Regularly and properly maintaining your vehicle can save you money, time and unnecessary stress. In addition to reducing the risk of a breakdown, keeping your vehicle well maintained also lowers the cost of operating your vehicle and reduces the likelihood of needing costly, major repairs. It can also benefit the environment, limiting the amount of dangerous fumes and fluids released.
See also: 12 ways to save on car expenses
To understand your vehicle’s maintenance requirements, you should always read your owner’s manual and keep it handy to review when needed. Although vehicles vary by make and model, there are certain aspects of vehicle maintenance and safety that remain the same. If you follow safe driving strategies and maintain good driving skills, but your vehicle is in poor condition, you are increasing your risk of breakdowns and collisions. Remember, just because the engine starts up normally doesn’t mean your car is immune from troubles on the road. Thus, every time you get behind the wheel, check the following:
Our brake system includes a lot more than the brake pedal and our emergency brake. Brakes matter, so make sure to schedule regular maintenance, even in between scheduled inspections. Use all of your senses to look out for the following warnings signs:
- Hear: A squeaking or squealing noise is an early sign of brake pad issues and should not be ignored. A grinding noise might be signaling worn-through brake pads and possibly even issues with the rotors, which could become a costly issue if it worsens.
- See: Look out for fluids leaking near your tires, which could be brake fluid.
- Smell: You can usually tell your brake pad is sticking if you smell something burning after parking your vehicle.
- Feel: If you feel a vibration coming from your vehicle while stopping or the sensation that the vehicle is pulling to the right or left, get your brake system checked. Are you having a harder time depressing the brake pedal, or is it not returning to its resting position as quickly as usual? That warrants a check-up as well. Lastly, if you notice it takes longer to stop your vehicle, don’t let that go unaddressed.
Your wheels are what keep your vehicle moving, so take care of your tires, as they are your only physical connection to the road. Make it a habit to regularly check your tires to make sure they maintain proper air pressure, tire tread depth and rubber condition. Having a proactive maintenance plan is a great way to ensure your tires continue to keep you safe miles down the road:
- Purchase a quality tire pressure gauge and check your tire pressure at least once a month. Proper tire pressure improves both fuel efficiency and safety.
- Take note of the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle, noted on a sticker inside the driver-side door opening.
- Expect to replace the tires on a regularly driven vehicle every five to six years, regardless of tread depth or visible wear.
- Rotate your tires every 5,000-8,000 miles, or every time you get an oil change.
- Check up on your spare tire regularly, so it’s ready to help you when a flat tire happens.
You should check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights periodically to ensure they are clean and working properly. Make sure your headlights are free from mud or dirt that can obscure them, dimming their effectiveness. Also, check your lights for any oxidation that would blur the clarity of your lights. If you find some, remove it. You should also check the alignment of your headlights by shining them against a flat surface, such as a wall or garage door, to see if they are aimed at the same level.
Your vehicle has multiple fluid levels that should be monitored regularly. Neglecting just one could have serious consequences.
- Oil, transmission fluid and coolant levels should be checked at a scheduled service appointment, based on the miles indicated in the owner’s manual.
- Brake, power steering and windshield washer fluids should also be checked regularly. Make sure each reservoir is full and, if you see any sign of fluid leakage, take your vehicle to the repair shop to be serviced.
- Most importantly, make sure you have sufficient fuel to get you to your destination safely.
360-Degree Vehicle Inspection
How many of us regularly walk around our vehicle to see if everything looks in order? This simple habit can ensure you have a safe drive and only takes a few minutes. In your walk around the vehicle, check for proper tire inflation, clean windows, headlights and mirrors, fluid leaks, and wear of windshield wiper blades. Throughout this walk keep an eye out for any obstacles around your vehicle, such as playing children and parked cars. Finally, assess your driving environment before you head out on the road by checking the weather forecast, road conditions, traffic predictions and possible construction detours.
To learn more about safe car maintenance and how to maintain your driving skills, consider taking the AARP Smart Driver course — AARP Driver Safety’s flagship offering and the nation’s first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. AARP membership is not required to take the course. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multiyear insurance discount upon completion of the course.*
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 877-846-3299.
*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.
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