to eliminate salt— just make sure the sprayers thoroughly wash the undercarriage.

Inspect Tires

Winter is brutal on tires. Even if you equip your vehicle with all-season tires, icy and wintry conditions can wear them down in no time. Inspect each tire for adequate tread and rotate them to extend life by using the penny trick: if Lincoln’s head disappears in the tread, then the tire is good. Also, check your spare tire and make sure the jack is in working order.

Replace Wiper Blades

Winter is also hard on wiper blades. Cold temperatures and ice buildup can degrade rubber compounds. Check each blade and replace to prepare for the coming spring showers. This is also a good time to fill windshield wiper fluids.


Check Cooling Systems

If your air conditioner is on its final leg, there’s a good chance it will fail in the summer heat. Make sure the system is blowing out cool air and get it inspected by a qualified technician if it isn’t working properly. Double-check the coolant levels in your engines, including the antifreeze in the radiator. Remember, give the radiator cap time to cool before touching.

Check Headights

A car headlight being replaced.

Turn on car lights and blinkers and make sure all the bulbs are in working order. Replace them wherever necessary. Take note of the brightness of headlights while doing the inspection. Dirt and grime buildup can reduce visibility in rainy conditions. Use a wet rag to clean headlights or a DIY kit for more stubborn weathering.

Check Brakes

Check the owner’s manual for how often you should replace brakes. If you notice squeaking, pulsations, or rubbing noises, then make sure you have them inspected by a professional. Keeping on top of the brakes will save you money in the long run and prevent more costly repairs down the road.


Change the Oil

Your oil should be changed at regular intervals determined by the manufacturer. Modern cars will alert you whenever the oil needs changed, but checking it every six months or so never hurts. It’s also a good idea to check the oil before big trips or after a week of heavy driving, including long hauls or towing. Some experts recommend switching to a thinner oil blend in locations where freezing temperatures are an issue.

Test Battery

A car battery being tested with a multimeter.

A car battery usually lasts anywhere from three to five years. You can check the health of your battery with a multimeter or by simply taking it to your local auto parts store. It’s especially important to ensure your battery is running its best in winter as cold weather can increase battery failures. When you inspect the battery, also check the terminals and clean away any excess corrosion.

Inspect the Exhaust

Exhaust problems can decrease fuel mileage and become a safety concern if not addressed quickly. The exhaust releases carbon monoxide gas that should never leak into the passenger compartment. The exhaust and floorboards should be inspected for major holes and fixed wherever necessary.


Replace Tires

A mechanic replacing tires on a car.

Winter is a great time to replace worn tires. Examine each tire for proper tread and any other visible signs of wear, including cuts and nicks in the outer wall. If you live in an area where winters are brutal, consider switching out your normal tires for the all-season variety.

Check Heater and Defroster

A working heating unit is vital in the cold winter months. Not only does the heater provide warmth inside the car, but it also helps defrost windows which is crucial for safety. Check the heater and take it into a mechanic if it’s not blowing out hot air. In newer cars, you might also need to replace the cabin air filter.

Check Engine

Winter is also harsh on engines. To ensure your engine is running top notch in cold conditions, check and replace air, fuel, and cabin filters as recommended by the owner’s manual. It’s also recommended to top off all fluid levels and fix any engine related problems, such as rough idling, difficult starts, and stalling.