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The What, When and Why of Car Maintenance

Regular car maintenance is like taking care of your health – it keeps your ride in tip-top shape and helps prevent costly repairs down the road. Plus, when it’s time to say goodbye to your vehicle, detailed service records can actually increase its value! Taking care of your car can be a hassle, but trust us – it’s worth it.

Investing in maintenance now can save you a ton of money later on, especially if you ever experience a roadside breakdown (Call AAA!). Read the What, When, and Why, of car maintenance so you know exactly what to do during car ownership.

What It Does: Provides power for starting your vehicle and for using accessories like the stereo, lights, wipers, blinkers, etc.

When It Needs Attention: A battery will rarely give you a heads up that it’s about to die. A few signs a battery may be going? The car struggles to start or sounds different when doing so or the headlights are dim when you idle. If you wait until your battery or charging light comes on it might be too late.

AAA Says: A new battery will generally last three to five years, but driving conditions, climate and maintenance will affect its lifespan. As your battery begins to age, have it tested occasionally by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility or call AAA to have a qualified tech come to you and perform this service. This test can often give you a good sense of how much life a battery has left. That way you can replace it when necessary and avoid being stranded. Learn more:

AAA Sidekick Tip:

AAA’s Mobile Car Battery Service — — is one of the best deals on the road. AAA car batteries are priced competitively when compared to other brands but the biggest difference? A AAA tech will come to wherever you are and install it for you. Plus, you get a three-year free replacement warranty!

What It Does: Instead of a gas tank, EVs store their energy in a traction battery pack. Unlike the twelve-volt battery used by most cars to start engines and power accessories, a traction battery is much larger, operates at a much higher voltage, and powers an EV’s motor(s).

When It Needs Attention: The traction battery (like other batteries) gradually loses its capacity as it is charged and discharged. This is why an EV that is a few years old typically has less range than when new. And things like how the battery is charged and the climate it resides in can decrease its longevity. But how long the traction battery will last is a difficult question since a relatively small number of EVs have been around long enough to reach this point.

What AAA Says:Inspect the battery cable connections at every oil change and clean as needed. Always wear eye protection and gloves when servicing a battery.

AAA Sidekick Tip: Avoid completely draining the battery pack or charging it to very high levels. A 100% charge is okay if you drive the car immediately, but not if it’s left to sit, especially in hot weather. A state of charge between 30% and 80% is best.

What They Do: Belts and hoses are important to the cooling, air conditioning, and charging systems of the engine.   

When They Needs Attention: Squeaking noise from under the hood during start-up or while in use, coolant leaks, dashboard light illuminated, A/C system not working, engine overheating, smell of burnt rubber.  

AAA Says: Newer or more modern belt materials do not show easy signs of wear. As a general rule, replace the drive belts every 60,000 miles (about 96,560.64 km) or at the first sign of cracking. 

What They Do: Brakes are the most critical system to ensure safe vehicle control and operation when stopping. 

When They Need Attention: Car pulls to one side during braking, pulsating brake pedal or steering wheel shakes, brake pedals feel soft or spongey, unusual noise, odor or smoke when stepping on brakes, or it takes longer to stop your car. 

AAA Says: Brakes should be inspected as recommended in your owner’s manual and/or at least every tire rotation. Also, check to see if the brake fluid should be changed at a specific interval; every two years is common. Everyday wear and tear occur on ALL brakes, and they will require replacement eventually. Avoid getting to the “metal on metal” point.

Learn more: 

What It Does: The heart of your car. It converts energy from gasoline into mechanical work, or torque. That torque is applied to the wheels to make the car move. Engines need air (namely oxygen) to make the fuel burn. 

When It Needs Attention: Loud or unfamiliar noises. Clunking sounds or trouble starting the car. Generally, vehicle systems signal “check engine”, which means something is wrong. 

AAA Says: Have your engine checked as soon as the yellow warning light comes on. But, if the warning light is red, turn off the engine as quickly and safely as possible. It’s tempting to ignore it, but it can be a simple check from an AAA Approved Auto Repair shop to help determine what the exact issue may be. Also, it is important to follow all maintenance recommendations including timing belts replacement and other engine services. Be alerts of fuel system flush recommendations and stick with what the automaker recommends, not necessarily the dealer. Learn more: How Efficient is Your Car’s Engine? 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

What about Oil Changes? Checking the level of your engine oil monthly is very important to keep your vehicle on the go. Improvements in engine design, fuel system operation and oil quality have extended the time needed between oil changes.

