Owning a car is a lot of responsibility. Sure, you need to be a safe and courteous driver (here’s an article about driving in parking lots to help you do that), but you also need to keep up on all the little jobs your car needs to perform at its best and last for years to come. It’s easy to forget these little jobs, but you won’t be rewarded for your (lack of) effort. Today’s cars are more reliable than ever, but these five tasks will help keep your car running and looking great for years to come.
Admit it: you don’t wash your car often enough, and when you do it’s a quick run through the local gas station’s automated machine. Those machines are fine in a pinch, but non-touchless automated car washes wreak havoc on your car’s paint, only leaving plenty of micro-scratches if you’re lucky—and causing more severe damage if you’re not. Why not get out a soft, non-abrasive sponge or wash mitt and some car wash detergent and have at it in your driveway? Your car will be cleaner than it gets in an automated wash and you’ll get a closer look at any damage that could stand to be repaired.
Now’s also a great time to pick up a bottle of wax and protect the paint you have left. The fancy-sounding “wax” option you add at the car wash is usually snake oil and wears off extremely quickly. Use a good quality poly or synthetic wax and apply by hand or machine (we love the new G9 random orbital available from Griot’s Garage) and enjoy several months of solid protection. See paint chips in the process of cleaning and waxing your ride? Use a paint touch-up pen before little chips turn into large rust spots. If you’re worried about going to the store to buy products, try online.
Perform a quick safety check.
Ok, we know you haven’t done this… well, possibly ever. Do you know what pressure your tires should be at? Are you sure all your exterior lights and signals are working? Have any parts that look like they’re about to fall off? Or maybe you have a “check engine” light that’s been on since Thanksgiving? Take a slow walk around your car checking all these things and replace any burned out bulbs, inflate tires that are low (don’t forget your spare!), and order an inexpensive OBDII code reader, commonly available for $20 or so, if you have that glaring orange light on your instrument panel. Now’s also a good time to replace worn-out windshield wiper blades and check for any pertinent vehicle safety recalls at NHTSA.org. When you return to work with all these things done, you’ll not only be a safer driver, you’ll feel pretty darn good about your car too.
Overdue on your car’s next oil change? Tsk tsk. Your car requires clean engine oil to operate at its best and prevent premature wear. Changing oil on time is probably the single most important maintenance item to help make sure your car’s engine is reliable for years to come. Check your service records (you are keeping all your service records in a safe place, right?) against your vehicle’s maintenance schedule, usually found in the back of your owner’s manual to make sure you’re current. Oil changes can typically be done at home with minimal tools and equipment and there are plenty of great tutorials available online to get the job done. While you’re waiting for your old oil to drain, take a look at your coolant and brake fluid reservoirs to make sure the fluid is clean and topped up. We think you’ll be surprised at how easy-and even how fun-this task can be, and how self-sufficient you’ll feel doing it yourself.
Add that accessory you’ve always wanted.
This job might be a little more fun. If you’ve got some tax refund dollars burning a hole in your pocket and some spare time on your hands, how about adding that dash cam, roof rack, Apple CarPlay-equipped stereo, bicycle carrier, aftermarket shift knob, or seat cover set that you’ve been dreaming of? With mail and packages still being delivered for the time being, take advantage of online retailers and give your car an upgrade or two instead of sitting around the house bored. Most simple accessories can be installed yourself with minimal tools and they can give your car an interesting new look or increased capability.
Prepare an in-car emergency kit.
What would you do the next time your car battery goes dead, a tire goes flat or you experience a breakdown by the side of the road? Calling your local emergency towing service is probably at the top of your list, but it never hurts to be prepared to handle small emergencies yourself. Consider packing a small emergency kit that you can keep in your trunk. A small zippered bag containing things like a portable battery jump-starter (many include ports for device charging too), a self-lighting emergency roadside flare, some protective gloves, a flashlight, an extra quart of the correct motor oil for your car, some basic tools like an adjustable wrench and a few screwdrivers, and maybe a bottle or two of water and a granola bar in case you’re stranded for a while. This is the kind of project most of us never have time to get to, but you’ll feel awfully smart and prepared the next time you’re stranded with car trouble.