How to Take Care of Your Car

More and more people are holding onto their car's for longer. If you're one of these people, it's important to keep up to date on maintenance to ensure your car will keep running smooth for years to come. Mechanic's bills can add up, but preventative maintenance can help you avoid costly major repairs. If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, consider working on your own car: it may not be as hard as you think.

We've compiled this guide to give you a look at some of the easiest places to start with working on your vehicle to keep your car in great condition. Keep reading for a quick car care checklist and a rundown of some of the most important parts to maintain. Additionally, we have these maintenance checklists for typical vehicle service intervals:

Additionally, we recommend checking brakes quarterly, checking batteries annually, replacing your battery every 3 to 4 years, and keeping a roadside emergency kit for unexpected emergencies.

Brakes: The Most Important Safety Feature

Winter weather, with its road salt and harsh conditions, can be very hard on brakes. That’s why it’s important to check your car’s braking system to uncover any damage that may have occurred during the winter months.

At the first sign of a problem, the brake pads should be replaced. If you neglect to change the brake pads at the proper interval, you may eventually need to replace the rotors and caliper, turning what could be a $50 repair job into one that costs hundreds.

Why is it important to proactively check a vehicle’s brakes?

Brakes are the biggest safety feature on any vehicle. Preventative maintenance promotes safety, and can also save time and money associated with larger repairs or breakdowns.

What causes brake failure, especially in winter?

Excessive buildup of road salt/brine solutions can create binding/contamination of exposed brake parts and premature deteriorating conditions. Winter can be extremely hard on the braking system. Temperature changes, ice, and snow conditions as well as increased use of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) can impact brake-related components.

How can you care for and protect your brakes this winter?

  • Check for rust deterioration on brake parts such as non-friction surfaces of rotors and hardware
  • Check friction surfaces for excessive wear
  • Check hydraulics for leaks
  • It is important that the ABS system is inspected after heavy use. Due to icy and hazardous road conditions, faults within the braking system will have a larger effect on performance

What are the warning signs of brake system failure?

Brake failure is typically the result of neglecting brake system warning signs such as squeaking, grinding, and pulsation. Brake fluid level can be an indication of worn brakes or a fluid leak. Rotor condition inspected through the wheels can identify a number of braking issues.

Other signs of brake wear include:

  • Car pulls to one side during braking
  • Brake pedal pulsates when the brakes are applied
  • Brake pedal feels “mushy”
  • Noise when the brake pedal is stepped on
  • Repeatedly needing to add brake fluid to the master cylinder

What happens when brakes fail?

When brakes fail, pedal feel is compromised, and the brake system performs below standards, which causes premature wear of system components and loss of the driver’s confidence in the vehicle’s stopping ability.

When a brake pad wears beyond the service limits, it will cause damage to the brake caliper, and the piston seal will become stretched and distorted.

Look Up Brake Parts for Your Vehicle

Source: Neotek Coroporation, Inc.

Batteries: The #1 Cause of Roadside Breakdowns

Most batteries last only 3-5 years in ideal driving conditions. Do you know how old yours is?

If you’re not sure – or if you suspect your battery might be failing – stop by your local AutoZone for free battery testing. In addition to emergency towing service that can cost more than $100,* the true price of a roadside breakdown is even greater when you consider your time and the possibility of being stranded at nighttime or in bad weather.

What does a vehicle battery do?

A car battery stores electrical energy and powers a vehicle’s starting and charging system. The battery also supports the vehicle’s electrical system and provides energy to all accessories and electrical components from headlights to automatic sliding doors.

How does weather affect batteries?

Extreme weather can affect the rates at which chemical reactions occur within a battery and the rate at which the battery corrodes. Corrosion is the leading cause of battery failure. Many batteries that fail in early winter had already been significantly weakened during the preceding hot summer months.

Does a car’s age, maintenance, driving style and amenities affect battery life?

As a car ages, mechanical components related to starting the vehicle deteriorate, causing additional strain on the battery. Additionally, cars that are poorly maintained may increase the likelihood of premature battery failure.

Frequent starts and stops of a vehicle’s engine inhibit a battery from fully recharging. People who drive very short distances are likely to experience shorter battery life.

From DVD players to GPS systems, today’s cars are equipped with amenities that can drain more battery power than ever before.

What are signs of battery failure?

Signs that a vehicle is experiencing battery failure may include:

  • Dimming headlights and interior lights
  • Slow engine starting
  • Battery light is on
  • Check engine light is on
  • Accessories failing to operate

Since indications of battery failure are commonly subtle and misdiagnosed, many drivers only become aware of the condition when their car no longer starts.

How to protect yourself against battery failure

Drivers should make a battery condition check a part of their cars’ regular maintenance schedule. The National Car Care Council encourages drivers to proactively replace their batteries after three years since the chance of sudden failure increases after three years.

When’s the best time to get my battery tested or replaced?

To avoid getting stranded during the hottest or coldest parts of the year, it’s best to get car batteries tested during summer and early fall. Pay attention to your cars’ subtle hints. Drivers who are concerned that their batteries may be failing should get them checked or replaced immediately.

If the battery is more than three-years-old, it’s best to get it replaced to avoid a breakdown.

Look Up Batteries for Your Vehicle

Source: Johnson Controls, Inc.

Car Care Tips

Learn more about how to protect your investment by taking proper care of your car.

Perform routine scheduled maintenance checks. Motorists should check their owner’s manual for a schedule of recommended maintenance intervals from the vehicle manufacturer. If the owner’s manual has been lost, many websites, such as the National Car Care Council’s web site, offer a recommended maintenance schedule for vehicles.

Be proactive. Don’t wait for a breakdown to check under the hood. Replacing engine components at required intervals can help prevent an unexpected breakdown.

Be prepared. Visit an automotive retailer such as AutoZone® to purchase a roadside emergency kit. Also keep items such as a tire pressure gauge, spare serpentine belt and jumper cables handy.

Brakes and batteries are two of the most important components on your car and should be checked and replaced at the recommended intervals. Check the braking system quarterly to protect the brakes and ensure they’re in optimal working condition. Although batteries last an average of three to five years, check your battery annually to prevent an unwanted breakdown.

Visit your local AutoZone for help and trustworthy advice, or order parts from AutoZone.com for the right part at the right price.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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