Complete Car Maintenance Checklist 2024

Blue BMW with an orange background

As an Amazon Associate, Modded gets commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Sedans, trucks and SUVs are integral to our daily lives. While vehicles create convenient transportation, you shouldn’t take them for granted. They need maintenance to ensure they’re safe and easy to drive anywhere you need. 

So, how can you care for your car? You need a car maintenance checklist. Here’s your comprehensive guide to vehicle upkeep. 

Car Maintenance Checklist for Your Engine

The engine is the heart of your vehicle and deserves plenty of attention. Here are the tasks you need to keep your motor running smoothly. 

Changing an Engine Air Filter

A clean engine is integral to your car’s health and starts with the air filter. This device ensures the air reaching your engine doesn’t contain particulate matter like dirt and debris. A good air filter provides maximum fuel economy and saves money in the long run. Do you drive an older vehicle? A clogged filter can increase fuel usage by 10% in cars made before 1999. So, how does the air filter fit into your car maintenance schedule?

Experts say you should change the filter every 30,000 miles, but it depends on your driving habits. For instance, driving on dirt and dusty roads will clog your filter more quickly and may require a change sooner than the 30,000-mile mark. This crucial engine component could also suffer if you constantly drive in heavy traffic during the summer or find mice in the housing. Pests can ruin the air filter any time of year. 

Changing Spark Plugs

When you turn the keys in your car, a lot goes on during combustion. The spark plugs are critical during this stage because they harness the air and fuel in the cylinders and generate fuel for the engine. Like the other engine components, spark plugs are vulnerable to wear and tear under the hood. Constantly hot temperatures and electric pulses make them less efficient and need replacement. 

How often should you replace spark plugs? Your owner’s manual will provide the best direction, but it can be anywhere from 18,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on the material. Standard spark plugs contain nickel, but the best contain iridium and platinum. The stronger metals get you closer to the 100,000-mile mark due to their durability. Better spark plugs are critical for car inspections because they demonstrate good engine health. 

Replacing the Timing Belt

Belts are essential for your nice outfits and your engine’s performance. Timing belts are critical to your motor because they ensure the crankshaft and camshaft rotate simultaneously. A properly working belt works with the pistons to help your engine’s valves open and inhale air. Your timing belt is a relatively durable part and will last a long time  — between 30,000 and 120,000 miles — so check your owner’s manual for the most accurate information. 

While timing belts last long, you shouldn’t take them for granted. A worn part could cause ticking or screeching sounds from your engine, so seek service immediately if this problem arises. Another sign that your timing belt needs replacement is having difficulty starting the engine. Misfires, cranking failures or even smoke can occur from a timing belt, so keeping up with this part is essential. 

Changing the Serpentine Belt

Another engine belt you should pay attention to is the serpentine belt. This part differs from the timing belt because it connects to numerous engine components. The serpentine belt assists the water pump, power steering, alternator and air conditioner compressor. Without a serpentine belt, you wouldn’t have a functioning engine, so it deserves your attention. If you need to change one, don’t waste time. 

Serpentine belt changes could come for various reasons. Normal wear and tear means the belt could crack, peel or begin slipping. Your owner’s manual will give you the best advice on serpentine belt replacement because the recommended interval varies by the engine. Changing this part can be difficult if you don’t have a ton of hands-on experience, so a trip to the mechanic may be in order. However, it is possible to DIY if you have the right tools. 


Keeping your body cool is essential during hot summer days, and your car cares for itself through the radiator. This part uses water and antifreeze to keep your engine at average operating temperatures year-round. Without a proper cooling system, your vehicle risks overheating and engine failure. If you see race cars emit water from their hood, it’s likely due to radiator issues.

Radiators can be expensive, so they don’t need replacement at regular intervals. Your most pressing maintenance task for this part is flushing. Depending on your owner’s manual, you’ll need to remove and replace the old coolant at regular intervals. You should also check your radiator for cosmetic damage, such as cracks and leaks. Corrosion can be a pesky problem if moisture compromises the metal. 

Changing a Fuel Filter

Gas companies clean their fuel to ensure it’s ready for the pump. However, contaminants may still be inside the gasoline before entering your vehicle. The fuel filter is your best friend for removing debris and caring for your car. 

This part protects your fuel injection systems and your vehicle’s performance by maintaining power and preventing engine stalling. Check your owner’s manual to see how often you should replace this crucial part. Changing a fuel filter can be a DIY task on your car maintenance schedule.

Car with its hood open

Car Maintenance Checklist for Your Suspension

While the engine deserves a spotlight, your suspension deserves just as much attention. Here’s how you should approach your car maintenance schedule for this system. 


