Imagine these situations:
1. Smoke coming out of your car halfway through your epic road trip
2. Your car not starting up when you have to rush for an emergency meeting
3. Your car stopping in the middle of the freeway on a snowy/rainy day
4. Spilling your favorite drink all over your car’s floor mats because of emergency brakes
Scary, isn’t it? While most people dread being in these situations, they’re also easily avoidable. Since we rely on our cars to keep our daily life running smoothly, there are a few essential yearly checks and tune-ups that we can do to ensure our vehicles are always performing at their best.
There’s a lot you can do yourself but there are also some things you probably shouldn’t attempt to do if you’re not comfortable with them. Taking your car to a competent professional is one of the best things you can do to preserve its resale value if you don’t want to do it yourself. Let’s take a look at the major car checks you should be doing at least once a year.
1. Flush Your Brake Fluid
Changing your brake fluid is very important. If your brake pedal has gotten squishy over time, there’s a good chance you need to flush out (and not refill) your brake fluid. Here’s why — brake fluid absorbs water from the atmosphere.
That’s a problem because since water boils at a much lower temperature than brake fluid, your brake lines will get filled with air, which means when you step on the pedal, you’re literally pressing on air. The older your brake fluid is, the worse this gets. While you can get away with checking this every other year, auto experts recommend doing it every year for safety and performance.
Flushing your brake fluid is one of the easiest things you can do. You can buy kits to do it yourself or you can use professional help to do the same.
2. Inspect Your Brakes
While we’re on the topic of flushing your brake fluid, this is also the perfect time to inspect the rest of your brake system. Do you see any fluid leaking or evidence of cracks on your brake rotor? If yes, you need to get your brakes checked. If you feel ridges when you run your finger across the surface, that’s not a good sign either.
Inspect how thick your brake pads are to ensure they’re wearing evenly and not turning into a wedge-like shape. If they’re thinner than an eighth of an inch, take that as a sign that you’re going to need to replace them at some point or you’ll likely hear them start to squeal over time.
3. Also, Inspect Your Tires
For your tires, you want to inspect the condition of the rubber. If they’re not more than a couple of years old, this won’t be a big deal, but if they’re three, four, or over five years old, you want to look for evidence of cracking. While you’re at it, inspect the sidewalls as well. Check for any abnormal bumps in them.
Another important thing to check: is tread depth. This is simple. Simply take a penny and place it in between the tread blocks of your tire, with the top of Abe Lincoln’s head pointing down into the tire. If the tread comes to Abe’s ear, you’re good. If it barely touches his hair, you’re okay right now but it would be a good idea to start looking for your next set of tires.
Pro tip: Check across the inside, middle, and outside of each tire. If the tread isn’t even throughout, your car probably has an alignment issue.
4. Look For Signs For Whether Your Alignment is Off
You should always pay attention to your steering wheel, and thus should know if it’s not perfectly straight or if the car constantly pulls one way or the other without any input from you. If it does, obviously take your car in to check on its alignment. While you’re checking your tires’ tread depth, though, you can also look at the tread for tell-tale signs of something being amiss. Pay attention to whether any part of one tire’s tread depth is significantly out of line compared to the other tires. If it is, there’s a good chance your alignment is off, even if it’s not noticeable. This means it’s time to take it to a pro.
5. Check Your Belts And Hoses
While this part is usually covered in your car’s manual, it is best to mention this since checking on these usually extends to intervals far beyond a year. So why is it important to check on these? Best-case scenario if a belt or hose fails on your car, you could get stuck on the side of the road, as traffic whizzes past you at 80mph.
Worst-case scenario, the failure will result in catastrophic damage to your engine, and you might have to either pay thousands of dollars to replace it or buy a new car.
Next, pop the hood and look for any bulges on hoses or frayed edges on belts. If you can’t see a belt (on many cars today they’re hidden under covers and other components,) you can either remove the cover yourself or take it to the auto shop the next time you take your car in for an oil change.
6. Get Your Oil Checked
While getting your oil checked and analyzed isn’t mandatory, it can save you a lot of money while also giving you plenty of early warning if something’s not quite right inside your engine. You can send a sample of your used motor oil to a laboratory and get a detailed report that tells you how many miles you can go between changes based on your driving habits and environment, and also if there are unexpected levels of metal shavings in your oil, which could indicate that some crucial internal pieces are on their last miles.
7. Steam Clean Your Interior
Your car is essentially a dungeon of hazardous materials all around and within it. You sweat in the seats during the summer, spill beverages, carry in dirt and debris from outside, have children dropping food, and/or pets slobbering all over your car seats. Most of these things happen without us even noticing them.
While cleaning your car should be done often, at least once a year, take a steam cleaner and blast away all the germs and miscellaneous dirt. It’s not going to hurt your leather, faux leather, vinyl, or fabric seats, and it’s definitely going to make your car cleaner and less hazardous.
You can also invest in good quality premium car floor mats to ensure your car’s interiors remain clean longer without damaging your vehicle’s original carpeting. This also helps for easy cleaning at regular intervals.
8. Polish Your Windshield And Headlights
Your windshield acts like the eyes of your car, in the sense that its visibility slowly deteriorates over the course of time but because it’s so subtle, you never actually notice how bad it’s gotten. You can use a bottle of glass polish and a polishing attachment for your drill and give your vehicle’s windshield a good clean-up. Once you’re done, you’ll probably feel like you’re seeing the world in HD. Try it on your other windows too and especially on your headlights. However, just be careful not to touch your vehicle’s paint while you’re at it.
Remember though, if you’re not comfortable doing DIY maintenance, don’t worry about it. Just take it to your mechanic or auto shop, sit back, and relax!