Preventing Breakdowns: DIY Car Maintenance and Service Tips

Do you ever worry about your car breaking down on the road? Do you avoid regular car maintenance, hoping for the best? Well, these two thoughts are contradictory. If you’re not regularly getting your car serviced or at least doing the work yourself, you are asking for trouble, possibly a breakdown while you’re driving. Some types of vital service may only need to be done once a year while others need to be performed more regularly. Below, we give you all the information you need to keep your car healthy and yourself safe. The more you do before there’s trouble, the lower the chance that you’ll ever have a breakdown. Also, by taking good care of your car, you will avoid an insurance increase because you won’t be as at risk for an accident.

Myths and Misunderstandings

While you’re browsing through your owner’s manual, see when you have to change your timing belts and other things you may not be aware need changing. Don’t defer to myths about how long you should wait to change something either. It’s really in the manufacturer’s best interest for the car they made to function optimally. Trust your manual. Here, you’ll also learn if you’re using the right fuel. It may sound like the most obvious thing to know, but you’d be surprised at how many people void their warranties by destroying their car with a simple misjudgment at the tank over a long period of time. If your car wasn’t built to run on the cheap stuff, you’re just asking for trouble! So, double check your owner’s manual before you do anything.

Don’t Be Lazy: Do Your Own Regular Inspections

The Engine

Just like the heart in the human body, the engine of a car determines how everything else operates too. People generally don’t have their engines checked until there’s a problem. Why prevent a costly and dangerous problem by getting your engine looked at annually instead? Preventative measures are always cost less than repairs. Also, you’ll be lessening your chances of your car breaking down in the middle of a road or highway.

Continuing with the heart analogy, you know eating greasy foods clogs your arteries. It’s much the same with the oil you feed your car’s engine. There’s nothing easier than making sure that you get an engine oil change regularly. For many cars, an oil and filter change is required at 5,000 or 6,000 miles, but you should always check your owner’s manual for mileage specific to your car. Don’t fall for advertised sales on oil changes but if you opt to use a new service, ask questions. Often, these discounted rates do not include a filter change or they use inferior oil. If your car requires synthetic oil, they may use a cheaper oil that’s not good for your car’s engine type. If you feel you must save money on this maintenance measure, learn how to do your own oil and filter change instead.


Making a habit of inspecting at your tires every morning and checking the air pressure at least once a month is very important. When your tires are low on air, you use more gas, so you’ll be saving money by keeping them pumped, but don’t go overboard: Only fill your tires to specifications (again, refer to your owner’s manual).

Checking the wear and tear on your tires is important too. You can do so with a simple penny test. To get the details on how to check your tires and how to do your own tire maintenance (rotations too) visit here. There’s no overstating how important it is to regularly rotate your tires so they wear evenly. If you’re doing the job yourself, make sure you are rotating them correctly based on your car’s model and make.

Fluid Change

Some people do their own fluid change. For others, changing antifreeze, power steering coolant and whatever else is too much, but you should at the very least be able to check the levels to make sure you’re not running low. Some cars have easy-to-read levels while others have gauges and require pulling out dipsticks so check your owner’s manual. While your manual may not teach you how to do your own fluid change, it is a good starting point to, say, find where your transmission fluid is even located.


Ignoring leaks is a regrettable thing to do. If you are leaking oil and you end up running out while driving, your engine will cease and cause damage that can easily amount to thousands of dollars. Never, ever ignore dark spots left behind by your car that indicate a leak. In fact, make it a point to check underneath the car before and after you park to see if your car is, in fact, leaking.

Also, check your batteries for leaks as well. While you’re there, check to see if there is any buildup along the contacts. You can clean this stuff off with a specific battery cleaning brush (this will run you less than $5 at any Pep Boys) or take it in to the garage and ask to have it done for you. Buying a battery charge tester is also not a bad idea. It’s always nice to change a battery before it dies on the road.

Windshield Wipers

Replace your windshield wipers when they leave streaks. Visibility is the most important part of safe driving. This is not a difficult job and one that anyone can do themselves so don’t ignore that streak until you’re driving with your view blocked entirely. Change them as soon they begin to obstruct your vision.

Air Filters

Don’t forget to change your engine’s air filters too. In your owner’s manual, you will find out how often you need to change yours. If it’s dirty, replace it, even if you’re below the estimated mileage that’s suggested in your manual. You may be driving on roads that cause the filter to get dirtier than average.

Spark Plugs

Spark plugs get worn out or filthy and need replacing. However, note that if this happens often, you should probably get your engine checked out to make sure it’s functioning properly. Do so before you experience a breakdown. However, needing to change spark plugs a couple of times a year is to be expected. For most standard copper spark plugs, you are advised to change them every 30,000 miles. This is an easy job on some cars and it’s difficult on others. Whether you do the job yourself or have a mechanic do it, make sure your spark plugs are in good shape.


Last but certainly not least are your brakes. Have you done a brake check? You can see for yourself if there has been too much wear and tear on your brake pads by just looking through the spaces between the wheel’s spokes. The outer pad will be against a metal rotor. This should be at least ¼ inch thick. If you see less than ¼ inch you should have them inspected or replaced. Some people learn how to do their own brake changes, but if you’re not sure about what you’re doing, this is not one mechanism in your car that you want to take chances with. If you don’t brake properly, you will indeed have an accident, and that’s never a good thing.

If you have squeak brakes but your pads look fine, you should still have them looked at. For some people, a worn brake pad makes a clicking noise. If you’re braking and it takes a long time for the car to stop or if it vibrates when you press it, you most likely need new brakes. Sometimes, a worn brake pad will pull your car to one side when you brake. If you are experiencing any of these situations, don’t diagnose the problem yourself, have your brakes checked immediately by a professional mechanic.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms, and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.

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