You can’t move your car without tires. These hefty pieces of rubber help your vehicle stick to the ground and make off-roading easier. Tire pressure is one of the most important tasks, and you should monitor your tires visually and with sensors. Experts recommend keeping your tires between 32 and 35 pounds per square inch (psi) for optimal performance. 

Watch your tires before hitting the road to ensure they aren’t flat from the start. If the psi seems low, check it with a gauge or a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). This device can fit on your dashboard and tell you each tire’s psi so you know when a problem has occurred. If you don’t keep up with air pressure, you could have a flat tire on your road trip and unwanted stops. Don’t let your crew be stranded on the road waiting for a tow truck.

Changing a Tire

Changing a tire doesn’t typically show up on your car maintenance schedule. Calling for roadside assistance may be beneficial if you want a professional to get the job done correctly. However, this option might not always be available. If you do the job, you need the right tire-changing tools to get back on the road. Here are some of the things you need:

  • Spare tire
  • Car jack
  • Lug wrench
  • Wheel wedges
  • Tire pressure gauge

Replacing a tire seems complicated, but it’s easier than you think. You can do it yourself without too much issue as long as you follow the right steps.

Rotating Tires

How can you preserve your tires and help them last longer? You need to rotate them once in a while. Your four tires could have the same installation but wear differently on each side. For example, your front tires face more strain because they help you turn left and right. Acceleration also causes your wheels to work hard in the front as you gain speed. 

If you don’t rotate your tires, they’ll be more vulnerable to wear. The last thing you need is uneven wear that makes your car unbalanced and dangerous to drive. Put tire rotation on your car maintenance schedule every 5,000 to 8,000 miles, regardless of whether your vehicle has a front or rear-wheel drive. 

Changing Brake Pads

Brake pads are necessary because they press against the rotor and slow your vehicle. Don’t take them for granted, considering they wear as much as other parts. Brakes generate heat when you use them, making the pad slowly wear each time you hit the pedal. If you don’t change the brake pads, you’ll compromise the braking performance and have less friction available when stopping the car. 

Fortunately, you don’t need to change the brake pads often. Each set wears after about 50,000 miles, but your owner’s manual will give you a more accurate estimate. While you can take your car to the mechanic, you can change your brake pads at home. This task requires personal protective equipment (PPE), wrenches, jack stands, new brake pads, rotors, brake fluid and a disc brake pad spreader set.

Replacing Shocks and Struts

Imagine off-roading in your Ford F-150 on uneven terrain. Your truck will bounce as you traverse big rocks, mud and other obstacles, so what protects your vehicle from falling apart? The shocks and struts are integral to your suspension by absorbing the impact of each movement. Unsurprisingly, these parts will wear over time and require replacement. Vehicles need shock replacement every 50,000 miles, so it’s not a constant task on your car maintenance schedule. 

If you drive your shocks past the recommended maintenance date, you risk uncomfortable rides in your sedan, truck or SUV. Bumps will feel bumpier, and your vehicle’s bouncing can harm your suspension. Replacement at 50,000 miles is a good rule of thumb, but it might not always apply. Ask a mechanic to inspect your shocks and struts to determine when they need service. Off-roading excursions could mean sooner changes, so keep an eye on your parts.  

Back of an orange car

Car Maintenance Checklist for Your Fluids

Cars need fluids just like you need water throughout the day. What do you need to feed your vehicle to fulfill your car maintenance checklist? Here are the six necessary fluids for your car. 

Changing Oil

Oil changes happen early and often with your car throughout its lifetime. Your engine needs this fluid to lubricate its moving parts and reduce friction, thus increasing efficiency. The oil accumulates dirt and debris over time, so you must change it occasionally. 

Older oil will break down and lose its efficacy if you don’t use it. Newer vehicles let you drive 7,500 to 10,000 miles before an oil change, but check your owner’s manual to see the best option. While some shops can give you a quick oil change, you can do this task at home and save time and money. 

Changing Coolant

How does your engine temperature stay regulated throughout the drive? You can thank the coolant in your engine. This fluid contains water and antifreeze, ensuring the oil doesn’t get too hot or cold. Coolant stays effective in your engine for a few years, so it’s not a frequent task for your car maintenance checklist. Auto experts say once every 30,000 miles should suffice for your coolant’s health. 

While critical for temperature control, coolant is also effective in keeping your engine clean. The liquid removes contaminants from your engine, maintaining efficiency with every drive. Accumulating dirt and debris means the coolant needs occasional replacement. You risk increased engine stress and overheating if you don’t change the coolant. Rust is another concern because coolant protects metal components. 