Too frequent oil changes are a good example of unnecessary maintenance. An old school practice was to get an oil change every 3,000 miles. However, most automakers now recommend oil change intervals at around 5,000 miles. In fact, if your car’s engine requires full-synthetic motor oil, it might go up to 10,000 miles between services. Remember, you can’t judge engine oil condition by color. Follow the factory maintenance schedule instead. Learn more: Synthetic Oil Better Than Conventional

Maintenance reminder systems calculate service intervals based on the use of engine oils that meet the automakers’ specifications. If a lesser quality product is installed, the reminder system has no way of knowing and the oil could break down (and damage could result) before the reminder system indicates it is time for an oil change. Diesel cars are a little different and may require service at more frequent intervals. Check your owner’s manual for details.

What They Do: Cabin air filters help keep unwanted materials out of the interior of your car (where the people are!). They also help clean and trap dust and particles that are bad for your vehicle. There are also many other types of filters including oil, engine, cabin and transmission.   

When They Need Attention: If while driving, the car isn’t as smooth, the issue could be a clogged air filter. Also, if airflow through your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system seems restricted or stuffy, you may need a new cabin filter.  

AAA Says: The timing of when to replace filters can vary, so check your owner’s manual. Remember to keep track of when you change them. Cabin filters can range from 15,000 to 30,000 miles or more, depending on the vehicle and local driving conditions. Oil filters should be changed each time the oil is changed. Learn more: 

What They Do: Tires are the only part of your car directly connected to the road. Frequently checking tire pressure, tread depth, tire balance and wheel alignment helps tires wear evenly and improves gas milage and safety.  

When They Need Attention: Once the tread has reached 4/32” or less – this means it’s time to shop for new tires. Also, if you notice your car starting to drift or pull to one side when driving. This could mean the alignment is off or you have a tire going bad.   

AAA Says: Did you know good tire pressure can improve your gas mileage which means you’re spending less to fill up? We recommend checking tire pressure at least twice a month, with a tire gauge. Tire gauges are available at most auto parts stores and there are three types: pen, digital and dial. Dial gauges are easier to read than pen or stick designs. Also, check the tread at the same time by inserting a quarter upside down into the grooves in the rubber of your tire. If you can see the top of Washington’s head, it’s time to start shopping for new tires.

Learn more: 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Keeping up with tire pressure and tread are only part of the maintenance needed to keep your tires in good shape. Don’t forget:

Tire Rotation – Tires on the front and the back of cars move and perform differently based on the steering and braking functions while driving. This will result in uneven wear patterns on your tires. Help them last longer by rotating your vehicle’s tires. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for mileage recommendations. Usually tire rotation is performed between 5,000 and 7,000 miles.

Wheel Balancing – Having all tires balanced helps minimize uneven wear. Tires and wheels should be balanced when the tires are rotated, after putting on new tires, after fixing a flat tire and any other time a tire is removed from its rim.

Wheel Alignment – Each vehicle has a specific wheel alignment range. If the wheel alignment isn’t within its range, steering may become difficult. Tires that are out of alignment can be unsafe and end up costing more money in the long run. You should check your wheel alignment schedule by following your owner’s manual and by looking for unusual or uneven tire wear. Depending on where you live – for example – in FL where there are not many potholes, you may not need an alignment as often.

What It Does: Windshields play a critical safety role by keeping passengers inside the vehicle in a crash plus helping to support the roof in a rollover, reducing the chance of injuries! They also protect passengers from flying debris. 

When It Needs Attention: Minor chips and very small cracks might be repaired, but any significant cracks or damage will require windshield replacement because the glass is connected to the body of the car and can weaken the overall safety of your windshield in the event of a crash.  

AAA Says: It is important to regularly check the windshield and all vehicle glass for any problems. Seek the assistance of a certified technician before a crack continues to grow! Learn more: Windshield Repair and Replacement  and How to Deice Your Car’s Windshield 

What They Do: The wiper blades’ ability to clean the glass depends on the slope and area of the windshield, the amount of spring tension on the wiper arm, the number of pressure points or claws that hold the blade and the material used in the blade itself.   

When They Need Attention: Streaking, chattering and noisy, the rubber blades are no longer soft and pliable. Look for hard, brittle, or damaged blades because those can break and allow the metal wiper arm to scratch the glass. 

AAA Says: When buying blades, be sure the blade lengths are the same and match. Refills will not fit unless they are the same length as the original blades. Don’t forget the rear wipers! A clear back window is important too! Also, don’t forget the washer fluid – this helps your visibility by keeping the windshield clean and clear, making driving easier and safer. Learn more: Changing Windshield Wipers Seasonally 

AAA Sidekick tip:

Wiper blades should be replaced every 6 to 12 months, depending on the climate you live in! Learn more: Myth or Fact? Regular windshield wipers can be used year-round?