Here's Your Basic Car Maintenance Schedule

You're familiar with the old 3,000 vs. 5,000 miles oil change debate. And when your headlights dim, you change them out right away. But do you know how often you should flush your vehicle's transmission fluids or check the radiator belts and hoses?

If you answered, "Sure, when something goes wrong," you aren't alone. One way to keep it all straight is to follow a basic car maintenance schedule. You'll find one in your owner's manual or you can create a customized car maintenance list through the non-profit Car Care Council.

Man pouring oil into engine

Source I Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

Regular or severe maintenance schedule?

While you're perusing your owner's manual, you'll find two different maintenance schedules, labeled as "regular" and "severe." You may not think of your daily driving routine as "severe," but your car feels otherwise if you regularly experience:

  • Stop-and-go traffic or idling
  • Short commutes of five miles or less
  • Heavier loads, including cargo, passenger, or towing
  • Rough or mountainous roads
  • Dusty or salty environments
  • Extremely hot or below-freezing weather or a high humidity climate

If your vehicle frequently faces any of these conditions, consider switching to the severe maintenance schedule. The added cost of more frequent oil and transmission fluid changes will be offset with fewer breakdowns and serious repairs.

As a rule of thumb though, you can use this general car maintenance checklist to guide you. We've included links to our helpful DIY videos and articles to get you started.

Pro Tip

If your car is subjected to more harsh weather or road conditions, consider switching your maintenance schedule to 'severe' as recommended in your owner's manual.

Basic car maintenance schedule

Check monthly:

Check every 3 months/3,000 miles

Check every 6 months/6,000 miles

  • Automatic transmission fluid
  • Battery and cables
  • Belts
  • Chassis lubrication
  • Check engine light (is it on?)
  • Polish
  • Engine air filter
  • Engine oil and filter
  • Exhaust
  • Fuel filter
  • Hoses
  • Lights
  • Power steering fluid
  • Tire inflation, tread, and general condition
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Wiper blades

Check every 9 months/9,000 miles

  • Automatic transmission fluid
  • Battery and cables
  • Belts
  • Check engine light (is it on?)
  • Engine air filter
  • Engine oil and filter
  • Exhaust
  • Fuel Filter
  • Hoses
  • Lights
  • Power steering fluid
  • Tire inflation, tread, and general condition
  • Windshield washer fluid

Check every 12 months/12,000 miles

Now that you know what needs to happen and when, don't forget to record all your hard work in a vehicle maintenance log. Use any of the smartphone apps out there or an old school notebook that you keep tucked away in your glove box. Either way, keeping track of basic maintenance and repairs will give you a clearer picture of your vehicle's overall health.

What do you do to keep your car in top condition? Tell us in the comments below.

Last updated June 15, 2017

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