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is crucial because you use it every time you hit the pedal. This liquid converts force into pressure and rapidly slows down fast vehicles. Without it, stopping would be much more difficult or nearly impossible. Brake fluid requires replacement every 30,000 miles unless your owner’s manual says otherwise. If you don’t change it, you risk sub-optimal brake performance and decreased safety. 

Changing your brake fluid is a relatively simple process. Locate the brake master cylinder and remove the cap to drain the old fluid. Then, top off the cylinder with the new brake fluid and bleed the brakes. The process requires an hour or two because you must drain fluid from all the wheel calipers. You risk sub-optimal brake performance and decreased safety if you don’t change it. 

Transmission Fluid

Do you prefer automatic or manual transmission? Regardless, you need transmission fluid for smooth sailing on the highway. This integral part lets you shift gears quickly and keeps each one cool to prevent overheating. Like the other liquids, transmission fluid sees wear and tear due to high temperatures. It picks up contaminants from the road, so you need to change it. Where should this service be included on your car maintenance checklist? 

Your owner’s manual will say to change the transmission fluid between 30,000 and 100,000 miles, but a closer inspection will be more telling. Checking the transmission fluid will show you if it needs replacement. Darker colors and foul smells are warning signs you should drain the fluid and replace it with a new set. You should also be wary if your gears start slipping or see increased friction. 

Changing Power Steering Fluid

Moving thousands of pounds of metal with your bare hands is an easier task with power steering fluid. This key component is similar to brake fluid because it’s hydraulic. Your power steering fluid connects your steering system to the front wheels, thus making left and right turns easier. You might not find a specific interval for changing the power steering fluid, as some manufacturers don’t offer recommendations for their vehicles.

So, how often should you change your power steering fluid? Certified technicians should inspect the component to ensure no leaks or discoloration in the fluid. If you want to change it at home, remove the reservoir cap. Empty the old fluid and remove any dirt or contaminants. Refill the reservoir with the new power steering fluid and crank the engine to let the fluid move around. 

Filling Windshield Wiper Fluid

Windshield wiper fluid may seem the least pressing task on your car maintenance checklist, but you shouldn’t take it for granted. You might enjoy the rain when fishing, but the precipitation won’t be as fun when your windshield wipers are making loud noises. Each pair needs lubricant to remove rain, dirt and other debris effectively. Otherwise, the wipers might leave streaks or smear the contaminants all over. 

Visibility is crucial when driving a car, so windshield wiper fluid should be on your car maintenance schedule. The frequency of your changes depends on where you live. An area with heavy precipitation will use more windshield wiper fluid because of the constant rain. A good rule of thumb is to align your windshield wiper fluid service with your oil changes. Alternatively, you can take matters into your own hands by topping off the fluid once monthly. 

Windshield of a blue car

Other Important Tasks You Shouldn’t Forget

Your engine, suspension and fluids are high on the car maintenance checklist and schedule. However, these seven parts need just as much attention. 

Changing a Car Battery

While most vehicles run on gas, they need a battery for support. The battery rests under the hood and plays its most prominent role when cranking the engine and powering the GPS, radio and lights. A dead battery is the last thing you need if you’re in a time crunch, so maintenance for this part is necessary. 

Ask a technician to inspect it whenever you bring it to a mechanic’s shop. They’ll tell you what issues are most pertinent to your battery. Changing the battery is another fun DIY project you can allocate time for. If you don’t feel comfortable handling this service, don’t hesitate to ask for a professional’s help.

Changing a Cabin Air Filter

Car cabins are compact areas, so there’s not much room for air. Outside contaminants like pollen, dust and dirt can harm the air quality, so your cabin air filter works hard to protect you and your passengers. You need this part to operate smoothly and provide clean air regardless of the time of year. The service frequency depends on your owner’s manual, but you can count on replacement once or twice yearly. 

Your cabin air filter is critical for driving comfort, so there are a few warning signs your system isn’t up to par. For instance, your car’s interior could feel stuffy and uncomfortable even with the air conditioning on. Dirty air filters can’t circulate air well, so you’re more susceptible to allergies if pollen and dust enter. Your vehicle could also have foul smells because it can’t funnel them out, so avoid eating in your car if the air filter has issues. 

Recharging Your Car Air Conditioner

Hot weather means cranking up the air conditioner. Otherwise, your car becomes a sauna on the way to work. Save the steam room for the spa and recharge your car’s air conditioner. This task should be on your car maintenance schedule before the summer heat overtakes your area. 

