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3 easy car maintenance checks you should do every month

man checking oil

When you own a car, it’s up to you to do everything possible to avoid repairs that arise from mere neglect.

For expensive car repairs that happen beyond your control, a vehicle service contract (also known as extended car warranties) can cover you.

Below we share with you the 3 checks you should be doing every month to keep up with maintenance (and avoid tickets!). We also explain just how easy it is to do them.

1. Check all car exterior lights

Checking your lights will help you see the road, help others see you and help avoid tickets. Here are the steps to follow when checking your car’s exterior lights:

First, go inside your car

  1. Turn on your car
  2. Activate the hazard lights
  3. Activate your high beam lights
  4. Activate your parking brake
  5. Get out of your car

Then go outside your car

  1. Check your front blinkers (if your mirror has blinkers, check those too).
  2. Check your high-beams (and make sure the blinkers are on).
  3. Check your tail lights (and make sure the signals are on).
  4. Check your rear license plate light.

Remember: You can get a ticket if your rear license plate light isn’t working! Make sure it’s turning on.

  1. Get back in your car and put your car in reverse so that you can check your reverse lights (make sure the parking brake is on).
  1. Finally, to check your brake lights, you’ll need a partner to stand behind your car as you press on the brake so that you can know they’re all working. 

Remember: Many cars have several bulbs in the brake lights. Your partner should check how many are turning on. You need at least two of them to avoid a ticket, but try to replace any that aren’t working as soon as possible.

2. Check your car fluids

All cars rely on fluids and you should check every month that they’re not running low. Park the car on a leveled surface and let the engine cool off for about 5 minutes before checking your fluids. Here’s a list of the car fluids you should check.

  1. Windshield wiper fluid – Find your windshield wiper reservoir and top it off if it’s running low. Beware that they’re not always where you’d expect it to be. Some windshield wiper reservoirs are located in the trunk of your car.
  1. Motor oil – Pull out the motor oil dipstick located near the engine, wipe it clean, dip it back and check your level. The dipstick shows a range of how much oil you should have. If it’s below half the operating range, add more oil inside the filler (which is separate from where the dipstick is located). 
Pro tip: If the oil is black, this is a sign you need an oil change. Check your owner’s manual to see how often you should be getting an oil change. It’s usually around every 5,000 miles.
  1. Coolant – Coolant keeps your engine cool with a mixture of antifreeze and water. Look for your car’s recovery tank. It’s plastic and translucent, which makes it easy to check the level. These tanks are marked with a maximum and minimum level.
  1. Brake fluid – Brake fluid tanks are similar to coolant tanks in that they are also plastic and translucent with clear markings signaling your maximum and minimum level of fluid. If it’s low, top it off. Use a funnel because it’s very corrosive and it could ruin other parts of your car or your car’s paint.
Pro tip: Your braking system shouldn’t lose fluid very often. If it’s losing fluid every month, this is a sign that there is a leak.
  1. Power steering fluid – If you have an older car with a hydraulic power steering system, you will find the power steering pump, and there nearby you should be able to find the power steering reservoir. In most cars, there’s a cap with a dipstick built right in to check if you have enough fluid.

It’s easy to buy an extended warranty for used cars online. Read our blog on how to buy an affordable extended warranty online.

3. Check your tire pressure and tread depth

Proper tire pressure and tread depth is essential for safer roads and better fuel economy. Here are the steps to check your tire pressure and your tread depth.

Tire pressure

To check your tire pressure, you need a tire pressure gauge and an air compressor. You should check your tires when they’re cold.

  1. Look at your vehicle placard (located in the driver’s side door jamb) for the correct tire pressure. On most cars, you will see a number for the front tires and a number for the rear tires. Take a picture of the recommended tire pressures with your phone to have them handy.
  1. Take the cap off the tire valve and use the open end of the tire gauge to connect it to the top of the valve. The gauge will tell you the tire pressure.
  1. Look at the recommended PSI for your car from the vehicle placard. Use the air compressor to add more air or use the gauge to let some out if necessary.
  1. Repeat on all tires.

Tire tread depth

Use the penny test to check your tire tread depth. 

  1. Place a penny head first into the tire grooves. 
  1. If you see Lincoln’s head, then the tread is worn. If you don’t see Lincoln’s head and it’s covered, then there’s 2/32 of an inch (the average legal minimum) of depth and your tires are still okay to drive but you may need to replace tires soon.

Here are the general tread depths and what they mean.

2/32” or lessYou need new tires.
2/32” – 6/32”You will need new tires soon.
6/32” or moreYour tires are still almost new.
Pro tip: Place the penny in different locations of the groove to see if the wear has been even. If it’s uneven then there may be problems with the alignment.

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