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The Complete Car Maintenance Checklist

A mechanic reviewing a car maintenance checklist and observing an engine

Very rare things in life are one-and-done investments. Most of the major purchases we make in life, in order to maintain their value, must receive timely maintenance. The clearest example of this is automobiles.

And how can it be otherwise?

Cars usually won’t sit there in your garage as an exhibition piece. Cars take us everywhere. They move us around and pretty much and make us feel at home even when we’re on the road. A car is a moving piece of personal space.

Our cars are always subject to both external and internal wear. Being exposed to the environment, interior wear from the users, and the machinery running can cause damage and erosion. That is why we must remember it is of utmost importance to keep your car in the best conditions by performing constant maintenance.

We already made a big investment in purchasing a car, and it has become an indispensable part of our lives. We obviously want it to last as long as possible. Even if we eventually decide to part ways with our four-wheeled buddy, the value of a car that has been maintained in the best condition will be way higher than an old piece of moving rust.

But hey, we know that is not your case.

You’re not a ruthless monster that makes your car work tirelessly without some dose of care every now and then…

That’s why you’re here, right? You might just not know where to start. So, if you’re looking to know about car maintenance schedule and car maintenance cost, you’ve landed in the right place.

Let’s begin with…

: A mechanic holding a wrench with images referencing different scheduled maintenance items

What Does Routine Car Maintenance Include?

The list is a little extensive, but don’t be intimidated. Most of the items in this checklist don’t have to be performed as often, so we’ll go a little bit more into details about the more routine ones a little later in the article. But the fact they don’t have to be performed as often does not make them less not important.

Our vehicles have plenty of interior and exterior elements that work together in order to keep the entire car “running smoothly”. Think about that as engines of a big machine. If one of the little engines does not work, it will affect the performance of the bigger one.

At the end of the day, that little engine will stop the entire machine from working completely. Attention to detail, that’s what us car owners need to keep as a personal motto in order to keep our beloved motorized baby performing like the first day.

So, here are some of the things you must check on periodically, but not AS OFTEN:

  • Air filters:
    This filter keeps the air that enters the engine clean so it can perform properly, but eventually, with all the contaminants in the air, the filters should be replaced.

    It is recommended for this to happen every 15,000 to 25,000 miles, but it really depends on the area that you’re driving. Check them every 5,000 miles to see if they still look clean.

  • Tire wear:

    Tires lose traction with use and their performance gets compromised. It is not only unsafe to drive with worn down tires, but it also consumes a higher amount of fuel.

    A simple technique is required to know when you should replace the tires. Take a quarter coin and insert it in the tire’s tread with Washington’s head upside down and facing you. If Washington’s head gets covered, the tire still has some good lifetime remaining. If you see Washington’s head totally exposed, meaning the tread is as deep as the space between the coin’s rim and the top of Washington’s head, it’ is time to change tires.

  • Tire type:

    Pretty simple, if you live in a snowy location, remember to change your regular tires for winter tires. They have much better traction in slippery frozen roads, so it is not mere vanity, it is way more secure.

  • Windshield wipers:

    It is recommended for these to be replaced once a year. Old wipers will compromise your security when diving in rainy or snowy weather, and it can also cause damage to your windshield, making it look tarnished.

    Remember, security first!

  • Headlights, turn lights, brakes, and parking lights:

    We might not even notice this, but sometimes our lights are not working properly. Not only a molten bulb, which might be obvious, but sometimes the lights grow dim which severely affects visibility.

    Specially tarnished or cloudy headlights will severely impact your security when driving at night.

    Consider a deep clean and glass coating for the lights to stay clear. If you have to change the lights, we recommend using to use LED light instead, as they last longer and offer better light quality.


  • Shocks or Struts:

    These pieces are indispensable for your suspension function, so they have to be checked every now and then. Doing otherwise might affect the suspension functions irreparably. Check them out with a higher frequency if you take bumpy roads often.


  • Serpentine Belt:

    At a simple glance, it might look just like some sort of an oversized rubber band, but it does way more than that. It actually powers the alternator, power steering pump and air conditioner condenser.

    Visually inspect it to make sure there are no cracks in it.

    If this bad boy snaps in the middle of the road you will be in serious problems, so if you detect any damage, replace it immediately.
A mechanic performing routine maintenance on a car engine
  • Spark plugs:

    These little guys are very important to determine your engine’s performance. Their function of these is to ignite the spark in the air-gas mixture that ultimately gets the car running.

    Of course, it is expected for them to “toast a little” overtime. If they look way too dark, they have gunk, mineral deposits, or they look too dry, it’ is time to replace them.

  • Front and rear differential:

    Front and rear differential are what pretty much will allow your vehicle’s wheels to turn independently and at different speeds. For proper function, they have their own fluid to keep them stable. It is recommended for a specialist to check on this specifically, so make sure to keep this in your scheduled check-up with your specialist.

  • Battery Performance Test:

    This has to be tested about every 6 months, not only when the battery starts showing signs of weakness. There is really not much of a DIY solution to test the battery performance.

    Although it is a very simple procedure that takes about 5 minutes, it normally requires professional equipment that can measure the voltage.

  • Periodic checkups:

    A couple of the previously mentioned steps can’t be performed at home. Mistakes when performing a specialized task such as replacing pieces can be VERY expensive. You will end up paying more than if you let a professional do their job in the first place.

    Schedule periodic checkups!

    Every six months is ideal, but if you really have a very tight schedule, please do not take longer than a year for a general check-up.