The last thing you want is a suboptimal air conditioner when the sun makes you sweat. Year-round hot climates may need service more frequently. Recharging your car’s air conditioner can be a DIY task if you consider yourself handy. 

Changing a Headlight

Headlights are a relatively simple component of your car’s electrical system. However, you’ll miss it dearly if it starts malfunctioning. Driving with broken headlights or taillights is dangerous at night and when bad weather arrives. 

You also risk getting pulled over and a ticket from law enforcement, so take matters into your hands by changing the light. Be proactive and change when the bulbs are dim or flickering. Thankfully, changing your headlights is a manageable DIY task that saves you a mechanic trip. 

Changing Windshield Wipers

Don’t let windshield wipers make your commute unsafe during bad weather. These gadgets wear over time because you may have a bent blade or damaged rubber. If you ignore your windshield wipers, they can become less effective over time. 

Worst-case scenarios may lead to a damaged windshield because they scratch the glass. The last thing you need is reduced visibility from an easy fix. Windshield wipers need replacement every six to 12 months, depending on your driving area and frequency. 

Fixing a Car Scratch

Paint scratches can come from anywhere, but they’re not something you look forward to. Who wants to see their brand-new ride with dings and damage everywhere? Luckily, you can care for paint scratches with a few tactics. First, you should wash the car regardless of how big it is. Washing will reset your car and provide a nice, clean surface. Wash the undercarriage while you’re at it to wash out the dirt and dust. 

You may only need a polishing compound to fix the damage if you have a tiny scratch. This approach includes elbow grease and sandpaper to dull the finish and hide the scratch. If you have a deeper scratch, you may need professional service. If you want a DIY fix, use a sander on your vehicle’s paint job until you reach the metal panel. While it seems counterproductive, this strategy removes the scratch and provides a new look. 

Waxing a Car

Some people wax their cars for aesthetics. However, this weekend project has practical benefits for protecting your vehicle. Imagine your car’s paint job is the Mona Lisa and wax coating is the security guard protecting the precious portrait. Wax has a unique role, especially if you live in a coastal area. Living near the beach means the air has more salt and humidity, leaving your vehicle vulnerable to the weather. Wax protects your car from rust and deterioration. 

How often should you wax your vehicle? The frequency depends on your area and its weather. You may get away with semi-annual waxing if you live in a temperate climate. Hot and humid weather could increase this maintenance task to three or four times a year, so check your car for rust. Some drivers wait until the weather changes each season because this adjustment could affect their car’s reaction. 

Orange car parked in a driveway

What do the Dashboard Lights Mean?

Dashboard lights are inconvenient when they appear. What does each signal mean? The lights depend on your make and model, but these 10 are common among cars. 

  • All-Wheel Drive: This light means your all-wheel drive (AWD) has malfunctioned and cannot track your speed and traction. While it could be a sensor issue, you should seek service immediately. 
  • Anti-Lock Brake System: The electronic component of your brake system has malfunctioned. While you can still brake, you should see a mechanic soon. Check your brake fluid level.  
  • Battery Warning: This warning means your vehicle has an electrical problem, such as a worn battery or a faulty charging system. If you have an electric car, preserve your battery by not charging it to 100% or letting it die. 
  • Check Engine: A check engine light could mean a minor issue like a loose wire. A significant problem could mean a transmission or catalytic converter issue. Regardless, take your car to a mechanic as soon as you can. 
  • Engine Temperature: This warning light means your coolant temperature has gotten too high, thus overheating your engine. Turn off the engine for a half-hour to cool this fluid before hitting the road. 
  • Oil Pressure Warning: Your vehicle has either minimal or no oil left in the engine. A leak may have occurred, so check your oil and oil filter. 
  • Powertrain Fault: Something has malfunctioned within your powertrain or transaxle, prompting maintenance. See a mechanic immediately because this problem is severe.
  • Stability Control: The stability control helps your vehicle maintain traction. If the light comes on, the system may have malfunctioned. 
  • Tire Pressure Indicator: You may have an underinflated or flat tire, so check your four wheels as soon as possible. 
  • Transmission Temperature: Your transmission is overheating and could become severely damaged. Find a service station immediately. 

Exhausting Your Car Maintenance Checklist

Many depend on automobiles to work and perform other daily duties. While fun to drive and look at, even the best hot rods need mechanical attention. Use this comprehensive car maintenance checklist to form a schedule and extend your vehicle’s longevity.

Stay up to date with the latest by subscribing to Modded Minute.