You can help your vehicle run smoothly and improve your fuel economy with regular engine maintenance. Routine maintenance and simple services can help you avoid costly repairs and greatly reduce the cost of car ownership. Most of the checks and services described below can be done at little or no cost. Best of all, they are quick and easy to do and they can save time, money and inconvenience now and later. If performing your own maintenance, always refer to your owner's manual prior to beginning.

One of the most important things you can do to keep your car maintained is to take it in for scheduled tune-ups. As a general rule, tune-ups may include spark plug replacement and a precise series of tests and adjustments and drivability-improvement procedures to regain maximum engine performance. You should also have your technician inspect your car's spark plug wires, distributor and fuel injectors during your engine service visit.

Proper tire maintenance is essential to your vehicle's overall performance and your driving safety. Keep your tires inflated to their recommended pressure (it helps to own your own gauge). Check for cuts, bulges and excessive tread wire. Uneven wear indicates the tires are misaligned or out of balance. Keep a record of tire rotation. Rotate tires every 5,000 miles.

Engine Oil
Engine oil is the substance that lubricates your car's main engine parts and protects them against extreme heat and friction build-up when you drive.

For optimal performance, oil should be changed every 3,000 miles or three months, which ever comes first unless your owner's manual suggests differently. You should change the oil filter each time you change the oil. This prevents dirt and old oil trapped in the used filter from contaminating the new oil.

Check the oil every other time you fuel up. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Insert it fully and remove it again. If it is low, add oil.

Coolant and antifreeze are simply two different names for the same fluid. Along with carrying heat away from your engine, coolant also contains anti-corrosives that protect the radiator and other metal engine parts from rusting.

Over time, these anti-corrosives break down, and the antifreeze can actually begin eating away at the inside of your radiator. To prevent corrosion, the mixture should be periodically changed and the system flushed to remove any deposits. Check your owner's manual for service intervals.

Check the antifreeze/coolant level weekly. Some cars have transparent reservoirs with level markings. Fill to level marking with 50/50 solution of antifreeze and water. Caution: Do not remove the pressure cap when engine is hot.

Brake Fluid
Having enough brake fluid is critical to the safe operation of your car. When you press the pedal to stop your two-ton car, it takes a lot more pressure than you can physically exert. Brake fluid multiplies the pressure from the pedal into sufficient pressure to stop the car.

Brake fluid breaks down with exposure to air and moisture. Check your owner's manual for its brake fluid maintenance schedule. Any lost fluid is typically replaced during a brake service; however, your car may require additional servicing of this fluid.

Check your brake fluid monthly. First, wipe dirt from the brake master cylinder reservoir lid. Pry off the retainer clip and remove the lid or unscrew the plastic lid, depending on which type your vehicle has. If you need fluid, add the approved type and check for possible leaks throughout the system. Fill to the full mark on the reservoir with the correct fluid from an unopened container. Caution: Do not overfill.

Transmission Fluid
Automatic and manual transmissions contain fluids that require monitoring and periodic changing. The two types of transmissions take different liquids. Automatics use automatic transmission fluid (ATF); manuals use gear oil. Sluggish shifting of an automatic or heavy stick shifting can be a sign of low fluid levels. If you are experiencing either, have the levels checked immediately.

Check your transmission fluid monthly with the engine warm and running and the parking brake on. Shift to drive then to park. Remove dipstick, wipe dry, insert it and remove it again. Add the approved type of fluid, if needed. Caution: Do not overfill.

Power Steering Fluid
The power steering system on your car helps you maneuver your multi-thousand pound vehicle with little effort. Like brake fluid, power steering is a multiplier that translates your exertion on the wheel into a greater force. Low fluid can mean a loss of power steering. You will be able to steer but it will be very difficult. If you experience this, take your car to a technician as soon as possible.

Check power steering fluid level once per month. Simply remove the reservoir dipstick. If the level is down, add fluid and inspect the pump and hoses for leaks.

Belts and Hoses
Inspect your car's belts and hoses monthly. Replace worn, glazed or frayed belts. Tighten them when more than 1/2" of slack can be depressed between the pulleys. Vehicles with spring-loaded belt tensioners require no adjustment. Replace bulging, rotten or brittle hoses and tighten clamps. If a hose looks bad—or feels too soft or too hard—it should be replaced.

Air Filter
Your car's air filter makes sure the engine gets clean air. Check the air filter every other month. Replace it when it's dirty or as part of a tune-up. It is easy to reach, right under the big metal "lid" in a carbureted engine; or in a rectangular box at the forward end of the air duct hose assembly.

Windshield Washer Fluid and Wiper Blades
Windshield washer fluid helps keep your windshield free of dirt and debris so you can focus on the road. Keep windshield washer fluid in the reservoir at all times. When topping off, use some windshield washer fluid on a rag to clean off the wiper blades. In winter months, pay attention to the freezing point of the washer fluid.

Inspect the windshield wiper blades whenever you clean your windshield. Do not wait until the rubber is worn or brittle to replace them. Wiper blades should be replaced, if necessary, once per year, and more often if smearing or chattering occurs.

Your car's battery is the heart of its electrical system. It supplies the power needed to run your vehicle's engine, ignition system, starter, lights and other electrical equipment. Have your battery checked with every oil change. Cables should be attached securely and free of corrosion. Check that it is anchored firmly in its position. Caution: Use extreme caution when handling a battery since it can produce explosive gases. Do not smoke, create a spark or light a match near a battery and always wear protective glasses and gloves.

Make sure all your lights are clean and working properly, including headlamps (low and high beams), brake lights, turn signals and emergency flashers. Keep spare bulbs and fuses in your vehicle.

Shock Absorbers
Your vehicle's suspension system—which includes shock absorbers—helps stabilize the up-and-down and side-to-side motions of your vehicle as you travel over hills, rough roads and make turns. Shock absorbers can usually be found inside the large springs above each tire. Look for signs of oil leakage on shock absorbers. Broken or leaking shocks should be replaced. It is suggested to replace shock absorbers in pairs for improved performance if they are of a similar age.

Exhaust System
Look underneath your car for loose or broken exhaust clamps and supports. Check for holes in the muffler or pipes. Replace damaged or rusted-through parts. Have emissions checked at least once per year or in compliance with local laws.