One of the reassuring qualities of contemporary cars is that they need much less-frequent service to keep them running well. Changing the spark plugs, breaker points, and condenser used to be a seasonal exercise, and body rust was accepted as a normal if unfortunate hazard of aging. Now many spark plugs can go 100,000 miles between changes. Electronic ignition has done away with the points and condenser. Chassis, suspensions, and even some transmissions are lubed for life. And factory rust-through warranties typically run six years or longer. What’s more, reliability has improved significantly. The result is that most late-model cars and trucks should be able to go 200,000 miles with regular upkeep.
Here are a few simple, periodic checks and procedures you can do that will help you get there.
Three key tasks
Check the engine oil
Do it regularly—monthly for a vehicle in good condition; more often if you notice an oil leak or find you need to add oil routinely. The car should be parked on level ground so you can get an accurate dipstick reading. Don’t overfill. And if you do have a leak, find and fix it soon.
Check tire air pressure
Once a month and before any extended road trips, use an accurate tire-pressure gauge to check the inflation pressure in each tire, including the spare. Do this when the tires are cold (before the vehicle has been driven or after no more than a couple of miles of driving). Use the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer, not the maximum pressure embossed on the tire’s sidewall. The recommended pressure is usually found on a placard on a front doorjamb, in the glove compartment, or in the owner’s manual. Also be sure to inspect tires for abnormal or uneven wear, cuts, and any sidewall bulges you can see.
CR advises that digital tire-pressure gauges (which cost about $15 to $25) are probably the best bet overall because they will give an accurate reading or none at all. Many pencil-type gauges (typically $10 to $15) are good as well. Note that to check the pressure in a temporary spare tire, which is often 60 psi, you will need a gauge that goes higher than that—say from 0 up to 90 pounds. (See our tire buying advice and Ratings.)
Give it a wash
Try to wash the car every week, if you can. Wash the body and, if necessary, hose out the fender wells and undercarriage to remove dirt and road salt. It’s time to wax the finish when water beads become larger than a quarter. (Read “How to detail your car” and check our car wax Ratings.)