The essential car maintenance checklist
Mechanic working inside a car hood

Having your vehicle in good working order is essential to getting around, and when something goes wrong it can have a serious impact on your plans or – worse still – your safety. Fortunately, by learning a little about the systems that keep your car running and their basic requirements from year to year, you can reduce your chances of a breakdown and keep yourself and your passengers safer on the road (having good auto insurance coverage helps, too). Here are a few essential things to keep an eye on.


A car’s engine is full of moving parts, and if those parts don’t get enough lubrication, the engine will eventually seize up. If this happens, not only will your car no longer run reliably, it can lead to a very expensive repair bill. To keep everything running smoothly, consult your owner’s manual and keep to the suggested schedule for oil changes (usually every 5,000 to 10,000 km, or twice a year at minimum). It’s also a good idea to check your oil level about once a month via the dipstick under the hood and top it up as needed. For the most accurate reading, be sure to check your oil when the engine is cold, rather than after it’s been running a while.


Keeping your tires well-maintained is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your vehicle and your safety. Tires in poor condition can decrease your vehicle’s handling capabilities, and increase stopping distances – both of which put your safety at greater risk. Familiarize yourself with the correct tire pressure for your vehicle, which can be found in the owner's manual or on a sticker inside the driver’s door, and use a tire pressure gauge to check regularly. When swapping your summer and winter tires, have the mechanic check the treads for wear, rotate the tires as needed, and advise you when it’s time to replace them. Depending on your tires and driving habits, this will be approximately every five to six years.  


A set of well-functioning brakes is an essential part of road safety, and keeping them up to scratch means being on the lookout for telltale signs of brake trouble. If you hear any squealing or grinding when you press the brake pedal, it’s a good idea to have your brakes checked as soon as possible.


From transmission to power steering to air conditioning, many of your vehicle’s systems rely on specially formulated fluids that need to be replenished and replaced at regular intervals. While things like brake fluid and air conditioning coolant are best handled by a trained mechanic, you can and should keep an eye on your windshield washer fluid level, especially in winter, and keep it topped up as needed.

Wiper blades

If your wiper blades aren’t working properly your view of the road could become impaired in wet or snowy weather. If your wipers are leaving streaks or you notice the soft rubber parts are cracking, it’s time for a new set. Whether you replace them yourself or have your mechanic see to it, you should expect to change out your wiper blades about once a year.


Keeping your vehicle’s exterior clean is about more than curb appeal. A regular visit to the car wash in the winter (including an underbody spray) can help to prevent accumulated road salt from corroding the chassis and body panels. Regular washing is also a great way to keep your paint looking its best. It’s also advisable to get into the habit of doing a quick walkaround to inspect your vehicle for any new scratches and dents, ensuring that any new damage doesn’t go unnoticed for long. 


Auto insurance means not having to worry about being on the hook for vehicle repair and replacement costs in the event of an accident, and it pays to make sure your policy is up to date. From changes to your address to adding additional drivers, it’s a good idea to review your auto insurance details at least once a year to make sure your coverage remains tailored to your needs.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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