When you buy a car, truck or SUV, you're making a major investment, and maximizing your cost of ownership means keeping it in good condition for as long as possible. Still, a lot of car owners don't maintain their vehicles regularly. As a result, they end up experiencing serious mechanical issues that could have been avoided with some preventative maintenance. Here are some basic tips to maintain your transportation investment.Do A Visual Check of Your Vehicle
Give your car a visual once-over on a regular basis to assess its condition. Test the lights, check the air pressure in your tires, and confirm that the tires have sufficient tread. Listen for any unusual sounds, inside and out, when you start the vehicle and while you are driving it. If you detect anything out of the ordinary, take the car to the shop for a more in-depth inspection.Check All Fluid Levels
Learn how to check fluid levels for antifreeze, power steering, transmission, and even the wiper washer. If you can't see the tank level directly, in most cases you can use a dipstick or gauge to check current levels and compare them to optimal ones. If you're running low, add more (if you know how), or get it done professionally. If you spot a leak, take the car to the shop right away.Check Your Oil
Use a dipstick or electronic gauge to check the color of the car's oil. Knowing the difference between ‘clean' and ‘dirty' oil will save you money on unnecessary changes and even alert you if there's a problem (For example, if you just had it changed, but it looks muddy, something is definitely wrong.). Your owner's manual will advise you on how often your oil should be changed and what oil to use.Test Your Battery
Although most batteries need little maintenance, you should check it periodically for leaks and any acid buildup on the contacts. This is especially true for seasonal vehicles that may sit for a number of months unused, such as plow trucks or cars at a part-time residence like a Florida condo. Remove any buildup with a battery cleaning brush, which you can buy at any auto parts store. Weak batteries should also load tested.Examine Your Tires and Alignment
It's important to ensure that your tires wear evenly, so getting them properly rotated and balanced can make them last much longer. Pay close attention to your alignment, too. If your car isn't driving straight, it can become a potentially dangerous situation.Change Your Spark Plugs
Your engine will not work efficiently if your spark plugs are worn out or covered in dirt. Eventually a breakdown will occur. Checking, gapping and replacing them is not too difficult (Check your owner's manual for instructions.), but if you don't feel confident doing so, have your mechanic change them.Inspect Your Timing and Serpentine Belts
Your owner's manual will advise you on how often your timing belt and serpentine belt will require replacing. Ask your mechanic to look at them once you've accumulated the recommended number of miles, and get them replaced if they look worn or cracked. Otherwise, your car can break down and the damaged belt(s) can affect other components, creating a costly repair bill.Stay Aware of Seasons, Sounds, Gauges and Handling
These are some of the maintenance steps that your car will need, and you can do a lot of them yourself. Setting specific times of the year may be helpful such as Spring forward and Fall back. That way you always know the last time you inspected your vehicle and you won't forget. It's an even better idea to maintain a small notebook record in the glove box. Checking the gauges and being aware of how the vehicle sounds and handles while driving also can help you find maintenance problems early.
We've all heard the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that applies to vehicles. Basic preventative maintenance will keep your car or truck road-ready through all sorts of weather, and potentially save you thousands in the long run.