Under the Hood

Keep your car running perfectly using this checklist.

The tips below are general enough for most vehicles. Your owner’s manual may also suggest a different maintenance schedule—which you should follow. Also, have your routine work done by a mechanic you go to regularly to keep a consistent record of your car’s service.

Brake Pads, Rotors, Fluid—Check every 3,000 to 5,000 miles; replace fluid every 2 years. Your brake pads and rotors provide friction that stops your car. And brake fluid helps your brake pedal and your brakes communicate. Keep all of them in good condition to avoid a harsh physics lesson.

Steering and Suspension—Check every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. These crucial parts hold the wheels on the car and allow you, the steering wheel and the tires to move in the same direction. Keep them healthy.

Timing Belt—Change every 60,000 to 100,000 miles. The regularly scheduled change is your best protection against missing little Jimmy’s birthday party. This belt’s failure comes without warning and causes hyper-expensive damage.

Cooling System—Check every 6,000 to 10,000 miles. Your radiator and its friends get rid of heat from the engine, but wreak havoc with other systems when they fail, so maintenance is key.

Engine Oil and Filter—Change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. The oil keeps your engine’s metal pieces moving together smoothly. Routine changes prevent serious engine damage.

Headlights—Check every 6,000 to 10,000 miles. Many cars now require you to change the headlights from inside the engine compartment, so check their strength regularly before you find yourself driving in the dark.

Air Filter—Change every 40,000 miles. Consider the air filter an oxygen mask for your car. Just like your body, your car needs clean air to run efficiently. This cheap part may help you get the most miles for your gas money.

Battery—Check every 3 to 5 years. While batteries usually have a fairly long life, they also tend to die exactly when you need them the most. Ask your mechanic to check the charge when you have your oil changed.

Spark Plugs—Change every 40,000 miles. Which part puts the “vroom” in your chariot o’ fire? The lowly spark plug, which conducts a powerful electrical zap, lighting the gas vapors that start and run your car.

Power-Steering Fluid—Change every 40,000 miles. Yesteryear, turning the steering wheel was strength training. Now, inexpensive hydraulic fluid keeps pumps and valves lubricated and helps you avoid replacing a highly engineered system.

Transmission Fluid—Change every 25,000 miles. The wheels on the bus only go round and round if the transmission is properly sending power to them from the engine. Bright red transmission fluid helps make that happen.

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