Alright, so I left the “not so often” checkups at first because they tend to be left out. Remember that minimizing the little details will end up being a nightmare in the long run. Now it’s time to jump in and get to those chores that are recommended to perform more often and, mostly, can be done at home with no problem.

What Does Routine Car Maintenance Include?

Motor oil being poured into a car
  • Engine oil:

    You saw that one coming, right?

    It is very important to keep the oil levels in check. Some car dashboards have no indicator of when the oil level is running low, and even if they do, they are not 100% reliable.

    Also, by checking manually you not only determine the level of oil but the quality of it.

    The procedure for this is very simple.

    First, warm up the engine, park and stop the engine.

    Wait a couple of minutes and find the oil dipstick.

    Remove the dipstick carefully, it might be really hot.

    Wipe it off with a towel, insert it back and pull it out again.

    The dipstick varies from one manufacturer to another (you can check it in your car’s manual, which I pray you didn’t lose).

    Normally the dipstick will have 2 indentations or marks, the bottom one is for “low”, the top one is “full”.

    Stay as close to “full” as possible. If you’re too close to “low”, you should refill.

    Another important thing to take into consideration is the color of the oil.

    If it looks too dark, it is best to replace it altogether.

    Regardless of what you do, make sure to put the dipstick back in.


  • Battery cleaning:

    Issues with battery performance are often a minor issue that can be solved by cleaning the battery terminals. Don’t wait until you notice problems to clean your battery, make it a habit. It’ is very common to find corrosion in the battery terminals, so it’ is very important to get them cleaned.

    Batteries tend to scare people because everyone thinks they can get electrocuted if they touch it, but that’s really not the case (for the most part).


  • Anti-freeze fluid level:

    This one is pretty easy. The tanks have marks that will indicate the level of fluid. Again, try to get it as close to “full” as possible.

    One very important thing to consider is that you can only open the tank if the car is completely cool (and I mean temperature, we know your car is super cool). Opening the tank when if the vehicle is hot is very dangerous!

What Are Some Important Car Maintenance Items?

Protective gloves:

Before anything, your security is a priority.

You might be handling highly abrasive cleaning supplies, acidic residues, and substances, etc. A good pair of rubber gloves will be a great first layer of protection to keep your hands off from dangerous chemicals and high temperatures.

Rubber is also a current isolator so it will minimize risks with electric components.

A stack of folded microfiber towels for car maintenance

Microfiber towels:

For both, interior and exterior work, it’ is very important to have a gentle yet resistant fiber to work with. Having a lint-free cloth is especially important. If little fibers get to any of the fluid systems, you will be in serious trouble.

Also, for exterior work, microfiber towels offer you a scratch-free solution for any detailing job.

Our pick is the Shine Armor’s Professional Grade Microfiber Towels.

A pack with 10 towels that has 2 different naps on each side for different types of work. The price for good-sized professional-grade towels tend to be pretty high, but this pack is not only high-quality, it is also affordable.

A one-and-done scratch remover:

Scratches, swirl marks, and chips are always a pain in the back. There are multiple solutions to fix them out there, most of them being very expensive and involving several steps.

Our one-and-done solution is Shine Armor’s Revive Scratch Repair.

People are increasingly moving to Shine Armor’s Revive Scratch Repair as soon as they get to see how this game-changer solves scratches and swirls faster than any other.

It looks as if your car went back in time after applying this product...

REVIVE SCRATCH REPAIR will easily get rid of the damage without any need to sand or polish. Simply apply, scrub and wipe off and your car will look like brand new again.

It’s very simple and easy to apply. Just apply a drop of the gel and scrub off with a micro-fiber towel. Wipe it off and you’re good to go. There’s really no other product out there that can get rid of damages with such ease.

A Hydraulic Floor Jack

Among all the “change a tire” paraphernalia, this is the one item that you can actually use for several different things.

I don’t mean the other items are not useful, they are a must in case of emergencies, but in the given case that there can be other stuff to check out underneath the car, a floor jack will be required.

A protector for your windshield and windows.

Your windshield and windows are the only visibility you have to the outside when you’re in your vehicle. Keeping them clean clear and protected is a must for obvious security reasons. To make your car not only totally transparent and pristine, but also adding an extra layer of protection, our pick is Shine Armor’s Nano Glass Hydrophobic Window Coating.

Here at Shine Armor, security is a priority. We’re not only about the looks but also the functionality.

We developed a long-lasting formula to ensure that your windows and windshield look crystal clear and improves your visibility in different weather conditions.

Nano Glass Hydrophobic Window Coating has a surface that is highly hydrophobic and extremely long-lasting.

One single application provides 3 years of protection! This product also enhances visibility in heavy rain or snow.

So now you know what to do and what to buy, but you might still be concerned about something very important:


How Much Should I Budget for Car Maintenance?

Before anything, please always keep in mind that maintenance is an investment. The tricky part about budgeting for car maintenance is that it is not really that consistent.

Some stuff you must check on monthly, every three months, six months, a year…

It also depends on the size of the vehicle, brand, and model, the specialists that you visit, etc. Giving a rough estimate, set apart about 75 dollars a month as a budget for car maintenance costs.

Some months it will be more, some it will be less, but remember to set it apart so you don’t feel pressured when it’s time to get your vehicle “dolled-up”.

We truly hope you found this information useful and you’re ready to keep your car in the conditions it deserves.

Bibliography & Sources:

Bell, Matt., 2011. Avoiding A Common, Costly Budget Mistake. Spending Smart.

Bridgestone Co., 2019. A Schedule of preventative tasks.

Firestone Complete Autocare., 2018. How to clean battery terminals.