Most maintenance should be left to professionals. However, once a month you should perform the following checks to help identify and head off problems that can cost you fuel and money down the road:
- Check fluid levels, including engine oil, engine coolant level, transmission fluid and power steering fluid, according to the instructions in the owner's manual. See Check Fluid Levels Regularly for more information.
- Check around the car and under the engine for fluid leaks. It is possible to identify a leaking fluid by its color. Motor Oil is black, coolant/antifreeze is a bright greenish yellow, automatic transmission fluid is pink, and power steering and brake fluids are clear, with a slight brown tinge. All of these fluids are oily to the touch.
- Tire Pressure and Spare Tire Pressure - Check at least once a month. Improper tire pressure can cause poor handling, unnecessary tire wear and affect gas mileage. To check the pressure, you need a good tire pressure gauge. Look on the edge of the driver's side door for the Certification Label. That will tell you the correct 'cold' tire pressure (e.g., the car has been sitting for at least 3 hours). Don't forget to replace the valve caps.
- Check under the hood for cracked or split spark plug wires, cracked radiator hoses or loose clamps and corrosion around the battery terminals.
- Check for problems with the brakes. On a straight, flat and traffic-free stretch of road, rest your hands lightly on the steering wheel and apply the brakes gradually. If the vehicle swerves to one side, one of the brake linings may be worn more than the other, or the brakes may need adjustment.
- Use a similar test to check for problems with wheel alignment. On a straight, flat and traffic-free stretch of road, rest your hands lightly on the steering wheel and drive at an even speed. If the vehicle pulls to one side, the wheels may be misaligned.