Ultimate Car Service Checklist (Updated 2023)

WRITTEN BY: Julia Matseikovich


Owning a car is more than just driving. Regular maintenance ensures smooth functioning and longevity. This car service checklist provides guidance for first-time checks and continued upkeep.

1. Engine and exhaust maintenance

Battery and contacts

First-time checks on a car should include thoroughly examining the battery and contacts. Regular inspections ensure optimal functionality. A weakened battery can impair overall performance. Corrosion on the contacts can also prevent the battery from charging properly, damaging the charging system.

Exhaust system

Initially, ensure the exhaust system is clear of obstructions. Regularly inspect it for leaks or damage. A malfunctioning system can harm the environment and the car’s efficiency. If the leaks aren’t repaired, a leaking exhaust can cause internal damage to the engine, such as the exhaust valves.

Lubrication system

A car’s initial inspection should confirm a well-lubricated engine. Continuous car service avoids friction and wear. Proper lubrication promotes engine longevity.

Spark plugs

Spark plugs need a first-time check to ensure correct firing. Consistently monitor them for wear or damage. A professional service might be necessary if issues persist.

2. Exterior maintenance

Clean and wash the exterior

Start with a thorough cleaning when first acquiring a car. Regular cleaning maintains the car’s aesthetic appeal. Dirt and debris can cause minor damages if left unchecked.

Check and replace the wiper blades

Wipers are essential for clear vision during adverse conditions. Check their functionality upon first getting your car. Replace them if they’re worn out or damaged.

Check/change the lights

Inspect lights when first examining a car. Regular checks ensure they function correctly. Faulty lights can be a safety hazard on roads.

Professional detailing

Consider a professional detailing service after purchasing a car. They enhance the vehicle’s aesthetic appeal. Continued detailing services might be beneficial for car longevity.

Wax/polish the exterior

After the first wash, consider waxing or polishing. It adds a protective layer against environmental factors. Regular applications maintain the car’s shine.

3. Fluids and filter maintenance

Check the automatic transmission fluid

This service requires professional attention. Transmission fluid is crucial for smooth gear shifting. Low or dirty fluid can cause transmission issues.

Check the brake fluid

Brake fluid is paramount for vehicle safety. Check its levels and quality regularly. Ensure it’s free of contaminants to maintain brake efficiency.

Check/change the cabin air filter

A professional should inspect the cabin air filter initially. Regular checks ensure air quality inside the vehicle. Replace it periodically to prevent allergen buildup.

Check/add radiator fluid

Monitor the radiator fluid levels consistently. It’s crucial for engine temperature regulation. Low levels can lead to engine overheating.

Check/change the engine air filter

Ensure a professional checks the engine air filter initially. A clean filter ensures optimal engine performance. Replace it as required to maintain airflow and fuel efficiency.

Check/add engine oil

Regularly monitor the engine oil levels. It’s vital for engine lubrication. Top up or change as necessary to avoid engine wear.

Change engine oil

Consider professional service for an oil change. Fresh oil promotes engine efficiency. Regular changes ensure the engine remains in peak condition.

Check/change the fuel filter

A professional inspection of the fuel filter is advised at first. Regular checks prevent clogs. A clean filter ensures optimal fuel flow and performance.

Check/change the power steering fluid

Consistently monitor the power steering fluid. It ensures ease of steering. Regular car service avoids steering complications.

Check/add wiper fluid

Regularly refill wiper fluid. It aids in windshield cleaning during drives. Ensure it’s topped up for clear vision.

Maintaining a car might seem daunting, but with this checklist, owners can manage tasks with ease. Regular upkeep ensures longevity and optimal performance. When unsure, always consult with a professional.

Car service checklist FAQs

What routine maintenance is required for a car?

Routine maintenance is essential for a car’s longevity, safety, and optimal performance. Here is a general list of routine maintenance tasks for a typical car:

  1. Oil and Filter Change: Every 3,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on vehicle and oil type.
  2. Tire Rotation and Alignment: Ensures even tire wear.
  3. Replace Air Filters: Check both engine and cabin filters regularly.
  4. Fluid Checks: Includes brake, transmission, power steering, coolant, and windshield washer fluids.
  5. Brake Inspection: Check pads, rotors, and fluid levels.
  6. Spark Plugs: Replace every 30,000 to 90,000 miles based on vehicle.
  7. Battery Check: Monitor for corrosion and test charge.
  8. Tire Pressure: Monthly checks for optimal inflation.
  9. Inspect Belts and Hoses: Look for wear or cracks.
  10. Exhaust System: Check for rust or damage.
  11. Suspension and Steering: Monitor shocks, struts, and components.
  12. Clean Exterior: Prevents rust and maintains paint.
  13. Wiper Blades: Ensure they work correctly.
  14. Inspect Lights: Replace non-working bulbs.
  15. Fuel Filter: Regular checks for a clean fuel system.
  16. Coolant System: Monitor radiator and coolant levels.

Always refer to the car’s owner’s manual for specific maintenance guidelines. Regular check-ups help prevent future issues and ensure the car’s longevity and safety.

How often should you get a tune-up?

The frequency for a “tune-up” can vary based on the vehicle’s make, model, age, and usage. Historically, a tune-up involved adjusting parts to meet certain specifications, but modern vehicles with computer-controlled systems, often don’t require the traditional tune-up. Instead, they have service intervals for particular items.

You might not see “tune-up” on your annual car service checklist.

Here’s a general guideline:

  1. Older Vehicles (Typically pre-1990s): Every 10,000 to 20,000 miles or every year.
  2. Modern Vehicles: Every 30,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on the make and model.

Specific components and their typical service intervals in modern vehicles include:

  • Spark Plugs: Most copper spark plugs are recommended to be changed every 30,000 miles. Iridium or platinum plugs can last up to 100,000 miles.
  • Fuel Filter: Between 20,000 to 40,000 miles, though some newer cars have lifetime filters.
  • Air Filter: Generally every 15,000 to 30,000 miles, but more frequently if driving in dusty conditions.
  • Transmission Fluid: Roughly every 30,000 to 100,000 miles based on the type of transmission fluid used.
  • Oxygen Sensors: Approximately every 50,000 to 60,000 miles.
  • Belts and Hoses: Inspected regularly and replaced if signs of wear are visible.

When should spark plugs be replaced?

Spark plugs should be replaced every 30,000 miles. However, if you have iridium or platinum spark plugs they can last up to 100,000 miles.

Don’t forget to review your car insurance

Your car service checklist should also include reviewing your car insurance policy. Use our online comparison tool to ensure you get the best coverage and rates.

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