Learn What to Routinely Inspect on Your Car

Cars are getting smarter every year. A quick scroll through your infotainment system can give you a lot of data. Fluid levels, oil-life percentage, and tire pressure—all accessible from the driver seat. No matter how much data your vehicle can give you about itself, there are some things that you need to look at every so often. Here is a list of what you should check and when to keep your car in top shape.

  • Windshield wipers. Check the rubber blade every month. Feel the blade; if it's rough, replace them. Any signs of streaking mean your wipers need to be replaced. Bent frames and frayed rubber are clear signs your wipers are past due for replacement.
      
  • Lights. Check your headlights any time you pull in near a wall. It should be obvious if one is out. Do the same with high-beams and fog lights once a month. Most cars will let you know a blinker is out by clicking faster when you turn them on. Turn on the hazard flashers and take a walk around your vehicle to see which one is out. Check your brake and parking lights once a month with the help of a friend. Keep an eye on cabin and accessory lights like bed lights or puddle lights; replace when needed.
      
  • Fuses. These often go overlooked until there is a failure. Fuses often have an indicator for when they blow, or you can look for brown residue. It’s better to learn your air conditioning fuse blew before summer arrives and you get an expensive shop bill for a part worth half a cent. Check them every three to six months.
      
  • Brakes. Check your brakes every month. How often these wear out depends on how and where you drive. Urban traffic will wear brakes faster than long highway miles. Dirt roads and winter road salt can cause brakes to wear sooner. Most have a small metal tab that will make a screeching sound when the pads wear. Check the discs every so often; an inspection mirror can help see the back side. Look for any pitting or grooves.
      
  • Timing and accessory belts. These can be hard to see with newer vehicles as they are often hidden under plastic covers. Most will go 100,000 miles these days but older vehicles may be around 40,000–60,000 miles. Check once or twice a year depending on the age of the vehicle. More often if your car is starting to show its age.
      
  • Tires. Rotate your tires with every oil change. Check tread depth every month. Most tires have built-in wear bars—small lines in the grooves that show minimum tread depth. Or there is the age-old penny trick. Take a penny, put it head down into a grove on your tire—if the tread covers Lincoln’s head, you’re fine. If the tread doesn’t reach the head, it’s time for new tires. There are also dedicated tread gauges that can be picked up at any auto parts store or online.
      
  • Battery. If you’re looking under the hood, it isn’t a bad idea to look at your battery. You might need to pull back a small rubber cap, but look for any crusty, green build-up around the terminals. Brush it off with a wire brush or pick up a battery brush for a few bucks. Check that there are no leaks or bulges while you’re there. If you have a voltage tester, it never hurts to take a quick read straight from the terminals. Check the battery every six months or so. Or during late fall and spring if you live in colder climates.
      
  • Air Filters. Check every year or every 15,000–30,000 miles. Most cars have two: one for the cabin and another for the engine. If it looks dirty, replace it. Otherwise, replace filters every three years at least as they become brittle and deteriorate.

Your vehicle is a major investment. Keeping it in top shape should be a priority. With a few spare minutes every month, you can save yourself thousands of dollars in repairs. Relying on your car to tell you what’s wrong isn’t the best idea. Put in a small amount of effort and save yourself the headache of more expensive fixes down the road.