Do you really need a new air filter? What about a transmission fluid flush? Can you go past 3,000 miles before another oil change? Car maintenance is confusing. At times, it seems every mechanic tells you something different. Whether you are trying to reduce wear on your new car or trying to squeeze every last mile out of your old jalopy, keep our car maintenance checklist handy to ensure you remain safe and on the road.

1. Wash your car often

The first car maintenance checklist step is to take care of your car’s exterior. Bug guts, bird droppings, and tree sap can all corrode paint when left on your car too long. This will diminish your car’s value and accelerate rusting. If you live in a cold climate or near the ocean, salt is your car’s worst nightmare. It gets into nooks in your wheel wells and undercarriage, slowly eating your car’s frame. Rinse your car free of salt regularly.

And don’t forget about your windshield, wiper blades, and headlights. You can’t drive if you can’t see the road.

  1. Take a fine piece of steel wool to the outside of your windshield. It will remove any stubborn bug parts.
  2. Replace your windshield wiper blades every 6-12 months.
  3. Remove dirt from your headlight covers, or replace if cloudy. Try this handy toothpaste trick to get a little more life out of your headlights.


2. So many moving parts

Aaron “tango” Tang on Flicker

Car maintenance makes some want to run for cover. The threat of making something worse can turn car owners off from simple DIY car repairs. Below are car maintenance checklist repairs you can do with basic tools and an internet connection. Always consult your car’s operating manual for manufacturer recommendations.

Change air filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. Your engine needs clean air to function efficiently. Most car manuals show step-by-step instructions to replace your air filter. It often only requires a trip to the auto parts store and a screwdriver.

Change cabin air filter
every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. Requires a little more maneuvering, but still manageable for the DIY mechanic.

With every oil change, add the following to your car maintenance checklist:

Top off fluids (use manufacturer recommended fluids and fill levels).

Transmission Oil Engine Oil Coolant

Windshield Washer Power Steering

Inspect hoses and drive belts for fraying, holes, and tightness. Drive belts often need replacing between 60,000 and 90,000 miles.

3. Minor repairs

There are repairs and preventative maintenance nearly everyone can do on their own. Once a month check tire pressure, battery terminals, and Invest in a quality tire pressure gauge. Look in your car manual or the driver’s side door jamb for the recommended psi. Also check for cracks in the rubber or wearing tire tread. Low tire pressure and old tires are dangerous. 3,200 people are injured each year in crashes influenced by tire aging. Clean battery terminals to maintain a secure connection. Minimal deposits are normal for most batteries, but a large buildup can signify something is wrong with your battery. To clean, use baking soda and water or the Coca-Cola trick.

Install a new battery.
Most auto parts stores offer free battery testing, and some (Advanced Auto, Batteries Plus, etc.) will install a new one for free. But if you’re on your own, follow this guide.

5. A car maintenance checklist for your mechanic

For those of you ready to dig deeper into your car’s labyrinth of tubes and metal-spinning-things, you can take on the following tasks yourself. But for everyone else, and for those with cars seemingly built to discourage any home repairs, ask your mechanic next time you head in for an oil change.

About that oil and filter change… Most engine oil lasts longer than that sticker on your windshield says, but always complete according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Preventative maintenance is always the best policy to avoid costly repairs, stay safe, and reach optimal fuel efficiency.

Inspect spark plugs every 20,000 to 30,000 miles.

Check and replace transmission fluid according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Try to avoid a fluid flush as they sometimes cause damage.

Get an alignment and/or tire rotation if you feel the car pulling in a certain direction or if the steering wheel wobbles. Tire rotations are generally recommended every 5,000-8,000 miles.

Teaching Rawhide’s 100-point inspection

Rawhide guys have the chance to work with our mechanics inspecting donated vehicles. They gain valuable work experience and exposure to the auto maintenance profession. We rely on donations from Rawhide supporters to fund all of our programs. 83% of funds from the sales of donated vehicles directly fund our at-risk youth programs. When the time comes to part with your old ride, please consider donating to Rawhide. In addition to helping at-risk youth, you will receive a top tax deduction.