Staying on top of routine car maintenance can extend the life of your vehicle and protect you from car repairs and unexpected breakdowns. Here’s a list of the used car maintenance you’ll need to take care of to keep your car in top shape for years to come.
Routine car maintenance
Keep an eye on these routine car maintenance tasks and take your car into the mechanic when something needs a closer look.
When to check: Monthly and/or before a long road trip.
Low coolant can wreak havoc on your engine. So check your car’s coolant levels each month when your engine has cooled down. Your owner’s manual will indicate how much oil and coolant your car needs to stay in good shape.
When to check: Consult your owner’s manual.
A car’s air filter prevents debris and particulates from flowing into your car’s engine. In turn, this can decrease your car’s emissions, improve fuel efficiency, and extend engine life.
Your owner’s manual will tell you how often your vehicle’s air filter needs to be changed. Inspect the filter regularly and take it into the shop if it looks like it needs to be changed.
Tires (pressure and tread depth)
When to check: As often as possible.
The quality of your tires has a huge impact on fuel-efficiency and road safety. Get into the habit of inspecting tire pressure and tread depth as often as possible—especially during colder months (when tire pressure can drop due to lower temps), before you head out on a long road trip, and when you’re carrying a heavy load.
Visually inspect tire pressure before you get into the car. And use a tire pressure gauge to manually check each tire’s pressure each month.
You can also use the Canadian Nickel Test to check tire tread.
Lights and signals
When to check: Monthly.
Driving without fully functioning car lights isn’t just dangerous—it’s illegal. So it’s a good idea to check your lights every month.
While your car is parked, have a friend sit in the car and activate your headlights, high beam lights, turn signals, hazard lights, and brake lights to make sure they’re all working.
Besides washing your vehicle regularly, waxing your vehicle every six months can reduce the chance of rust and keep your car’s paint job in good shape. Waxing gives your car a protective seal that prevents things like dust, salt, and sand from building up and damaging your vehicle.
Long-term car maintenance
These long-term car maintenance tasks are also important to keep in mind. Typically they’re best left to the pros.
When to check: Generally every 8,000 kms. Consult your owner’s manual.
Tire tread wears down unevenly on cars. Rotating your tires will prevent noise and vibration issues and extend the life of your tires.
Motor oil and oil filter
When to check and change: 15,000 kms or 12 months (whichever comes first).
A long list of things can go wrong when your car’s motor oil and oil filter aren’t in top shape. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to have your oil changed every 15,000 kilometers or 12 months—whichever comes first. And you’ll want to change your oil filter each time you have your oil changed. Reduce these intervals by half under severe driving conditions.
Keep in mind, factors like your car’s make, model, age, and how you drive it can all affect when you should get your oil checked and changed. Consult your owner’s manual and/or a mechanic for specifics.
Pro tip: Newer vehicles since 2010 use synthetic oil, which has a longer interval than conventional oil. If your car is using conventional oil, you likely need to check and change your vehicle’s motor oil sooner.
- Brake fluid levels. Your brakes need brake fluid to work. Low fluid levels are a serious safety issue. If these levels are low and you aren’t experienced in brake system repairs, call roadside assistance or have your vehicle towed to a local mechanic. When to check and change your car’s brake fluid levels depends on your car’s make and model.
- Transmission fluid. If you have a transmission dipstick, check your car’s transmission fluid every six months. Look at and smell the fluid. It shouldn't be too dark or have a bitter, burned smell. It’s generally advised to change a car’s transmission fluid every 50,000 km.
- Power steering fluid. If your car is having issues steering, it might be time to change your power steering fluid. Generally this fluid should be checked (and flushed) every 5,000 kms, but this might change depending on your car and daily driving habits. Consult a mechanic or your car’s owner’s manual for more details.
When to check: Every three months or 5,000 kms.
A small leak in a hose can cause big problems in a car. All hoses should be free of leaks and bulges. They shouldn’t feel too hard, so make sure they have a little flex when warm.
When to check: Every three months or 5,000 kms.
Belts in your car need to be inspected and changed based on time, mileage, and quality. Because the requirements for changing each belt are a little different (e.g. a timing belt needs to be changed based on time and mileage, whereas a serpentine belt or “drive belt” may last much longer), leave this inspection to the pros.
When to check: After a significant impact or when uneven tire wear is detected. Or every 1-2 years.
If your car is pulling to one side, you’ve likely got an alignment issue on your hand. But alignment issues aren’t always that easily noticeable. You’ll want to get your wheels checked after your car has been involved in a significant accident or impact or you’ve noticed significant wear on your tires. If none of these apply, it’s still a good idea to get your wheel alignment checked every 1-2 years.
When to check: 25,000 kms to 75,000 kms or as soon as there’s a noticeable issue.
Brakes are essential to road safety. Generally speaking, brake pads need to be replaced after every 75,000 kms. However, some brake pads need to be replaced after 25,000 kilometres while others can last for 40,000 kilometres—it depends on your car, your driving style, and the driving conditions you tend to put your car through. Consult your owner’s manual for your car’s specific needs.
A brake warning light on your dash, squealing or screeching noises, grinding and growling, and thin brake pads are some of the many signs that it’s time to have your brakes checked. If any of these issues arise, take your car into the mechanic asap.
Seasonal car maintenance
With winter driving conditions in Canada being what they are, seasonal car maintenance is a must. Here are some additional car maintenance tasks you’ll want to take care of when the temperature starts to drop.
- Replace windshield wipers. Don’t get caught in the snow with faulty wipers. Typically, wipers need to be replaced once a year.
- Check battery performance. Extreme temperatures can affect your battery’s performance. Test it regularly to make sure it doesn’t conk out during winter.
- Check coolant. Make sure your car has enough antifreeze in the radiator to survive the winter months. Generally speaking, a 50/50 mix of antifreeze will prevent your radiator and engine components from freezing, but double-check your car’s manual (or ask a mechanic) to be sure.
- Change tires. Winter tires in winter. Summer tires in summer. In Canada, it’s essential for staying safe on the roads.
What to do if you need to repair your vehicle
Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s usually best to have a local repair shop deal with car maintenance issues. If your car is getting older and you’re worried about the cost of surprise car repairs and car breakdowns, you can also consider an extended used car warranty that protects you from the cost of major repairs.
Read more: Is an extended warranty worth it?
Protect yourself from surprise breakdown costs with a GuardTree used car warranty
Although most extended warranty providers won’t cover the cost of routine maintenance, a good extended car warranty will protect you from the cost of more damaging and expensive repairs.
At GuardTree, we’re proud to say that our extended used car warranty covers all powertrain parts. The repair and breakdown costs covered include parts and labour, as well as additional benefits like roadside assistance, car rental, and trip interruption costs.
GuardTree is the first Canadian extended vehicle warranty subscription that you can buy 100% online. You pay an upfront monthly fee with our subscription model. And part of your subscription is used to offset the CO2 emissions of your vehicle.
If you want to protect yourself from surprise breakdown costs with a GuardTree used car warranty, check out what we cover and use our price calculator to decide if an extended car warranty is right for you.