Share on Facebook

The Essential Car Maintenance Checklist

Road trips are more fun when the car doesn’t break down! Run through this five-minute car maintenance checklist a week ahead of departure so you’ll have time to get the car repaired if a mechanic is needed. 

1 / 5

Check the Condition of All Belts

Broken belts are one of the most common reasons for roadside assistance calls. Replacement belts are easy to locate and replace near your home. But the belt for your car may be tough to find in rural areas. Twist the belt slightly to expose cracks or glazing. Replace any belt that is cracked, worn or delaminating.


2 / 5

Check for Fluid Leaks

Small leaks often turn into gushers once you leave town, and that can be costly. The most common sources: the radiator, engine oil pan, transmission oil pan and hoses, power steering hoses, steering rack, and heater and radiator hoses. Use a flashlight to check for leaks. Note the colour of the fluid and trace the fluid trails back to their source. Catch these now so you’re not stuck waiting days for replacement car parts or accessories when you’re on that family road trip!

3 / 5

Check and Top Off All Fluids

With the engine off, check power steering fluid, brake fluid, coolant, windshield washer and engine oil. Most automatic transmissions must be checked with the engine hot and running and the gearshift in “park.” Check your owner’s manual to confirm. Look for the power steering fluid level to reach the COLD mark on the dipstick. If it’s low, check your owner’s manual and buy the right fluid for your car.

4 / 5

Check All Exterior Lights

Exterior lights are easy to check, and inexpensive to replace. Bulb numbers and replacement procedures are listed in your owner’s manual. Turn the key to the “accessories” position (there’s no need to start the engine). Operate the turn signals, brake lights and backup lights, and check for reflections in your rearview mirror. Perform the same checks on the front turn signal lights, headlights, high beams and running lights.

5 / 5

Check the Tire Pressure

Low air pressure causes tires to use more gas, wear faster and run hotter. Hot tires are more prone to blowout during extended highway drives, like your upcoming road trip. Check them all (including the spare) before you leave town. Look for the correct air pressure on the decal located on either the driver’s door or the door pillar. If the decal is missing, check your owner’s manual. Always make sure the tires are cold when you check tire pressure.

Check out more do-it-yourself car maintenance tips!
Explore Reader’s Digest Cars