Car Care Basics

Just got a new or used car and want to keep it working and looking great? Follow our car care tips.

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• Automotive: DIY • Automotive: How-To
• Automotive: Maintenance • Automotive: New Cars
• Automotive: Tips & Tricks • Automotive: Wash & Detail

Matt Anderson's Take
There's nothing quite like the feeling of driving a new car off the lot and "new" can even be a used car that's new to you. It's your car and you want to keep it as new and fresh as long as possible. So how do you maintain your new car to keep it that way? We've got the tips to help keep your ride shiny and new for years to come.

Break In Period


If you bought a brand new car or anything with less than 1,000 miles on the odometer then you'll want to gently break in that new car. While you should follow the exact advice from your dealer and the manufacturer's maintenance guide, there are some basic rules that usually apply to all cars.

To start, don't rev the engine. Drive the car as needed but try to avoid stepping on the gas, as much fun as it is, for those first 1,000 miles. Be gentle with it while all of those moving parts settle in and find their place.

Watch the speed for a while. While you should always obey traffic laws, you may want to avoid prolonged highway speeds on a brand new car. Each car is different so be sure to check what the manufacturer suggests but taking that cross country trek probably isn't a great idea until things are broken in.

Avoid heavy loads. So don't tow anything and avoid packing your vehicle full of heavy stuff until the break in period is over. This will reduce strain on your new engine.

Go easy on the brakes. Obviously, if you need to stop fast to avoid an accident then hit the brakes! In general, try to avoid slamming on those brakes for the first 1,000 to 2,000 miles. Prepare for stops in advance and slow your car a bit more gently than you otherwise would. This advice also applies any time you get new brakes put on the car.

Clean It


The easiest way to maintain your car is to keep it clean. Wash your car and clean and vacuum out the interior every week. It shouldn't be a chore, it should be part of the fun of owning a car. Take pride in your ride and maybe even treat yourself to a professional auto detail every now and then.


A good exterior wash will help keep that paint looking fresh and clean for many years. Don't forget to keep those wheels clean too as brake dust will make a mess of them. Keeping the interior clean will help avoid marks and tears and other dirt that will try to embed itself in your interior fabrics.

For tires, use a tire dressing which will help avoid sun damage. Bonus: it makes them look new and shiny! For more details on car washing, read How To Clean A Car.

So what about automated car washes? A true touchless car wash, one where it's all about water pressure, is probably fine in a pinch. But I'm not a fan of those typical "gas station" car washes with the big rotating rag wheels flapping away at my car. Besides, why waste the money on that when washing it yourself at home is so much cheaper!

Check Oil


Check your oil after 50 miles to make sure everything is okay, then again after 1,00 miles just to be safe. If you see any problems or you have an oil leak do not drive the car but instead call the place you bought it from to get it fixed.

Although this is far less common today, some people who are serious about their car care like to change the oil after the first 20-500 miles and then again after 1,000. This can help remove any fine metal shavings that a new engine may produce. Personally, while I used to do this I don't anymore. Cars are built to higher standards and finer tolerances than ever before and if the manufacturer doesn't ask you to do that then there should be no need.

Sunburn


Just like you can get sunburn, so can your car. Ideally, park your car in a garage when it isn't used. If that simply isn't an option then consider a car cover when you plan to park it for the day. At the very least, use a car sun shade.

Leaving your car parked in the sun every day can lead to paint damage, cracked plastic and vinyl pieces, faded plastics, hazed headlight lenses, and dry rotted tires.

Birds, Sap, Bugs, & Road Guck


These are the enemies of your car. You can't stop this stuff from getting on your car but you can lessen your chances. For example, parking under a big shady tree seems like a good idea but birds also like large shady trees and they love pooping on cars. Tree sap is also a sticky mess to deal with.

In the case of bird poo, you want to get it off your cart as fast as possible. The acid in the poo can actually eat away at your car paint! Sap and even spilled gasoline should also be removed right away and not left on the car paint.

Bugs and road guck is also a messy deal. Get yourself a good bug and tar remover to make the removal job easier.

Insurance


You already know you need to have car insurance, but make sure you have the right kind of insurance for your needs. Talk with your insurance agent and have them explain what each portion of the coverage means. The last thing you want is to lack proper coverage when you need it the most.
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