Your New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t just be for you. They should be for your vehicle, too. So let’s set four New Year’s car maintenance resolutions right now.
1. Check Your Tire Pressure
Once a week, whip out your tire gauge, do four squats, one by each tire, and check the air pressure (this can be part of your fitness resolution, too). All four tires’ pressure probably should be even, but you’re also aiming for a specific number. There’s usually a sticker on the inside driver’s side door jamb that gives the recommended tire pressure for the original equipment tires that came with your vehicle. That’s what you’re shooting for. If you’ve modified your vehicle with different size wheels, check the paperwork that came with the tire or call your tech and get their advice.
Remember, heat expands air and cold condenses it, meaning your tires are going to read low if they’re cold. Drive the car a little bit to warm up the tires before you check the pressure. If it’s low or uneven, grab your compressor or head for the service station to inflate and equalize. Your car will ride better, your traction will improve, and your tires will wear evenly and last longer.
2. Check Your Hoses
This is a key element of basic car maintenance that a lot of drivers forget. It gets hot under that hood and the rubber in the hoses is pretty much baking while you drive. Eventually, they dry out, crack and, in some cases, rupture. That’s when essential fluids that are supposed to be inside your engine and its cooling system end up outside — not good.
You don’t need to know what a hose does to recognize dry, brittle or cracking material. Even if you need to call in a mechanic to learn exactly what system is at risk, you could save yourself a major headache and a large repair bill later by being proactive and giving them a weekly look over and a squeeze.
3. Top Off Your Windshield Washer Reservoir and Coolant
Though this is good year-round car maintenance advice, these tasks are especially important in winter.
If you’ve driven in wintry conditions you know that other cars fling lots of muddy slush around, some of which cakes up on your windshield. You definitely want to top off your washer fluid levels to help clear off the road spray and maintain good visibility. Keeping a gallon or two of windshield washer fluid on hand in your garage for a weekly top-off is a great idea. And in the wintertime, use a fluid that also has anti-freezing properties — the last thing you want is to activate your wiper fluid only to have it instantly freeze to the glass, ruining visibility.
Speaking of antifreeze, it’s a good idea to top off your coolant reservoir while you’re under the hood and have your funnel close at hand. You’ll need to use a mix of coolant (often just water) and antifreeze to ensure that the liquid responsible for absorbing heat from your engine doesn’t freeze in place. Note that some coolants come premixed — it will say on the bottle.
4. Check Your Oil
Once a week, when you’re performing the other maintenance tasks, grab a paper towel, pull out the dipstick, wipe it off, slide the dipstick back in and read your oil level. You’re looking for a thin coating of oil over the hash marks engraved on the blade of the dipstick. If the oil doesn’t come up that far, you need to add more until it does. If the oil is so thick and dirty that you can’t see the hash marks, you need to change the oil and the filter.
None of these tasks are too difficult — they’ll all take just ten minutes of your week, tops — and you probably won’t discover a problem every time. The real point of making these car care resolutions is to engage with your vehicle and get in the habit of preventive maintenance. Your car will be better-maintained and less prone to breakdown, and you’ll have a much happier year because of it.
Check out all the oils, chemicals and fluids available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car maintenance, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Mike Hagerty.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.